Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.
Nico Perrino: Welcome back to So to Speak, the free speech podcast where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I am, as always, your host Nico Perrino and our guest today is Stuart Brotman. He is a professor of Media Management and Law at the University of Tennessee and the author of a new book of interviews, The First Amendment Lives On: Conversations Commemorating Hugh M. Hefner’s Legacy of Enduring Free Speech and Free Press Values. Trying to get the full book in frame. Stuart, thanks for coming on the show.
Stuart Brotman: It’s great to be here, Nico.
Nico Perrino: It’s kind of hard to believe it, but Hugh Hefner died in 2017. So, students who are in college right now, weren’t in college when he died, unless they’re a sixth-year senior, perhaps. Or a fifth-year senior. Who was Hugh Hefner, and why is he important to the First Amendment?
Stuart Brotman: Hugh Hefner was one of the great publishing entrepreneurs of the 20th century. He started Playboy Magazine in the 1950s at a time when it wasn’t all that easy to just start a magazine from scratch, and he did that by purchasing the rights to a nude photo of Marilyn Monroe and then essentially having that as part of the magazine, and the magazine just took off like wildfire after that. And so, he built an empire around the magazine, not just in terms of publishing but in terms of licensing product and starting into the leisure business.
But in terms of the First Amendment, clearly, the core of understanding a little bit about him is his publishing experience and all of his publishing activities, but well before that, just as a high school journalist and college journalist, he was very committed to this idea of free speech and free press. And in fact, when he started Playboy Magazine, many of those principles became incorporated into the magazine itself.
Nico Perrino: Well, yeah, he’s a guy publishing, you know, before the sexual revolution, nude photos of women in a general consumption magazine. So, I imagine public authorities weren’t too pleased, there’s moral outrage perhaps, in some corners of the country, to what he was trying to do. So, he was a man maybe ahead of his time and ahead of where the First Amendment or free speech values really were in the country at the time, I suspect.
Stuart Brotman: Absolutely. Well, remember, this is about 1953 or so, so we are in the McCarthy era, which is an era in the United States where people were being investigated for potential ties to Communism, we were in a post-war environment, the 1950s, where there was a good deal of repression of thinking about new ideas or new thoughts. And so, we had an environment which was very difficult, we also had a legal environment because, at that point, the Supreme Court had really not litigated a lot of the major cases that we have today, which would support the First Amendment in a much more robust way.
Nico Perrino: Have you ever watched the documentary –calling it a documentary isn’t really right, because it’s much more than that. But – on Amazon called American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story?
Stuart Brotman: I have, yes.
Nico Perrino: Yeah. I thought that was a fantastic kind of encapsulation of Hugh Hefner and his story, and one of the things that really revealed for me was how much of a businessman he was. And astute business senses he brought to the Playboy empire. You know, I’m – in my early to mid-thirties so the Hugh Hefner I knew was the Hugh Hefner of the ‘90s and 2000s, the Playboy Mansion, the reality television show, so almost kind of a bigger than life persona –
Stuart Brotman: Mm-hmm.
Nico Perrino: Not the man who built from scratch at his kitchen table, essentially, a publishing empire. Not a man who – holds the Guinness Book of World Records – and this is something that I learned from your book, for having the largest scrapbook collection in the world. He had 3,000 personal scrapbooks. You don’t think of this guy who has the Playboy mansion as being such an astute businessman, a scrapbooker, it’s just – there’s a disconnect in my mind between Hugh Hefner the persona and Hugh Hefner the person. And I know there’s probably some intersections as well. But you didn’t actually know him, right, before you got access to his scrapbook collection?
Stuart Brotman: Not only didn’t I know him, I never had any contact with him, either through a conversation or email or text or anything. So, to that extent, he was somewhat of a blank slate. Obviously, I knew him in terms of his public reputation, but what was so interesting in terms of having access to these 3,000 scrapbooks was essentially being able to discover his personal side. And every Saturday he basically spent virtually all day working on his scrapbooks. And so, that’s how over the years – the scrapbooks were developed over 75 years. So, he literally started this as a child and chronicled, not just his business life, obviously as a child he wasn’t in business, but really captured what he was thinking about and what he was experiencing in real-time.
So, in the digital age today, we do that all through our devices, he did that through his scrapbooks. And I always refer to the scrapbooks as his hard drive. Because when you get to look at the scrapbooks, you get to experience what he was thinking and feeling and interacting with at the time it took place. And he also wrote personally all of the captions, so he had a typewriter and they were all done in the same font. But that was part of his scrapbooking. And he also had a staff that worked on it. So, what happened was after he basically pulled the materials he wanted in his scrapbook, they would be put in sort of a nice book and they would be – the captions would be inserted. So, the staff worked on it, and then they were put in a library in the Playboy Mansion.
So, there were 3,000 of these in a giant library, there was a staff that worked on these, but he really spent his Saturdays, every Saturday, scrapbooking. And that was just an extraordinary experience. I’m the only person outside of the staff and his family who’s ever had access to these complete scrapbooks, so. He was doing this up until very close to when he passed away.
Nico Perrino: And how did you get access to those scrapbooks? Why you, who has never met him, you know, who – did you have a prior interest that might have piqued, for example, the estate or Christie Hefner’s interest in having you, kind of investigate them and figure out what’s in there?
Stuart Brotman: Yes. I’d known Christie a little bit, and I had approached her, actually, prior to her father’s passing. I was very interested in meeting him. He was, as I said, one of these legendary figures of the 20th century. And he was obviously moving into very old age, and that was the type of person if I had a checklist of people that I would like to meet and talk to, he would certainly be right at the top of the checklist. So, originally, I had tried to get a meeting with him, and then to be able to see the scrapbooks at the mansion. He then became very ill, that never worked out. And the reason is I was – once upon a time, president of the Museum of Television and Radio in New York City and Los Angeles. And I oversaw one of the great archives in television and radio programming, and so I have this deep history in being able to sort of go into archives and try to understand what’s happening in the archive. The year before I began discussing this with Christie, I’d been out in Silicon Valley and at Stanford, they have the internet archives where all of the original material of internet pioneers is. And I was literally reading, you know, notes from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and a variety of other people.
So, the aspect of dealing firsthand with archives is something I’ve dealt with all my life. I had a suspicion with 3,000 scrapbooks there might be something really interesting in there. Although, I didn’t know necessarily what was going to be in there. And so, I basically asked Christie and the Hefner Foundation whether or not I could have access, and said I’ll come back and tell you if I find something interesting which might lead to a book or some other type of project. And that’s how everything got started.
Nico Perrino: Well, what was the most interesting thing you found in there, or what was the most interesting couple of things you found in there?
Stuart Brotman: Well, one is that he taught, and he was a teacher for 20 years at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, which is one of the great film schools, if not the greatest film school in the United States. And it turns out that there is a film censorship class that was taught by Rick Jewell, who’s one of the people in the book, and Drew Casper, his co-teacher. And every year, they would bring Hef into the class to close the class with a final lecture and discussion. And he literally never missed a class in those 20 years.
There’s a story that Rick tells in the book where Hef was going to receive an award in London, a Lifetime Achievement award, and it conflicted with the class. And so, he basically decided that between those two options, he would go to the class. And the classes were totally free and open. So, obviously, there were students who could be highly critical of him, they could challenge him, it was not a traditional lecture. He basically said everything’s fair game. And apparently, they were just extremely rich and detailed classes that went on for 20 years.
So, that was one thing. And there are no transcripts, there were no recordings of those classes. So, literally, the only way you could find out about them as I did, was to have a discussion with Rick Jewel, who was the co-professor with Hef at these classes. That was just an amazing discovery.
Nico Perrino: That’s one of the more interesting interviews in your book, is with Rick Jewell. And one of the things that I found fascinating was, as you say, there were no questions that were off-limits. And he started doing these classes, I intuit from the book, during the feminist backlash to Playboy. And he took questions from feminists in the class, critical presumably of his work it sounds like, and he was not afraid to answer them. Rick talks about how that backlash sort of subsided, and he missed it, it sounds like in the later years that Hef was teaching the course. But he wasn’t afraid of controversy, he wasn’t afraid of responding to his critics.
The other thing I found interesting was that he didn’t come into the class eager to teach it. In fact, Rick, it sounds like asked him to teach the course, and he said no initially. And then Rick tried a different tactic where he had his students ask him to teach the course or a lesson in the course I should say. And that’s what prompted him to say yes. And from there on out, as you note, he never missed a class, missed award ceremonies in different countries presumably big events that one would like to attend so that he wouldn’t miss his class.
And it’s – you know, we should say when we talk about his class, he had reached out, or someone on his behalf, if I’m not mistaken, reached out to the University of Southern California to see if they had a course on censorship within their Cinema Arts program. And it sounds like at one point they did, but it had no longer been taught or was no longer in the course catalog, and he asked if they would revive it. And he would provide the funding to do so, and he did. Do you know if that course is still being taught?
Stuart Brotman: It is. It is now being revived because Professor Jewell has taken emeritus status, but in fact, I will be going out next fall to be part of that class to talk about some of the issues in the book. Dean Daley from USC Cinema School has invited me out there and it’s going to be a great pleasure to essentially be part of that enterprise as well.
The other interesting aspect about that particular class is that it was not a media event. It was totally personal. It was not connected to Playboy. There were no photographers, there was no P.R. agents, he basically just showed up at the class by himself, and left by himself. And so, it was very much a personal activity. And that’s really I think the beauty and the interest in these scrapbooks because you got to see a lot more of the inner workings of a person as opposed to what their public image or whether their – business success was.
Nico Perrino: What was Hef’s interest in cinema, American cinema, and censorship in particular within cinema?
Stuart Brotman: Well, he grew up in the great era of the movies, and like a lot of kids, he went to the movies a lot, movies were I think 25 cents at that point, there were matinees, there were double features, and so a lot of his love of beauty and art and everything else was gained through the movies. And so, he always loved that. He had a full theater in the mansion, and he had regular movie nights and people would just come and watch movies. He had it like a movie theater, he had popcorn and refreshments, and that apparently was one of the great activities.
Not only did he enjoy movies, he really loved the history of movies and he also, of course, experienced that era in the movies when there was a good deal of censorship. When, for example, you could not show married couples sleeping in the same bed, there was a lot of obviously, censorship or self-censorship in terms of the movie code period, when essentially producers didn’t want to violate the code, so they decided they would pull back, and I think there’s a pretty interesting story Rick tells in the book about Howard Hughes. Because Howard Hughes was a great maverick, and he really decided to sort of push the envelope in terms of what he could get away with within the movies.
And of course, later on, we had the development of the movie rating system. So, this was really a life-long interest. And I think it, again, goes back to childhood and this love of an activity. And I think he probably was doing this on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you know, right after working on his scrapbook. So, they were all tied together.
Nico Perrino: It’s just funny to think about this “American Playboy” as the Amazon series terms him, spending his weekends scrapbooking, rather than hanging out in the grotto, or at the pool, you know, he’s just sitting alone scrapbooking, which is an image you don’t often think of when you think of Hugh Hefner.
Stuart Brotman: No, and these scrapbooks are so detailed and so you could literally imagine how long it would take. Because basically what he would do, apparently, was to have loads of clippings done during the week for him, and they were then brought in to him when he began to scrapbook on Saturdays, to decide what was going to go in there, and also what was the order they were going to go into, and then writing the captions for each of those. So, all of that was quite meticulous.
Nico Perrino: And the things that he included in his scrapbook, was there any sort of rhyme or reason to it? Was it pretty much everything in his life, was it – did it relate to family, personal goings-on, or was it primarily related to his business and passions?
Stuart Brotman: It was not a personal scrapbook in the sense that you don’t get to see pictures of his family at birthday events and that sort of thing. But clearly, I think you said it correctly, which is the idea of not just business, but passions. And clearly, there’s a lot also in there related to his idea as he began to develop major sections of the magazine. For example, the Playboy Interview. So, the Playboy Interview to him was really a centerpiece of the magazine. And in many ways, it was an instrument or a vehicle for him to essentially have the First Amendment work in a magazine by having a very diverse group of people invited to be interviewed.
And I don’t think any other publication or any other media outlet has ever had that level of diversity in terms of political opinion, religious opinion, ideology, I mean they had the full range. And the idea behind the Playboy Interview, was not just to have a journalistic interview, was not just to have a journalist come in and ask questions, it was to essentially have a very broad and deep conversation. And that’s what I try to replicate in the book. And it started in 1962 with Miles Davis, the great jazz musician, and the first person who did the interview was Alex Haley, who turned out to be the author of Roots later on, and one of the great journalists, he wasn’t a journalist, he was really a novelist.
And over the years, a number of other people like that became the interviewers. People like Norman Mailer. So, it’s just an extraordinary commitment to having a robust diversity of viewpoints in a magazine. And if you tick off the types of people that were interviewed it’s just an amazing array of people.
Nico Perrino: Well yeah, if you look at it, you note some of these people in the introduction to your book. You got Jimmy Hoffa, you got Jimmy Carter, you got Clint Eastwood, William F. Buckley, you’ve even got people like George Lincoln Rockwell, the American Nazi Party founder, and George Wallace, you know, the southern segregationist. Now, interviews presumably aren’t new, but the style that I’m assuming distinguished this one and sort of made it a place where people wanted to be, right, if you were a celebrity or you’re trying to sell something, was, as you say, how in-depth it was, how wide in scope it was, the astuteness of the questions I’m presuming?
Stuart Brotman: Yes, and also the amount of research that went on before the interviews. So, in order to do one of these interviews, you basically had to read or understand everything about the person before you went into the interview, and the interviews were not done with notes. And so, they were conversations in the way we’re having a conversation. And so, that made them extremely unique because certainly for magazines, they typically just have the classic question and answer where a journalist would develop a few questions and come in and essentially not have a conversation, but essentially try to get certain answers from the person who was being interviewed.
These were really more conversations. And they were conversations that were really meant to open up the person’s – what I call the head and the heart. So, you got to see what these people were thinking and what these people were feeling. Of course, the most famous is probably the Jimmy Carter interview when he was a presidential candidate because there was that famous line where he was asked about his interests in other women, and he said, obviously he was married, continues to be married, but said that he had lust in his heart. And that was really a shocking comment at the time to hear from a presidential candidate.
And that became somewhat legendary but I think it also sort of symbolizes how deep these conversations were so that the people who were having these conversations felt comfortable enough to open up their head and their heart.
Nico Perrino: Today, if you were to have someone like George Wallace or George Lincoln Rockwell sit down for an interview with a major publication, the criticism would be that you’re platforming bigots, or you’re giving a platform to retrograde or offensive viewpoints. You’ve actually seen some journalistic outlets shy away from doing that for precisely that reason and that criticism. Was there criticism of that kind for Playboy, for Hefner, and the weekend? I should – I’m about to say the weekend interview, that’s what the Wall Street Journal does – the Playboy Interview, or is that really a new phenomenon and how does that diverge from the ethos that Hugh Hefner was trying to instill with his Playboy Interview?
Stuart Brotman: I think it’s a newer phenomenon. Obviously, it relates to social media, because, you know, the blowback that people get now primarily would be on social media. They were actually very well-received, because they were considered an art form, and they are an art form. And I think the only publication that has really picked up on it since is Rolling Stone. And I think the people at Rolling Stone will tell you that they look back on the art form and have tried to adapt it a little bit for their audience. So, no, it was not controversial. I think what was surprising to a lot of people is the level of diversity that was put in there because it was not just people who believed in what he believed in or supported the magazine.
There were people who were very critical of what was being promoted in the magazine, and they were certainly part of it as well. I mean for example, Germaine Greer, and Betty Friedan and Camille Paglia, they were all in the magazine. And Anita Bryant, who was at the time probably one of the most prominent anti-gay activists. She was given a platform as well. So, the idea that we always talk that in terms of a marketplace of ideas, this is something that he really felt deeply, and that’s why the interview was essentially incorporated into the magazine. They are so legendary at this point, there were books over the years that were compiled, the best of interviews. They’re still available.
And I would encourage anyone who wants to go back and read some of these, they’re really quite extraordinary pieces. I call them literature. And as I began to work on the book, I realized it was important for me to be able to replicate the style of those conversations as I went out and began to have the conversations with the people in the book.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, so the book is not a biography of Hugh Hefner, but it is an attempt to replicate his Playboy Interviews on the topic of free expression with people who you term, “The First Amendment’s greatest generation.” So, these people include – some of whom have been guests on this show before, Jeff Stone, Floyd Abrams, Nadine Strossen, Burt Neuborne, David Cole, Lucy Doga – Dalglish, excuse me. Bob Corn-Revere and Rick Jewell, who we discussed about previously – discussed previously. Why do you call them “The First Amendment’s greatest generation?” Why did you choose them to be interviewed for this book?
Stuart Brotman: They were – here’s the connection. The connection was all of them, other than Rick Jewell who obviously had this close teaching connection, all of them had been nominators or judges or recipients of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award, which was established by Christie Hefner in 1979. And so, we have over 40 years of winners or people who have been involved. And I went through the list, there were about 150 or so of people who have been involved, and I looked at a number of those people and realized these are sentinel figures in terms of thinking and advocating on free press and free speech issues. And so, that’s how they were selected. And I didn’t select them in terms of their age, but it turns out all of them are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s. And that’s why I call them “The greatest generation” because they grew up in an era of great civil rights advocacy and anti-war advocacy and feminist advocacy.
So, to some extent, it’s also a social history. You get to hear them talk about their history in terms of thinking about the First Amendment from their early days through the present, and all of them are still active on the front lines, thinking and influencing the next generation. So, that’s why I call them “The greatest generation,” and it’s a perfect period to be able to capture them now while they’re still around.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, of course. And that was in part what I tried to do. I made a documentary about former ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser, I’ve got the movie poster there behind me, was to try and capture the thought behind – and I've never called them “The First Amendment’s greatest generation,” I’ve always kind of called them old-school civil libertarians, why they did what they did.
And at the opening of the movie Mighty Ira, Ira revisits Ebbets Field, which is home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, a beloved team from him and his childhood, and he is approached by some young kids asking him who he is and what he’s doing there, and he gives them the story about Ebbets Field which is no longer there. It’s been plowed down and an apartment building is built on top of it. And after the conversation, he turns and he says, you know, how can you expect anyone to ever know this history if you never tell them?
So, that’s why I really love the interviews in your book. And it’s kind of the enterprise that I’ve embarked upon in this podcast as well, with now going on 160 interviews, to try and explain the history of why the First Amendment’s greatest generation or the old-school civil libertarians did what they did and stood up for the principles they did. Especially at a time when we’ve forgotten the origin of the First Amendment and why it was so important to some of the early fights that we today greatly revere. Whether it’s the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, many of the social movements in the middle part of the 20th century that were controversial at the time, but are now much revered. And I love in your book some of the early stories that you get from people like Nadine Strossen and Floyd Abrams. Floyd Abrams and Nadine both kind of came to free speech interests through debate early in their lives. Floyd, I think it was at Cornell –
Stuart Brotman: Mm-hmm.
Nico Perrino: Nadine and her high school. And I love the story about – the origin story of Burt Neuborne as well. He was a tax attorney for rich people after being a laborer activist prior to that, and he just decided one day that I can’t do this anymore, essentially a hired hand for the people I loathe, and he went to go work for the ACLU. And to the ACLU’s credit, Burt told them, I knew nothing about you before this job interview or before I started preparing for this job interview. And I’m assuming his interview was with the NYCLU, so it was probably – in 1967, so that was probably with Aryeh Neier, but there’s just some great stories here. When you take away lessons from “The First Amendment’s greatest generation,” what rises to the top in your mind?
Stuart Brotman: Well, one is that there’s no orthodoxy. I think what makes it really interesting even though you could read each of these conversations individually when you read it collectively, you see that there are disagreements. That not – There’s not just one orthodoxy about what the First Amendment means, how far free speech and free press protection should go. And so, there’s really an inner dialogue that’s taking place in the book where individuals are disagreeing with each other and you get to sort of understand the basis of those disagreements.
So, Citizens United, for example. Obviously, there are reasonable arguments probably on both sides. And in order to understand them you can see them through, for example, Floyd Abrams, who obviously was one of the people who argued for Citizens United, but then you have people like Burt Neuborne who, I think are much more skeptical of having unlimited money being able to support political speech. You see disagreements or at least I guess a range of opinions with regard to campus speech. So, you have someone like Jeff Stone, who obviously has been a critical figure in developing what is now called The Stone Report, the previous version was called The Calvin Report, developed at the University of Chicago –
Nico Perrino: Also referred to as The Chicago Statement.
Stuart Brotman: Oh, or The Chicago Statement, the basic idea, essentially, how should universities approach free speech issues? That and obviously FIRE has been really at the center of all of this as well. But there are about 70, 75 universities that have adopted this. One of the critical aspects of that is that the university should not take any particular positions. And when you hear from Nadine, Nadine said, well wait a second. Universities inherently do take positions. And so, clearly, there’s nothing that conflicts with the First Amendment in having a university take positions in a variety of areas and yet still promote robust free speech on campus.
Nico Perrino: What was – what were, I should say some of the more surprising revelations in the course of your interviews? I liked, for example, you were talking with David Cole, who’s the legal director at the ACLU right now, what issue seems to keep him awake at night? And then that first sentence he says, “I think campaign finance regulation is probably one of the most important questions that we need to get a handle on if we are going to save democracy from itself.”
But I really wish we dug in a little bit more there. What does that – why does that keep him up at night? Because you hear about the tensions within the ACLU about its prior support for the Citizens United decision, of course. You know, is there something about that prior support that’s keeping him up at night? Where does he stand on it? I would have loved to have heard a little bit more about that. Was there anything like that in some of your other interviews that really stuck out to you?
Stuart Brotman: Well, it was interesting when Nadine was talking about Citizens United, she went back to her college days where she worked for Gene McCarthy. And Gene McCarthy was a rebel candidate, he was a senator from Minnesota who ran in 1968, essentially was probably the critical person who got Lyndon Johnson to decide that he was not going to run for re-election, and he was very – McCarthy was very much associated with the anti-war movement. He started a grassroots campaign and basically raised money in a period obviously before social media where you needed to knock on doors and ask for five dollars.
So, I think Nadine’s argument is that so much of campaign finance money today is not as critical in terms of having the big-dollar contributions. Because we’ve seen candidates like Bernie Sanders essentially build entire campaigns off of five and ten and twenty-five dollar contributions with social media. So, one of the issues about Citizens United is is it as relevant today as it was at the time that it was argued? Because we’ve seen social media has really fostered an ability to get campaign financing. The other aspect obviously, is once upon a time, candidates were committed to caps on money financing and that really stopped with McCain and Obama. They decided that you couldn’t survive on just federal money anymore. You needed to have private financing. So, I think the days where we could rely on government funding of political campaigns are over.
Which means that essentially, we probably are going to have unlimited money flowing into the campaign. I guess the good news is that a lot of that money is no longer just the big-dollar money, but a lot of it is the small-dollar money which could be aggregated.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, and we should clarify on Citizens United, which has kind of become a catch-all for anything that anyone doesn’t like about campaign finance, that at the center of that was a non-profit organization, or maybe it was a 501(c)(4), anyway, they were producing a documentary about Hillary Clinton.
Stuart Brotman: Correct, correct.
Nico Perrino: And the law that was subject to the litigation said that you can’t do that within 60 or 90 days of an election, as a corporation. The impact being of course, that you can’t make movies, you can’t publish books about a candidate around election time. Which, I think when people hear it in that context, they think, well, of course, the New York Times, for example, can endorse a candidate. Of course, whoever can make a movie about a candidate around an election, and that’s why Citizens United ended up of course prevailing. I was like, what’s the name of that organization that produced the documentary? Then I’m like, it’s there in the case name. Citizens United.
Stuart Brotman: Right. And that’s why there are reasonable arguments on both sides.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, of course. You know, I – the campaign finance discussion, I know people hate having it because it can be confusing. I find it somewhat fascinating because I like the outer edges of First Amendment law, right? When you work at – when you work in it every day you like those cutting-edge questions that are difficult to answer. But I think you’re right, you know, that it’s a conversation that continues to evolve, there’s a continued conversation about how important is money in campaigns? Of course, it’s important, but if it were the deciding factor, I would think Eric Cantor would have still been in the United States Congress, Hillary Clinton would probably be president, and the list goes on and on. So, there’s something that stands between the money and the office and that’s the voter. And if the message isn’t resonating, well –
Stuart Brotman: And hopefully, that’s what I want the book to do, which is also, not just to have people read conversations, but begin their own conversations. Begin to talk about some of the ideas that are in the book. Because I think they raise a number of interesting conversations, obviously of contemporary importance.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, and that’s what we just kind of did with the off-shoot on campaign finance. I want to talk a little bit before we close up here about journalism. You know, I read in the book and I must have recalled this from American Playboy, the Amazon series. Hefner was a student journalist, is that correct?
Stuart Brotman: Yes, he was. Right.
Nico Perrino: And how did that influence him?
Stuart Brotman: I think, greatly. Again, he decided he wanted to start a magazine, so in order to do that it’s not just a business enterprise, you’re starting something which is a journalistic enterprise.
Nico Perrino: But what was he – who was – what was he doing before that? Was he in journalism before that?
Stuart Brotman: He had worked for Esquire Magazine before that.
Nico Perrino: Okay, gotcha.
Stuart Brotman: And so, he had, immediately after college, you know, begun in the publishing field, worked on his college – I think it was a literary or college humor magazine, worked on his high school newspaper. So, a lot of people, obviously, who become great First Amendment advocates, are people who started out relatively young. I started working on my high school newspaper, I’d worked in college radio and everything else. So, you get a sense while you’re doing that of how important it is to be able to express and cover the news and do everything else. So, I think that clearly, that influenced him as well. I mean, in the magazine there was also investigative journalism. I think people forget about that but there were major pieces that were also commissioned to do what we would call classic investigative journalism. And so, this was something that he really believed in as well. And in particular getting back to students, the importance of student journalists to be able to cover things that were happening in their high school or their college. Because so much of student journalism has been overseen by teachers and administrators who don’t want to be embarrassed. And so, they don’t want the student journalists to cover anything which might essentially put the school or the teacher in a bad light.
And over the years there have been a number of cases that have been litigated, obviously, there were organizations, like The Student Press Law Center which has helped defend student journalists, and some of the people who have been awarded the First Amendment Award, by the Hefner Foundation, have been people who have been at the front lines of promoting greater access and greater rights for student journalists. And in fact, there are now some state laws, particularly a state like North Dakota, which you might not expect, which has one of the most strong protections for student journalists now.
And of course, we’ve seen a number of teachers and administrators who have been courageous enough to stand up and say, we think our students should be able to cover fill-in-the-blank, whatever that issue was. I experienced that when I was in high school as a student journalist, when we were covering things like demonstrations, or controversies in the school, clearly, there were administrators who said we don’t want that, but I had some courageous advisors and teachers who said, we’re willing to back you up.
So, student journalism remains an important and vital area, particularly now, because it’s no longer just print journalism. Obviously, schools have websites, student journalists use video and audio, podcasts, everything else. So, it’s an area that he felt very deeply about, and I think has been reflected in the awards, and clearly in terms of what he tried to promote throughout his life.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, and what do you think his enduring legacy will be, the subtitle for your book is The Enduring Legacy of Free Speech and Free Press Values, and what is Hefner’s legacy in contribution to those? Besides, of course, the Hefner awards, which have been going on for decades now and have really done a great job of recognizing in some cases the unrecognized or not sufficiently recognized work of the people who are the boots on the ground defending First Amendment values.
Stuart Brotman: Well, I think that’s part of it, and I think everything that flows from that. Clearly, we see now in terms of cinema and movies we see just this flowering of creative energy and unrestricted content. What’s interesting in the discussion with Rick Jewell, who was teaching film censorship, in a way he was nostalgic and said, maybe the older days were better when we had a little bit of censorship, not in terms of the First Amendment, but in terms of how it might have stimulated greater creativity because it forced people who were making movies to essentially not be totally out front with everything but to have a little bit of nuance and innuendo which audiences could pick up on.
So, I thought that was quite interesting. But in terms of the legacy, I think clearly what we see is this legacy, first of all in the awards. The awards are an incredibly important legacy, not just for the people who won them, but the idea of recognizing people from all walks of life who stand up and promote and advance First Amendment values. So, when you look at the list of the award-winners, which are also included in the book, at least the first 40 years, you see teachers, you see government whistle-blowers, you see obviously entertainment figures, you see journalists, you see lawyers. And so, people from all walks of life are people who can promote the First Amendment.
And I think everyone who reads the book or appreciates what’s in the book is essentially endorsing the notion that they too can be an advocate for greater free speech and free press.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, as you note, the award-winners are at the end of your book, you can also learn more about them at hmhfoundation.org, and in 2020, I should note, Ira Glasser who was the subject, of course, of my film, Mighty Ira, won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Was there an award last year for 2021?
Stuart Brotman: There wasn’t. There will be in the fall. And, as I think it notes right at the beginning, the awards have basically been every year but there have been a few years where they haven’t been awarded. But I –
Nico Perrino: Yeah, it does note that. “Awards are not always presented annually.”
Stuart Brotman: Right. But clearly, there will be awards this fall again, and so that process continues and will continue in the future.
Nico Perrino: Yeah, and I’ve had a – some of our listeners will recall I’ve had Christie Hefner on the podcast. I think I had her on in 2020 to talk about the awards. So, if you’re interested in learning more about the awards and Christie’s career, you can of course visit that podcast. Well, Stuart, I really appreciate you doing this and taking the time and of course, writing the book. I encourage all of our listeners to check it out, The First Amendment Lives On: Conversations Commemorating Hugh M. Hefner’s Legacy of Enduring Free Speech and Free Press Values. So, thanks for coming on the show. I hope to do it again sometime soon.
Stuart Brotman: I do too. I had a great time. Thanks, Nico.
Nico Perrino: This podcast is hosted, produced, and recorded by me, Nico Perrino, and edited by Aaron Reese. To learn more about So to Speak, you can follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/freespeechtalk or like us on Facebook, at Facebook.com/sotospeakpodcast. We also take email feedback at email@example.com. If you enjoyed this episode as I ask you every other week, please consider leaving us a review wherever you get your podcasts, they do help us attract new listeners to the show. And until next time, I thank you all again for listening.