WWE's threatened lawsuit against Connecticut journalist Chris Powell for an offhand remark about how Linda McMahon derived her wealth from "the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch" has continued to backfire, more so than just causing the McMahons negative publicity in their home state.
Instead of writing a carefully worded retraction, the Journal Inquirer, who Powell works for, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming that WWE violated federal election law by attempting to assist Linda's senate campaign via their legal threat:
[WWE Senior Vice President Brian] Flinn demanded that the JI retract Powell's commentary by today or the corporation would "seek legal and all available remedies." Through its lawyer, Richard P. Weinstein of West Hartford, the JI refused the demand last week.
In the newspaper's complaint to the FEC, Publisher Elizabeth S. Ellis said the WWE's threat "meant to discourage our right to comment on Mrs. McMahon."
Similarly, Weinstein said the only purpose of Flinn's letter was "to use WWE to defend the candidate and to seek to have a chilling effect on journalists in Connecticut who might otherwise criticize Linda McMahon during her campaign."
WWE may not have helped their case by sending a copy of their legal letter to every Connecticut news outlet it could find, which could be interpreted as serving notice to the local media to stop disparaging their product, even though it was probably mainly done to maximise publicity.
Flinn, on Vince McMahon's behalf, is sticking to the rather dubious claim that this wasn't a rather heavy handed attempt to influence media coverage of Vince's wife's latest senate run:
Asked today for comment on the JI's complaint, Flinn said there was "absolutely no basis" for it.
"WWE acted solely and specifically to defend its business and corporate reputation from the reckless and false statement that WWE is in the business of pornography," he said. "This is not about politics or Linda McMahon's campaign. Further, it is clear to any reasonable person that Mr. Powell was referencing WWE in his column on May 21."
Flinn added that WWE "is not attempting to prevent the media from exercising its First Amendment rights."
"In fact, WWE itself makes a living by exercising those rights," he said. "However, that does not give anyone the right to hide behind the First Amendment to recklessly disregard the facts. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, it is ruthless and in some cases unlawful to disparage a company and its 700 employees with blatant disregard for the truth and damaging misrepresentations."
Of course, anyone who has been a longtime WWE follower knows that they censor their fans and that their PR team often shows a reckless disregard for the facts, so any response that paints WWE as strict First Amendment saints makes them look like hypocrites.
By the way, this isn't the first FEC complaint filed against WWE, as the Connecticut Democrats felt they had reason to do so in October 2010 over WWE's "Stand Up For WWE" campaign, which they claimed was "improper coordination" between Linda McMahon and her husband's company. The complaint wasn't upheld, though the Department of Justice stopped their subsequent plans to give away free WWE merchandise to voters at polling places. Expect more such legal activity as Linda's second campaign heats up.