In the face of persistent ridicule from his wife, Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden was known to bluster, “One of these days, Alice. Pow! Right In The Kisser!” Of course, the gentle bus driver had no intention of making good on his threat, but he went on record as objecting in the strongest terms. And we all laughed at his incompetence.
I have a feeling the same will happen in the Chris Powell-World Wrestling Entertainment imbroglio. Powell, the managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, is also a gifted columnist — and perhaps the mostly widely read in Connecticut. He’s been jabbing former WWE CEO and senate candidate Linda McMahon for the unsavory nature of the business that brought McMahon and her husband Vince their considerable fortune. To wit, his latest column on the subject:
Her practical qualifications for office did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch.
While Powell’s column never even mentioned the WWE by name, the above sentence appears to be the one that prompted a scathing letter from corporate flak Brian Flinn threatening legal action unless the JI prints a retraction by June 4.
Oh my. Where to begin in deconstructing Flinn’s logic? Is writing that the WWE is “in the business of pornography” defamatory? Of course not. And certainly not in an opinion piece. And what, exactly, constitutes pornography? The courts have struggled with this question for years. Might it be settled in the unlikely case of WWE v. JI? I don’t think so.
Powell’s determination was an opinion — no more, no less. And even if a court found him to be factually incorrect, the WWE would have to show that Powell had acted with “actual malice” and proceeded with “a reckless disregard for the truth,” as defined in the the 1964 Supreme Court decision The New York Times v. Sullivan. That’s a burden I’m sure Flinn knows his company cannot meet.
Besides, the WWE isn’t a person or even a public figure, but a corporation. Might Flinn be viewing this case as a logical extension of Citizens United? Are corporations people in the realm of defamation law as well? Not if you believe the decision of the Texas cattlemen v. Oprah Winfrey.
And Flinn’s finding of malice is laughable:
That you would repeat the false statement that WWE is in the pornography business, after being told of the falsity of that statement, is especially strong evidence of malice.
So let me get this straight: I write an opinion and you tell me it’s wrong. Then if I write it again, that suggests I’m a mean person who wants to harm you? The logic is so tortured that it makes me want to scream.
What, then, could possibly be the WWE’s motive in writing such a letter and emailing it to media outlets across the state? To suppress speech that the company doesn’t like, of course. Isn’t it obvious? Good for the JI for standing by Powell.
And good for Powell for keeping his sense of humor. He told Courant blogger Rick Green in an email, “When I got Flinn’s letter by e-mail last night I e-mailed him back, asking if he wanted the letter published in the JI and if we could do the depositions before the Republican primary.”
Powell added that he was especially eager to meet Trish, the voluptuous actress in a WWE program. Vince tells her she has transgressed, forces her to kneel in the ring, strip down to her bra and panties and bark like a dog in front of a hooting, frothing audience. I hope they have a video screen in the deposition room. That scene will hit you right in the kisser, Mr. Flinn.