A Bailout for the Porn Industry?

As hard up for cash as an aging stripper working the morning shift, the porn industry is down on its knees to get into bed with Washington's well-endowed bailout program. Hustler publisher Larry Flynt says, "The porn industry has been hurt by the downturn like everyone else and they are going to ask for the $5 billion."

Is this a publicity stunt? A bit of biting satire? An honest plea for help? Knowing Flynt, the answer is: yes, of course.

The irony here is that Flynt has spent his career fighting government, from his first (losing) battle against Ohio anti-porn crusader Charles Keating in 1976, all the way to the Supreme Court, in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell in 1988, and then a 2003 legal fight over -- of course -- obscenity charges in Hamilton County, Ohio. But today, Flynt's battle seems to be over getting his snout shoved into the federal trough alongside Chrysler, General Motors, and the banking and mortgage industries in their entireties.

What happened?

Two things happened: the recession and the internet.

The pages of the New York Times, for example, might not contain much in the prurient interest (although fetishes do differ), but free services like Craig's List have put a serious dent in the traditional newspaper business. Information, it is said, wants to be free. Maybe, maybe not; but people certainly act as though information should be free, or at least really, really cheap. Newspapers used to rely on classified ads to subsidize their newsrooms. Now with Craig's List running classifieds for free, and all the free information on the internet in general, the newsrooms have to pay their own way.

To date, that's not working out very well. The New York Times just took out a $225 million mortgage on its own headquarters -- and in a real estate market so soft that not even a combination of Flynt's hottest product and a 100 milligrams of Viagra could restore its vigor.