AS I SEE IT - 7/15/2002:
The Media's Thoughts on the PTC's Surrender
by: Bob Magee
Now the mainstream media has weighed in on the surrender of the Parents Television Council to WWE Entertainment as a result of the settlement reached on July 3rd.
Boy, have they ever weighed in.
First is the tremendous article on the settlement written by financial analyst William Spain on CBS Marketwatch.com. It's available at this URL (requires free registration).
(NOTE: The emphasis in articles below is mine.)
Wrestling down a pressure group- WWE delivers financial body slam to PTC
By William Spain, CBS.MarketWatch.com
CHICAGO (CBS.MW) - It doesn't pay to screw around with other people's advertisers, as one pressure group just learned in a painful, and expensive, lesson.
On Monday, apparently stuck between The Rock and a hard place, the Parents Television Council and Media Research Center cried uncle and agreed to settle a defamation lawsuit slapped on it by World Wrestling Entertainment.
The price for getting off the hook? Three-and-half million dollars of its insurance company's cash --
and a delightfully cringing public apology from the busybody group's president.
Some background: The PTC is a self-appointed campaigner for decency on the airwaves, best-known for newspaper ads featuring the late Steve Allen squawking about all that filth on TV.
It specializes in going after the sponsors of programming it finds objectionable, urging them to withhold ads.
With an advisory board made up of famous pop culture scolds (everyone from Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former drug czar Bill Bennett to country singer Billy Ray Cyrus and actress Jane Seymour), it can generate plenty of sound, though rarely much light.
The group takes credit for, among other things, getting Viacom unit CBS to move "Big Brother" to a later time slot and scaring advertisers away from News Corp's Fox's "Temptation Island." (Viacom is a significant shareholder in MarketWatch.com, the publisher of this report.)
A couple of years ago, the PTC set its sights on cleaning up professional wrestling. It accused the "sport" -- and specifically WWE -- of being responsible for the deaths of four children killed by other kids allegedly aping the moves of their ring heroes. The group made quite a fuss over this, managing to persuade a handful of advertisers (including those pillars of rectitude at WorldCom) to jump ship.
Unluckily for the PTC, the accusations were a crock -- and the folks who run WWE turned out to be as tough outside the squared circle as in it, particularly when it comes to protecting their very profitable baby.
Early on in the controversy, explained WWE CEO Linda McMahon, "we indicated to them that the information they were publishing was false [but that] fell on deaf ears. They were putting videotapes together and sending them to advertisers. Retailers were taking our toys off their shelves."
McMahon & Co, were especially upset at attempts to link their fare to the death of Tiffany Eunick, a Florida tot killed by an older boy who, the group claimed, was watching a wrestling program a the time. (He was actually watching "The Flintstones," a fact the yabba-dabba-doofuses at the PTC seemingly failed to uncover.)
So they sued. With a September trial date looming, the PTC decided that discretion was the better part of valor. It agreed to pay up and retracted virtually all of its previous statements.
The written mea culpa, from PTC president L. Brent Bozell, is priceless; a humiliating admission from a "media watchdog" slinking off with its tail between its legs.
The full text of Bozell's letter is here.
But, among other abasing gems, he allows as how "it was wrong to have stated or implied that WWE or any of its programs caused these tragic deaths" and that "WWE was within its rights to be angry at the MRC, PTC, their spokespersons and I for contacting WWE's advertisers [and] passing along accusations which we now know were false."
He also offers a personal apology to WWE chairman Vince McMahon who, under the terms of the settlement, can also whistle Bozell up to individually explain his errors to the company's advertisers.
The $3.5 million, which should arrive within 20 days, will more than cover WWE's legal fees and would represent about 2 percent of its latest quarterly revenues.
Although, "I don't know how you ever get paid for that kind of accusation," Linda McMahon pronounces herself satisfied with the ultimate outcome.
She should be: WWE got everything but the satisfaction of bouncing Bozell's head off the turnbuckle.
And good for them. Perhaps the PTC or other like-minded protectors of morality may think twice before using lies to impose their own narrow standards on the viewing public...."
It's almost amusing to read this. Someone on the A1wrestling.com message board asked (jokingly, I think) when I started writing for CBS Marketwatch.
It's obviously not me, but it's certainly an article that I agree with 100%. But there is a part of me that wishes that CBS Marketwatch and similar financial websites and publications had covered this matter earlier on.
There had been a campaign by Wrestling Fans Against Censorship members to contact various media outlets during the early days of the effort to get coverage of L. Brent Bozell's inaccuracies and outright lies, as well as his membership in Unification Church-affiliated organizations.
Part of the problem is, again, that wrestling is not taken seriously as a form of entertainment and as a business by much of the media. All too many members of the media haven't gotten away from the stereotypical mindset of what and who wrestling fans are, and what wrestling is.
Nonetheless, it's nice to see that websites like CBS Marketwatch are getting the right idea as it relates to this story, even if it's two years late.
The Washington Post also had thoughts on the matter, found here:
TV Watchdog Apologizes for False Claims On Wrestling
Paul Farhi, Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 9, 2002; Page C01
Pro wrestling has landed a $3.5 million smackdown on an Alexandria-based watchdog group that falsely claimed televised wrestling's orchestrated mayhem was responsible for the deaths of four children.
The Parents Television Council, which frequently rails against sex and violence on TV, agreed to pay World Wrestling Entertainment the money and issued an apology in an out-of-court settlement of the defamation lawsuit brought by WWE. "It was wrong to have stated or implied that the WWE or any of its programs caused these tragic deaths," wrote PTC founder and President L. Brent Bozell III in a lengthy public statement released yesterday.
WWE (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) sued the Parents Television Council in November 2000 after the PTC and a related group, the Media Research Council, claimed that children were committing violent acts after watching wrestling on TV.
The PTC publicized the claims in a fundraising video, "National Campaign to Clean Up TV Now!," that included unauthorized clips of WWE broadcasts, such as "Smackdown!" on the UPN network. The tape was part of a PTC effort to persuade advertisers not to sponsor the show, according to court documents.
The group also sent representatives to the annual meetings of various corporations to confront executives of companies that sponsored wrestling shows. "They would ask, 'Why do you want to advertise on programs that are responsible for killing children?' " said Linda McMahon, WWE's chief executive, in an interview yesterday. "That was pretty brutal."
At one point, the PTC claimed that various advertisers had stopped sponsoring "Smackdown!" even though those companies were never advertisers, a federal judge found in reviewing the WWE suit last year.
Among other cases, the PTC helped publicize the "wrestling defense" of a 12-year-old Florida boy, Lionel Tate, who was on trial for murder. Lionel's attorney, Jim Lewis, claimed the boy had killed a 6-year-old playmate in 1999 after watching wrestling on TV and mimicking a move known as the "Stone Cold Stunner."
In fact, Lionel was watching cartoons before the crime. His new lawyers have acknowledged that the "wrestling defense" was "bogus," Bozell said in his statement yesterday. Lionel eventually became one of the youngest defendants convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life without parole.
McMahon said her company tried to supply Bozell and his organization with "correct information" about wrestling's impact on viewers but that the PTC campaign continued until WWE filed suit, alleging 13 instances of defamation, copyright infringement and interference with prospective business relations.
A New York judge rejected PTC's motion to dismiss the lawsuit in June 2001. The suit was set to go to trial on Sept. 9.
As part of the settlement, Bozell has agreed to meet with some of the WWE advertisers his group targeted and personally explain his apology.
PTC attorney Thomas Leghorn said the wrestling group originally sought $55 million in its lawsuit. He said the settlement amount -- which will be paid by PTC's insurer -- "is closer to covering [the WWE's] legal expenses."
But McMahon -- the wife of WWE Chairman and sometime wrestler Vince McMahon -- disputed this characterization. "There haven't been many cases of cash awards in this amount," she said.
Calls to Bozell, a syndicated newspaper columnist, were returned by a spokeswoman for the organization, Elizabeth Baggett. She said PTC would have no comment beyond Bozell's 900-word apology, which is posted on the PTC's Web site (www.parentstv.org).
The PTC claims 700,000 members, although that figure appears to be the cumulative number who've signed up since its founding in 1995 and includes those who pay no dues. The organization has frequently taken out full-page ads in newspapers urging people to send in contributions and to join its effort to restore the wholesome "family hour" to prime-time TV.
Until his death in 2000, Steve Allen was the PTC's public spokesman. Its advisory board currently includes Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), former education secretary William Bennett, singers Pat Boone, Naomi Judd and Billy Ray Cyrus and entertainers Jane Seymour and Tim Conway.
The group claims responsibility for driving sponsors away from many television programs, including Fox's "Temptation Island" and "Boston Public," and for eliminating some of the "objectionable" content of others, such as CBS's "Big Brother."
In April 2001 the group released a report suggesting that pro wrestling programs were toning down some of their sexual and violent content following the PTC's campaign.
It's nice to see that someone else has noticed the fictional membership figures of the PTC, an issue mentioned in the WWF/E lawsuit against the PTC. That constantly cited figure has been used in ads taken out by the PTC, cited in mainstream press about the organization, and used in the PTC's corporate terrorism campaign to represent a huge group of concerned parents that would boycott advertisers if they didn't pull advertising from WWF/E programming.
One small problem: it was impossible for the PTC to have had "members" when it wasn't a separate membership organization, but only a project of the Media Research Center, until a little over a year ago. It's one thing I wish the PTC had been forced to directly address in its public retraction.
Reuters had the following to say about the PTC-WWF/E settlement at here:
"...In a letter of apology and retraction, published on the PTC's website, founder and Chairman Brent Bozell wrote 'it was wrong to have stated or implied that WWE or any of its programs caused these tragic deaths.'
The letter was part of an out-of-court settlement of a lawsuit filed by Stamford, Conn.-based WWE against the PTC and the Media Research Center, a non-profit watchdog group, in 2000 in U.S. District Court in New York, claiming defamation, libel, interference with business relations and other charges.
The PTC had blamed the media and entertainment company for several deaths, especially that of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick, claiming her 12-year-old killer, Lionel Tate, was mimicking WWE wrestling when he fatally attacked her in Florida in 1999.
Tate's defense attorneys argued the boy had been influenced by the televised wrestling, which features body slams, drop kicks and chokeholds.
'We have since learned that this was not true, nor was there any evidence that it was true,' Bozell wrote. He said since Tate's trial, the boy's new attorneys and the judge in the case said claims blaming WWE were false.
At age 14, Tate was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
In his letter, the head of the PTC also said he had lobbied advertisers against the WWE and conceded he falsely claimed some had pulled their ads from WWE's "Smackdown! show.
'Please disregard what others and we have said in the past about the Florida "wrestling death,"' he wrote. 'Neither "wrestling" in general, nor WWE specifically, had anything to do with it.'
Under terms of the settlement, the WWE will receive $3.5 million, it said.
'We have always maintained that certain statements made about us by the PTC went beyond fair comment or criticism, and were false, defamatory, and very unfair,' said Linda McMahon, WWE's chief executive officer. 'We feel vindicated by this settlement.'
Shares of WWE were up 18 cents, or about 1 percent. to $13.21, on the New York Stock Exchange.
The PTC and the Media Research Center produced a videotape as part of a fundraising effort for its campaign 'Clean Up TV Now!' that included interviews with Tate's defense attorney who argued Eunick's death was caused by the impact that professional wrestling had on Tate, the WWE said.
Bozell said the PTC originally had been told Tate was watching a WWE show when he attacked the girl. In fact, Bozell wrote, the group had since learned Tate was watching the 'Flintstones' and a cartoon called 'Cow and Chicken.'
Bozell also wrote while 'PTC can have its concern with the content of WWE's television programming ... these concerns have been reduced significantly over the past years as a reflection of WWE's changed standards.'"
News stories on the settlement appeared on a wide range of media outlets, including Associated Press, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, St. Petersburg Times, Electronic Media Online, Media Life Magazine.
Not so coincidentally, the self-described "fair and balanced" Fox News Channel had nothing whatever to say about the story. Perhaps it's just a coincidence (insert sarcastic pause here)....but L. Brent Bozell
is a contributor to the channel's opinion and commentary shows.
Of course, the wrestling media weighed in en masse...with all major websites reporting the news of the PTC surrender; with one of the more notable being a detailed piece within the most recent print edition of Wrestling Observer.
In this article, Dave Meltzer printed the statistics that were used in successive WFAC PTC Watch e-mailings over a 19 month period; indicating that the PTC knew about the charges that they were making were false, and that the recent statements about "recently becoming aware of their inaccuracy" was simply not accurate, given that so many people were letting them know otherwise.
Along with the mainstream media doing more reporting on the WWF/E-PTC story, I also wish that wrestling media sources had been more pro-active in attacking the efforts of the PTC. While major news stories were certainly reported over the last 19 months, it seems to me that it was the responsibility of those who made their living off of professional wrestling to attack the efforts of the organization that unfairly attacked the largest company within their industry.
While I understand that wrestling media would rather concentrate on...well... wrestling, the risk was very real that the PTC could have done immeasurable harm to WWF/E and to the business as a whole. In that respect, the efforts of the PTC
were an issue within wrestling that was far more important than whether HHH goes over at the next PPV.
Until next time...
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