Today's lesson: Build your foundation on sinking sand, and you forfeit even the most tenuous claim to the moral high ground.
PTC, which previously stood for Parents Television Council, may now have to stand for "pad the count" or "pardon the crucifixion." The conservative media watchdog hit itself in the muzzle with a rolled-up newspaper last week when, to settle a lawsuit, it agreed to cough up $3.5 million and offered an extensive apology to World Wrestling Entertainment on behalf of PTC, the associated Media Research Center, and PTC's top dog, L. Brent Bozell.
The charge Bozell & Co. had levied against the chair-wielding, turnbuckle-rattling WWE was that WWE's scripted violence was responsible for some tragic copycat violence in the real world. The charge is an old dog that never would hunt, although "blame the media" has become a popular first-gasp legal gambit. Of course, the media itself loves to report stories about the harm it does, even when it isn't doing any harm.
Bozell & Co. slammed WWE around the squared-circle of public opinion, using bogus information in a guerrilla campaign to compromise its product with advertisers. Even if the copycat charge weren't bogus on its face, the UPN Smackdown!
show cited and boycotted by PTC wasn't even on when the highest-profile death occurred. On the way to smearing WWE, Bozell et al. inflated the number of advertisers their campaign had driven from the show.
Bozell wrote the book on advertiser boycotts, but we have no problem in theory with groups that express media likes or dislikes and encourage others to do likewise. That's the American way. In practice, though, they sometimes wield censorship power disproportionate to their numbers due to the hypersensitivity of a regulated medium. We have a problem with that, especially if the pressure group plays fast, loose and wrong with the facts.
For instructional purposes, and not to rub any already tender snouts in it, here is an excerpt from Bozell's apology to the McMahons:
"By this retraction, I want to be clear that WWE was correct in pointing out that
various statements made by the Media Research Center, 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 Many of the companies we stated had 'withdrawn' or pulled their support had never, in fact, advertised on Smackdown!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!
Again, we regret this error and retract any such misleading statements."
Of the wrestling-death accusation, Bozell said: "I regret this happening, it wasn't fair to WWE. And I say this emphatically: Please disregard what others and we have said in the past about the Florida 'wrestling' death. Neither 'wrestling' in general, nor WWE specifically, had anything to do with it. Of that I am certain."
Of this we are certain: You'll want to save Bozell's own "please disregard" advice, apply it more generally than this particular smear campaign, and keep it handy for the future.