Claim Check: Pornography, TV Ratings, and the WWE’s Curious Campaign

by Categorized: Claim Check, First Amendment, Legal Affairs, Media, Politics Date:

I’m beginning to think Brian Flinn, the freshly hired marketing whiz at World Wrestling Entertainment, is involved in a supremely crafty publicity game with his unrelenting campaign against pundits and politicians who dare suggest that WWE’s TV fare is anything but wholesome entertainment.

His protestations, principally to Chris Powell, the feisty managing editor of the Journal-Inquirer of Manchester, are not likely to prompt any editorial revisions, nor to make criticism of the faux-wrestling empire off-limits in the Senate race involving former CEO Linda McMahon.

But Flinn’s thin-as-air threat of legal action has succeeded in generating hundreds of mentions on news websites, blogs and other Internet spots – all repeating his insistence that not only is WWE neither pornographic nor violent, but that anyone who offers an opinion to the contrary is breaking the law.

Is it all a publicity stunt? Or is it possible CEO Vince McMahon secretly doesn’t want his wife trotting off to Washington, D.C.?

Whatever the motivation, Flinn could use a refresher course in pornography, libel law and television ratings.

The current dust-up was prompted by a Powell column shortly after the Republican nominating convention, opining that McMahon’s qualification for office “did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.”

That put Flinn’s keyboard on overdrive, and prompted an angry letter stating that Powell’s assertion was objectively and maliciously false. Flinn demanded a retraction, and floated the possibility of a libel suit if one weren’t forthcoming. The letter, of course, made Powell’s day.

WWE’s performances are choreographed, Flinn explained, so they’re not really violent. (By that logic, Flinn would presumably consider it a lawsuit-worthy fib to describe Natural Born Killers as a violent movie.) Most of Flinn’s irritation, however, is aimed at claims that WWE is, or ever was, in the business of pornography. But in making his case, he misstates the relevance of WWE’s TV ratings, and confuses reasonably well-defined obscenity laws with thoroughly undefined notions of what can be described as pornographic.

“Since 2008, all WWE broadcast programming has been rated TV-PG and prior to that some of our programming had a rating of TV-14,” Flinn wrote in a statement issued Wednesday. “According to the TV Parental Guidelines established by the television industry and adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, neither TV-PG nor TV-14 content would be considered pornography or anything close to it. In addition, the FCC would not permit our content to air on network or basic cable television if it were pornographic.”

Well, that’s not quite true. In fact, under the formal FCC-approved guidelines, “sexual situations” are permissible in both TV-PG and TV-14 programming. (Even “intense sexual situations” for TV-14). Intense sexual situations in the absence of actual nudity might reasonably fall outside Flinn’s definition of pornography. And they might fit within Chris Powell’s. The WWE photo above of Trish Stratus — who famously stripped and barked like a dog during a 2001 WWE television show – might fit one person’s definition of soft-core pornography and not another’s.

Courts have tried to develop a meaningful legal definition of “obscenity” – to cover material so offensive and so lacking in artistic merit that it can be banned from the airwaves. That’s not the issue here. Instead, Powell’s assertion that WWE’s programming fits his definition of pornography is clearly an opinion. And as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1974 case (before Trish Stratus was even born): “Under the First Amendment there is no such thing as a false idea. However pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas.”

Translation: Write a letter to the editor, Brian.

Flinn surely knows he cannot sustain a libel or defamation suit, and he is sorely and naively mistaken if he thinks someone like Chris Powell would ever be spooked by a heap of legalese.

But if it’s all just a stunt to keep WWE’s name in the media – Brilliant.

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32 thoughts on “Claim Check: Pornography, TV Ratings, and the WWE’s Curious Campaign

  1. joe magdalenski

    Great bit of investigative journalism. You should be proud. Why does the WWF and Linda McMahon inspire
    such hatred among the liberal media? Is it because it’s successful and the media is not? In the race against Blumenthal it was ALWAYS McMahon’s spending and wealth which was attacked….when, in fact, the Blumenthals bucks are fabulous! Maybe it all boils down to jelousy.

  2. Napoleon In Rags

    Where is your sense of Adventure ?
    Imagine the entertainment level that
    Linda McMahon could bring to the floor
    of The U.s. Sanate , as well as C-Span !

  3. Conservative in CT

    WWE = Porn? Seriously? 99.9% of the time it’s a bunch of dudes in Speedo’s throwing one another around the ring? Even when a woman is around the ring I don’t think I have ever witnessed as much as a kiss? What a joke!

    1. Derek

      There is a whole subset of gay video erotica devoted to oiled up hunks in speedos wrestling. Arguably, WWE combines that element of pornography with the exhibitionist fetishists!

      Though WWE did make money from pay per views that advertised attractive women in lingerie matches, featured a WWE proto-Diva (Miss Kitty) removing her top (her character’s reasoning, she wanted to). UK pay per views, later available widely in the US on video, featured other topless moments. In 1997/8, DeGenerationX encouraged women in the crowd to lift their tops on camera. Footage also released on home video, all generating income for WWE.

  4. DON886

    I really did not expect the Courant’s attack ads on McMahon to start 5 months before the election.

    Just as Joe does not understand exactly the reason, but I think closer to the election we will see several ads daily attacking McMahon.

    Folks complain about super pacs controlling elections, but seem to ignore what the liberal media does.

  5. Art

    This article once again misses the point. There is much worse out there on network TV tonight…..just turn on CBS, NBC, ABC and Cable Networks and watch! It’s clear why the intense focus on WWE (More politics!!!). Beat Linda up if you want, but leave the company (REMEMBER: WWE is TV-PG and According to the TV Parental Guidelines adopted by the FCC, neither TV-PG nor TV-14 content would be considered “pornography” and would not permit content to air on network or basic cable television if it were.

  6. DerbyJoe19

    Stop all the legalese arguments – from all sides, Chris Powell, WWE, Courant. Let’s focus on the CT company that is creating jobs (yes, real jobs that pay people to work) right here in state. Can someone, anyone, just acknowledge that that’s a good thing for our State.

    I for one want MORE entertainment companies to open offices here, employe people, pay them salaries so they can support their families, let those workers pay taxes….that’s what we need more of not libel, slander, and obsure columnists making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    thanks for the chnace to comment on issue.

    1. Derek

      Didn’t Linda/WWE get in some sort of trouble for employing their wrestlers as “contractors” while holding them to standards and contractual expectations of (legally defined as) employees? Doing this allowed them to avoid quite of employment taxes in the state of CT.

      1. SmGovGood

        Yes she got in trouble when the Courant and other media outlets WRONGLY “reported” WWE did not pay health benefits. When you are making $500,000 a year, the wrestlers were advised by their accountants to pay their own health benefits for a tax deduction/business expense.

        But the only thing that was reported was that SHE was Evil because she did not pay employee benefits (half the story)….the fair and even reporting done by the liberal press.

  7. M. Lopez

    My thoughts exactly, why are we being so negative towards a business that helps CT families with jobs and family entertainment. If people think the WWE is pornography then they need to start watching some other TV shows. While the WWE is STAGED entertainment you have countless other TV shows with content rated much higher than TV-PG. Its time to leave this alone and turn the focus to the candidates if anything.

    1. Derek

      The fact that WWE is STAGED entertainment is more damning towards McMahon. Somebody decided to pursue each storyline. So when nudity (let alone explicit narratives) occur, its by design. While the television program is TV-PG now, it has not always been. Also WWE the brand is larger than its TV shows. There are pay per views like Royal Rumble 2000 that featured a topless septuagenarian. Home video like “WWF Divas in Hedonism.” Divas appearing nude in Playboy, with said issues blatantly advertised as a part of storylines….

      The argument is not against WWE as being active producers of pornography, but rather that they have dabbled into selling explicit material intended to sexually arouse on multiple occasions. See: Any lingerie match, in which one wins by stripping their opponent to their bra/panties (all with Jerry Lawler hooting “puppies!”)

      1. SmGovGood

        Do you just not like a successful person? Jelous? Bloomy inherited millions!!!(he did not earn it!) Do you like Mr I sued 32,000 CT businesses as CT AG? Talk about DAMAGE the the business envorinment and the CT economey….Was he responsible for the 0.00% Job growth that has plagued CT for the past 10 – 20 years? Bloomy had an army of attorneys, as AG, about 200 to go after one and all, and he did! Was that good for CT? SSNC a CT based business just hired 500 employees – in Indiana! not CT why? A $9 Billion dollar Greenwich hedge fund just took all of it’s high earning employees and the BIG taxes they pay and moved to Florida!

        OOOPS! ( TAX THE RIH DOES NOT WORK, THEY MOVE!!!) the rest of us in CT will have to pay more!!! Pratt Whitney, keeps pruning jobs in CT and sending them to other states. Pfizer sent 1,100 jobs to Cambridge MA. Marlin firearms moved the whole company to New York! CT has big problems that need to be fixed just like the USA….send the best person to do the job, a successful business person, GO LINDA!

  8. Farfel

    I just love these articles that bring out the lowest IQs on the planet, sitting on their stained sofas of their double wides, typing frantically to defend Republican millionaires

    Top notch entertainment.

  9. Perry

    I think most commenters are overlooking how poorly the McMahons treat their on-air talent. Nice to know people are so happy to support a company that has had so many of its employees, excuse me, independent contractors, die young.

    And as someone who used to watch WWF/WWE in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it would be very easy to describe a lot of what they put on TV in that time period as offensive, graphic, pornographic, lewd, purient, vile, stupid, etc.

    1. SmGovGood

      ALL this….And as someone who used to watch WWF/WWE in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it would be very easy to describe a lot of what they put on TV in that time period as offensive, graphic, pornographic, lewd, purient, vile, stupid, etc.

      Perry, it kept you in front of the TV at the time…that is successful marketing, you had the choice to change the channel…but did not! The product was successful! Management was successful! Advertisers were paying for an auduance, they got it…thank you for supporting Linda.

      1. bill m

        yeah no kidding, Perry seems to know too much about wrestling, must have a set of wrestling shorts and a mask on as he wrote that . So the millions who tune in to wrestling each week from how many Countries, and all the troops overseas who watched live shows on bases are all mindless idiots? thats what these people are trying to tell us.Its entertainment, maybe not theirs, but its others. in the audience on any given night you will see famous sports atheletes, actors,children invited thru the make a wish foundation and other charities. they are not sitting at home during the day watching sexual and violent situations on day time soaps are they? linda may have made her fortune thru wrestling, but then kennedy’s made theirs thru prohibition bootlegging and investments thru political friends.

  10. End One Party Rule

    The choice is clear, Unions VS. Taxpayers, in Wisconsin the Taxpayers WON! $3.5 Billion is cuts were made and a surplus was had along with tax CUTS! It can be done, the unending tax increases to support the state worker Unions does not need to happen….there is hope for the Taxpayer. Scott Walker will go down in history as the man who stood up to the Union Pressure and just said enough is enough….and survived!

    Why no coverage from the Liberal Courant? Dannel take note on how to be a real Governer.

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