Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell today testified in federal court that he was angry, hurt and "felt like weeping" after seeing a liquor advertisement parody in the sex magazine Hustler that quoted him as saying that he "always got sloshed" before preaching and that his first sexual encounter had been with his mother.
"In all my life I never believed human beings could do something like this," Falwell said during the second day of a $45 million libel trial against the magazine, its publisher Larry Flynt and Flynt's national magazine-distributing company.
Flynt's attorneys have contended that the appearance of a small-type disclaimer at the bottom of the page advising readers that it was not to be taken seriously means there could be no libel. Today, however, Flynt contradicted his lawyers in a videotaped deposition, in which he said that the ad was intended as fact and that he had intended to harm Falwell.
Libel lawyers say the verdict may well hinge on whether the jury accepts the parody's one sentence disclaimer as evidence that Flynt had neither malice nor reckless disregard for the truth.
The clearly uncomfortable eight women and four men on the jury sat rigid in the darkened courtroom as Falwell's attorneys played the 45-minute deposition taken from Flynt in June at a federal prison in North Carolina, where he was serving time for contempt of court.
"Yes sir, now you see why I wanted to leave the word 'parody' off of it," Flynt said when asked if the acts of incest and drunkenness attributed to Falwell were true. ". . . He's a liar, a hypocrite and a glutton."
"Was it your intention to harm his integrity?" Falwell attorney Norman R. Grutman asked Flynt.
"To assassinate it," Flynt replied calmly.
"Do you realize you can hurt people mentally" by publishing such statements, Grutman asked.
"You're goddamned . . . right," Flynt said.
Flynt also said in his taped testimony that he had sexually explicit photographs of Falwell and his mother, as well as photos of Chief Justice Warren Burger.
The combative, bespectacled Flynt, 41, has not appeared yet in court. He was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by an unknown assailant in 1978. Attorneys for both sides say he may testify in person Wednesday.
Flynt's lawyers said privately afterward that their client had been in mental and physical distress at the time of the deposition. "He's a manic-depressive," said Flynt attorney Alan L. Isaacman. "He didn't know what he was saying and the testimony clearly was not in his best interest."
Falwell said in testimony that Flynt is "very sane" and, later to reporters, that Flynt was "expressing his heart." The preacher added that he had long since forgiven Flynt, but that "when someone does something terrible, God forgives, but there's still a social debt to pay."
The videotaped testimony was a marked contrast to Falwell's lengthy appearance earlier in the day and the brief testimony of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) a conservative who has allied himself with Falwell on several social and political issues.
A television evangelist with a multimillion dollar television and radio ministry, Falwell, 50, spent most of the morning telling jurors of his humble beginnings and his close and respectful relationship with his late mother.
Falwell has said that he had brought suit not only for himself but on behalf of the numerous public figures -- including Burger, President Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan, who have been featured in the magazine, and "thousands like them who cannot because of their position do what I'm doing here."
Flynt's lawyers say that Falwell has chosen to take seriously what they claim was a clearly marked parody in order to boost fund-raising efforts. They have repeatedly mentioned the fact that Falwell included censored copies of the ad parody in a fund-raising solicitation that raised more that $800,000 last year to benefit Falwell's Moral Majority and Old Time Gospel Hour.
Security has been rigorous for the trial, expected to last a week. There are metal detectors outside the second floor courtroom and Falwell and his family are traveling with security guards from Falwell's Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg.
The confrontation between two men seemingly at opposite ends of the moral spectrum is expected to draw a full house. Falwell numbers his followers in the millions and Flynt, a Kentucky farmboy with a grade school education, puts readership of his publications at the tens of millions each month.