Raw Is War, Indeed
The WWF goes into full smackdown mode with a lawsuit against Brent Bozell.
By Terry Krepel
On Sept. 29, Brent Bozell's Parents Television Council issued a press release touting PTC's encouragement of more sponsors to drop their ads from the World Wresting Federation's "Smackdown!" show on UPN. Its headline: "Brent Bozell to WWF: You're On Your Back and the Count Is Two."
As any pro wrestling fan can tell you, the first pin attempt in a match never gets to three. If Bozell didn't know this before, he does now.
Why? Because the WWF not only kicked out on two-and-a-half, it returned with a clothesline move in the form of a lawsuit against Bozell and the PTC. To cover their bases, the suit also lists Bozell's Media Research Center, the executive director of the PTC, Mark Honig, the lawyer for a man accused of killing a young girl who blames the death on the defendant's watching of TV wrestling programs, and "various John and Jane Does" associated with the PTC.
The complaint, filed Nov. 9, accuses the defendants of several charges, including libel and slander, product disparagement, conspiracy, "tortious interference with contractual relations" and copyright infringement. It asks for unspecified damages.
What's interesting about the lawsuit, more than its actual filing, is some of the supporting statements included to back up the WWF's charges -- which feature some alleged details about the Bozell operation.
The most blockbuster charge is that the Parents Television Council does not really exist. "Parents Television Council was nothing more than a fictitious name used to raise funds for another Bozell entity -- Media Research Center," the lawsuit states. "In or around March of 1998, Bozell registered “Parents Television Council” in California as a fictitious name owned by Media Research Center." Additionally, the lawsuit states, all PTC monies go directly into the coffers of Media Research Center, where it's used for other MRC operations.
The lawsuit also accuses Bozell’s fundraising behalf of PTC of being "in knowing violation" of Better Business Bureau Standards for Charitable Solicitations applicable to such activities: "The Better Business Bureau of Metro-Washington, D.C., in fact, recently concluded that PTC failed to meet standards relating to MRC’s governance and fundraising activities." Bozell and MRC also refused to provide complete information on MRC’s governance and fundraising practices as requested by the BBB, the lawsuit adds. however, "Bozell has recently taken steps to constitute the PTC as a legal entity for the first time so as to separate its books and records for the first time from those of Media Research Center. ... In or around August of 2000, Bozell took steps to incorporate “Parents Television Council, Inc.” as a Delaware religious, non-profit corporation," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states Bozell "is currently involved in a “two-for-one” scam whereby Bozell is soliciting funds from PTC “members” with the pitch that MRC will match each dollar contributed by PTC “members” up to $500,000 in connection with what Bozell describes as a conversion to “independent” status for PTC. In such solicitations, Bozell fails to advise that the monies being supposedly given to PTC by MRC were PTC monies raised by PTC contributions in the first place," the lawsuit states. "Also true to form, Bozell has continued to use this new PTC corporation as a vehicle for his deceptive fund raising practices by soliciting funds from the public under the pretense that the PTC’s mission is non-partisan, without disclosing that, in fact, it has been incorporated as a religious entity."
The lawsuit also alleges that the PTC's list of sponsors who have pulled their advertising from "Smackdown!" is false because "various of these companies never nationally advertised on 'WWF Smackdown!'"
"Bozell’s and MRC’s tortious and fraudulent practices also include, when necessary, threats to use political connections with other extremists to publicly embarrass those who do not capitulate to their demands and agenda," the lawsuit states. "After attempting and initially failing to have the United States Army withdraw its highly successful advertising campaign from 'Smackdown!,' Bozell sent agents to the Pentagon to threaten Congressional hearings into the advertising practices of the Army. Obviously, hoping to avoid such a spectacle and charade, the Army thereafter withdrew advertising from 'Smackdown!'"
The lawsuit also pounds Bozell for "knowingly malicious and false" actions regarding the death of the young girl, Tiffany Eunick, and of working with James Lewis, the attorney defending the man accused of killing her, Lionel Tate, "in an illicit marriage of convenience to perpetuate the hoax that Tate’s murder of Tiffany Eunick had something to do with WWFE (WWF Entertainment, Inc., the WWF's parent company)."
"It is, and has been, a matter of public record that Lionel Tate made no mention of wrestling with Eunick or of wrestling generally in his initial account of the death of Tiffany Eunick," the lawsuit states. "The only true connection to wrestling involved in the Tate case was the unremarkable fact that Tate was watching wrestling on TV when the police came to arrest him, days after Eunick’s death. Thereafter, when asked about wrestling, Tate specifically told investigative agents that he understood wrestling was “fake” and not once implicated television, WWFE or wrestling, in his brutal actions."
And as a WWF-style coup de gras, the lawsuit also points out that PTC's website includes a "marketplace" area that not only provides links to a toy retailer that sells WWF-licensed merchandise, it also linked to "a website called www.sparks.com, on which visitors were able to purchase greeting cards containing graphic sex images. Cards were organized by topic including such topical headings as “Nudity,” “Rated R,” Rated X,” and “Bathroom Humor.” The website also offered a full line of homosexual and lesbian cards, many of which feature naked or partially-naked same sex couples in sexual poses. In general, the cards in the foregoing topics contain nudity as well as vulgar, obscene and sexually explicit language, circumstances and references, regarding ... premarital sex, oral sex, orgasms, masturbation, male genitalia, prostitution and sex toys."
The PTC's response to the lawsuit thus far has been your simple standard denial: "Based on the press release issued by the WWFE, I can say the allegations are completely without merit. I cannot imagine their pleading would contain the kind of scurrilous language in this press release which is so outrageous that it is now being examined by our attorneys in consideration of a counter-claim for libel." The story about the lawsuit on Bozell's CNSNews.com Nov. 20 (11 days after the lawsuit was filed; didn't Bozell tell 'em about it before then?) is pretty lame, combining a very short list of specific charges in the same paragraph as Bozell's dismissal of them as "outrageous," then segueing into PTC's version of its mission. (It does note that Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, by virtue of being on the PTC advisory board, may fall under the "various John and Jane Does" the WWF includes as defendants.)
The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, manages to demonstrate utter cluelessness in an Nov. 26 WWF-slamming article on its Opinion Journal site about the lawsuit that reads almost as if Bozell himself wrote it (the article lacks a byline). It quotes the before-match monologue of The Godfather, the wrestler with the pimp gimmick, but fails to note (as ConWebWatch already has) that The Godfather has renounced his pimpin'-ain't-easy ways months ago and become a moralizer called the Goodfather, who wrestles with like-minded wrestlers in a group called the Right to Censor, which WWF chief Vince McMahon modeled after the PTC.
Given the two people involved, a courtroom hardly seems the appropriate venue to argue this case. I'm thinking steel cage match. At WrestleMania. With Mick Foley as referee. Now that would be a reason to spring for the pay-per-view.