World Wrestling Federation Entertainment has body-slammed the Parents Television Council in the first skirmish of a legal war ignited by the WWF that could drag out for months.
Late last week, federal Judge Denny Chin in New York threw out a motion by the PTC to dismiss a WWFE lawsuit filed in November. In its suit, the federation maintains that the PTC has defamed it by claiming that the primetime “WWF Smackdown” series on UPN led to the deaths of four children ranging in age from 14 months to 6 years.
The dead children, said the PTC in mailings sent out to raise funds for the council, were the victims of physical abuse brought on by the killers, also children, imitating the moves of the “Smackdown” wrestlers.
First Amendment invoked
In the attempt to dismiss the WWFE legal action, the PTC claimed in court that all of its strictures are protected by the First Amendment.
Judge Chin conceded that the PTC is “free to criticize the WWFE and to express the opinion that the WWFE’s shows are excessively violent and not in society’s best interests.” But the judge went on to say, “The First Amendment does not protect statements that are false and defamatory even if they are made in the context of a public debate about issues of general concern.”
The WWF claims that many of the PTC’s statements are false, such as the constantly reiterated declaration that 40 major corporations stopped advertising on “Smackdown.”
“The PTC kept running around to our sponsors with a false list of advertisers who supposedly canceled their advertising on ‘Smackdown,’ ” said WWF lead attorney Jerry McDevitt,of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, in a phone interview. “We’re suing them for punitive damages because of the advertising dollars the WWF lost.”
In his decision to allow the lawsuit to proceed, Judge Chin pointed to some of these specific charges in the WWF lawsuit. The judge has ordered both parties to gather in federal court in Manhattan on June 22 for a pre-trial conference to set up the discovery process. McDevitt said discovery could go on for months, adding that the WWF will ask for a jury when Judge Chin sets the trial date.