Once Again, It's the People vs. Larry Flynt

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As Cincinnati goes, so goes the nation. That’s what pornographer Larry Flynt is trying to establish at his latest trial, which opened in the southern Ohio city on Monday. Flynt and his brother Jimmy are charged with violating local obscenity laws, some of the most stringent in the country, by selling sexually explict videos to a 14-year-old at their local Hustler Magazine and Gifts store. Flynt who’s been busy baiting Cincinnati’s smut-shunning political establishment for years, wants to do nothing less in the current case than "to smash the current legal definition of obscenity, which allows the offensiveness of materials to be judged by local community standards," says TIME writer-reporter Joel Stein, who has followed the case.

"Because of Internet and satellite communications, communities are getting bigger," says Stein, "and the concept of community standards is disappearing." If people in Cincinnati, or anywhere else in the country, can log on to porn web sites from anywhere else in the world, how can local standards exist, let alone be defined, for any medium? This is the argument Flynt wants to press and win at his trial, and thereby "turn himself from smut peddler to First Amendment statesman," says Stein. But Flynt may not get his chance. "The prosecutors in this case were smart," says Stein. "They sent underage kids to buy the porn." And the laws on protecting youngsters are especially stringent -- and difficult to overturn on appeal. Flynt may therefore never get to attack the local standards issue. But if he doesn’t, the challenge is likely to come from somewhere else -- and in this age of cyberspace, sooner rather than later.