In an acclaimed, if dubious, act of conscience, pornographer and Hustler publisher Larry Flynt has decided not to run topless photos alleged to be of Pvt. Jessica Lynch.
Forgive me if I'm underwhelmed by Flynt's moral largesse. It is one of liberty's distasteful ironies that someone like the smut-peddling Flynt, whose moral compass points only to the bank, is celebrated for pretending to the high ground.
The photographs in question were delivered to Flynt, he says, by two soldiers who served with Lynch in Iraq. They wanted the world to know - because the world cannot turn on its axis without such knowledge - that Lynch isn't really the pure, lovely, innocent mountain girl depicted by the media.
Instead, she is someone who, if the photos are legit, has cavorted topless with members of the opposite sex. Quel scandal.
Appearing Wednesday night on MSNBC's "Hardball" with Chris Matthews and MSNBC editor-in-chief Jerry Nachman, Flynt explained his reasoning. The girl had suffered enough, he said, and was a victim both of the Bush administration and a rapacious media. He saw no reason to inflict further harm.
Heart-warming, isn't it? Such chivalry from a man who showed the world paparazzi photos of a naked Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sunbathing. Had she not been sufficiently devoured by the media? Or did the sound of coins dropping into the fathomless abyss of Flynt's rapacious greed drown out his better angels?
Oh, but we are a forgiving people. It was, after all, Jackie O's own son, John F. Kennedy Jr., who as editor of George magazine invited Flynt as his guest to the White House Correspondents' Dinner in Washington, D.C., a few years ago.
Michael Kelly, the columnist and magazine editor killed in Iraq in April, summarized the disparate pairing in the July/August 2002 issue of the Atlantic Monthly, of which Kelly was editor-at-large:
"I thought then that this moment had to be some sort of unsurpassable low: the son of a former president bringing to a formal dinner with the current president a man who put his mother, the former first lady, in a skin magazine. Of course it wasn't an unsurpassable moment; it was hardly even a moment."
An unlikely hero, Flynt nevertheless has sealed his position as a First Amendment warrior through legal battles defending his right to show us anything. The current (December) issue of Reason magazine celebrates him as a "hero of freedom," along with 34 others who have "made the world groovier and groovier since 1968."