Larry Flynt, Investigative Pornographer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 1998; Page C01
For a news business that has spent the year wallowing in the Monica Lewinsky quagmire, it has come to this: Larry Flynt is now setting the agenda.
The Hustler publisher said yesterday he will release details in roughly two weeks about what he described as four extramarital affairs by incoming House Speaker Robert Livingston, along with sexual disclosures about other lawmakers or senior officials. It was Flynt's million-dollar reward offer that prompted the allegations that prompted Livingston to acknowledge his past affairs late Thursday.
In short, at a moment of grave constitutional crisis, one of America's leading pornographers has inserted himself into the House debate over whether to impeach President Clinton for lying under oath about sex.
"I just wanted to expose hypocrisy," Flynt said in an interview. "If these guys are going after the president, they shouldn't have any skeletons in their closet. This is only the beginning."
And that is what has both politicians and the journalists who cover them on edge. Flynt is merely the latest agent provocateur to make the media complicit in the sexual outing of prominent lawmakers, a role that most news organizations would resist under ordinary circumstances. Dan Burton, Helen Chenoweth and Henry Hyde, all House Republicans, have admitted infidelities in recent months after being faced with media exposure.
In a further sign of Washington's supercharged atmosphere, reporters were deluged yesterday with sexual rumors and allegations against prominent politicians of both parties, in some cases by sources seeking cash. And some journalists were essentially trying to scoop Hustler by learning the identity of Livingston's paramours.
"The source of this gutter journalism, Larry Flynt, is paying for dirt on people," said National Review Editor Rich Lowry. "It has a smell about it."
"We've been tabloid-launderers for years," said Time columnist Margaret Carlson. "Now we're Flynt-launderers. Maybe we're reaching the point where we're so sickened by all this that we stop. It's beginning to look like a bad Italian opera where at the end everyone is dead."
Flynt, for his part, says the allegations are being checked out by an unspecified Washington private detective firm comprised of "former CIA and FBI operatives." He said he is gathering affidavits from the women involved.
"I felt I had to employ a very high standard of journalistic proof for this investigation," Flynt said from Los Angeles. "I didn't want to be dismissed by someone saying, 'Consider the source.' "
Several GOP lawmakers have charged, without evidence, that the White House is behind the disclosures about Livingston, a Louisiana Republican. Said Flynt: "I can assure you I've had no contact with the White House. I don't get my marching orders from them. I'm just adamantly opposed to the impeachment process and want to do anything I can to derail it."
It is still unclear why Livingston, who has been married for 33 years, acknowledged the affairs Thursday, since publication was not imminent. "Obviously he knew that we had the goods on him," Flynt said. He said Livingston's affairs took place over the last decade and that one was within the last three or four years. Livingston said Thursday that he had occasionally "strayed from my marriage" and sought forgiveness, and he vowed not to be "intimidated" by media investigations. He had no further comment yesterday.
Flynt's role began in October when he bought a full-page ad in The Washington Post, announcing a reward of up to $1 million for anyone who could prove having had "an adulterous sexual encounter with a current member of the United States Congress or a high-ranking government official." More than 2,000 calls came in.
Hustler Editor Allan McDonell said that disclosures about Livingston and two other lawmakers or officials will likely be made public around New Year's Day. He said the information would be released at a news conference and on the Internet, and perhaps in a special issue of Hustler, since the earliest available issue will not be published until March.
All told, Flynt said Hustler is investigating about a dozen officials, including at least one senator. "There's only one Democrat in the whole slew of them," he said. But Flynt, a self-described "partisan Democrat," said he is not sure he will out the Democratic official.
And then there is the monetary question. While Flynt says he has already paid $500,000 to some of the women involved, he said that "some junior congressman from a remote state" is clearly worth a lesser sum. McDonell said the Livingston story has been delayed as "we started haggling with people over the money." And Flynt may not pay the women at all in the wake of Livingston's admission.
"Since he broke the story himself, I'm really not quite sure what our legal position is," Flynt said.
At a news conference at Hustler's offices, in front of sculptures of copulating couples, the wheelchair-bound, cigar-chomping publisher dribbled out additional details. He said some of the politicians had lied in divorce proceedings. He said two of the cases -- one involving a member of Congress and one a Republican Party official -- involved phone sex, and that he had some audiotapes. And, to tantalize his audience, he said one Republican involved is "a really, really big fish."
Staff writer Sharon Waxman in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company