So Much for Larry Flynt's Free-Speech Last Stand

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It was billed as Larry Flyntís biggest battle yet in his crusade to liberate the First Amendment from so-called "community standards" obscenity rules. But the criminal proceedings that started on Monday ended on Wednesday in a plea bargain, even before a jury was empaneled. Flynt and his brother, who had been charged with selling an explicit video to a 14-year-old at their Cincinnati store, agreed to stop peddling sex videos there and have the store pay $10,000 in fines. In exchange, prosecutors dropped obscenity charges against the two men that could have put them behind bars for 24 years.

"So what was the point of Flyntís challenge to the authorities?" asks TIME writer-reporter Joel Stein. "A number of analysts have pointed out from the start that this case may not have been the one to fight because of the minor." Courts have been extremely reluctant to loosen their interpretations of obscenity laws when juveniles are involved. The fact that 10 potential jurors indicated during questioning that they were strongly opposed to pornography may also have influenced Flyntís decision to fold his tent. Or perhaps the real threat of jail set in, says Stein. Flynt said that the prosecution deal "was the deal we always wanted" because it allows him to keep selling his magazine. If thatís the reason for the deflated outcome, the revelation will come as little surprise to many observers, who have long suspected that what First Amendment-waving pornographers really care about is their wallet.