Pro wrestling pins Brent Bozell to the tune of $3.5 million and a public retraction.
By Terry Krepel
Professional wrestling impressario Vince McMahon scored a big win -- and it didn't involve hitting someone with a folding chair or throwing them through a flaming table.
The Parents Television Council, a part of L. Brent Bozell III's Media Research Center empire, has agreed to pay McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) $3.5 million as part of an out-of-court settlement of a defamation lawsuit World Wrestling Entertainment filed against the PTC in late 2000.
Bozell had been using the PTC and his other MRC tentatcles to spread accusations that a 12-year-old Florida boy, Lionel Tate, was imitating wrestling moves he had seen on TV when he killed a 6-year-old girl, Tiffany Eunick. Tate was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. As it turned out, Tate was watching cartoons, not wrestling, just before the girl's death (specifically, "The Flintstones" and "Cow and Chicken"), and the boy has new lawyers who say nothing about wrestling.
As part of the seven-figure court settlement, Bozell has posted a retraction and apology on the PTC web site, which must stay online for six months. It's not too terribly public a retraction, mind you; the link is buried at the bottom of the PTC home page, and don't expect it to stay there a day past six months (which is why ConWebWatch has its own copy).
"I now believe that professional wrestling played no role in the murder of Tiffany Eunick ... and am equally convinced that it was incorrect and wrong to have blamed WWE or any of its programs for the deaths of the other children," Bozell writes. He goes on to say that "I want to be clear that WWE was correct in pointing out that various statements made by MRC, PTC and me were inaccurate concerning the identity and number of WWE Smackdown! advertisers who withdrew support from the program. Many of the companies we stated had “withdrawn” or pulled their support had never, in fact, advertised on Smackdown! nor had any plan to advertise on Smackdown!"
As part of the settlement, Bozell has agreed to meet with some of the WWE advertisers his group targeted and personally explain his apology.
That's quite a change from Bozell's initial response to the WWE lawsuit, which he called "one of the most malicious and dishonest pleadings ever placed before a court." The PTC also called the lawsuit "so outrageous that it is now being examined by our attorneys in consideration of a counter-claim for libel."
Left unsettled are charges made in the original WWE suit of deceptive fund-raising, alleging that the PTC is merely a front for the MRC and that funds solicited by the two groups are comingled. Bozell denied the allegations in his response. And Tate's attorney, Jim Lewis, who was also sued by WWE, escaped any monetary penalty and was ordered only to apologize.
In case you were hoping against hope that the ConWeb would have reported any of this, don't bother. The news was completely ignored, even (or perhaps especially) at CNSNews.com, despite the fact that CNS staffers would not have had to leave the building to find the main defendant.
The apparent upside of Bozell being responsible for the squandering of $3.5 million of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization's money to pay for his own intemperate statements -- actually, PTC has insurance that will pay for it, but surely those premiums are going to skyrocket as a result of this claim -- is that he's not shooting off his mouth quite so viciously, at least for now. In a July 3 column on the demise of "Politically Incorrect" (which Bozell and the MRC has been rooting for for quite some time), he's reduced to whining that host Bill Maher is just another liberal because he said things Bozell disagrees with. (Brent, the show was called "Politically Incorrect." What did you expect?) Meanwhile, MRC's Brent Baker complained about Maher's "mean-spirited humor" in his June 27 parting shot. (Well, Baker does know his way around mean-spirited humor -- as does Bozell.)
The PTC once issued a press release (all WWF-related articles on the PTC web site appear to have been deleted) declaring: "Brent Bozell to WWF: You're On Your Back and the Count Is Two." Bozell forgot that in pro wrestling, the first pin attempt never makes it to three and is no indicator whatsoever of who eventually wins the match. That seven-figure settlement must feel like a chair shot to the head for Bozell. Since we'll never see the real thing, that'll do.