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Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- WWE Terrorism Storyline Prompts Huge Backlash from Viewers and the Media

Following WWE's tasteless and shameful terrorism storyline on last week's episode of Smackdown (which I wrote about in great detail here), the backlash has been massive from WWE viewers and the mainstream media.

New York Post/Fox News Article
First came a news story that was published in the New York Post newspaper, in addition to being published the New York Post and Fox News Channel web sites (full story available here). The highlights of that article have got to be WWE's Kevin Dunn saying that WWE "tries to be sensitive in everything" they portray, which is a hilarious statement given the not-the-least-bit-subtle racial overtones of many different WWE storylines, as detailed in my previous post on this subject.

However, the gold medal for most ridiculous quote goes to Kevin Dunn in the same article for saying that the terrorism storyline was meant to be taken "tongue-in-cheek," which makes sense because, you know, terrorism is so side-splittingly hilarious.

Daily Variety Article
The TV trade publication Daily Variety covered the WWE terrorism storyline, both in the Variety print publication and on the Variety web site (full story available here). The Drudge Report web site also linked to the Variety article, causing it to get picked up by many other news outlets, including the Chicago Tribune newspaper and web site.

In the Variety article, WWE and UPN repeat their claim that they "were unable to alter the episode, due to the tight timeframe between the show's taping earlier in the week and its Thursday night timeslot." However, based on what the insider pro wrestling media reported at the time, that is false.

Here's what the Pro Wrestling Torch reported at the time about this very subject: "A number of people have written asking if it was WWE's or UPN's decision to air Smackdown as it was taped on Monday without any edits. The only indication we've received so far is that it was a mutual decision based on time crunch and a conclusion that it was air-able with the warning scroll. Of course, there are circumstances where the show could be edited on short notice, even if it meant the final product wasn't timed as well as usual, but this wasn't deemed a situation worthy of such an effort."

So, WWE and/or UPN could have edited or removed the segment if they felt it was necessary to do so after the terrorist attacks in London, which took place approximately 16 hours before Smackdown went on the air in the East Coast of the United States.

TV Guide and Media Life Articles
The WWE terrorism storyline is currently the lead story on TVGuide.com. The main headline at the moment on the site is a picture of Mohammad Hassan with the headline, "Breaking News: UPN comes under fire for terror-like Smackdown stunt." The highlight of the story is this (sarcastic) line: "Meanwhile, WWE spokesman Gary Davis is urging viewers to tune in this Thursday to see how the plot 'gets straightened out.' If you don't, then the terrorists will have won."

The WWE terrorism storyline also got a write-up in Media Life Magazine, which you can see at the bottom of this page. The highlight of that article has to be the apparent WWE response to Media Life's request for further comment, as the article concludes, "The WWE says it's an entertainment business and that its plot shouldn't be taken seriously."

Discussion about WWE Terrorism Storyline on MSNBC Primetime Television
The WWE terrorism storyline was also discussed on the Tuesday, July 12th episode of "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" on MSNBC, which airs in primetime from 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM. The segment about WWE was hyped at the beginning of the show and took place during the "Outsider" segment of the show.

In the "Outsider" segment, host Tucker Carlson discusses different issues with someone from outside the world of cable news, namely ESPN radio show host and HBO boxing analyst Max Kellerman. The "Outsider" segments often end with Carlson and Kellerman continuing to disagree about an issue or mocking the other's position on an issue, which is what made it uncommon in this case when they both agreed at the end of the segment.

Here is a transcript of the segment that is not 100% word-for-word, but is fairly accurate and is based on watching the segment and notes that I took during the segment.

(beginning of transcript)

Tucker Carlson introduces the segment: "The UPN network is on the ropes for broadcasting a WWE Smackdown wrestling show in which a wrestler was the victim of a simulated terrorist attack. The program aired on Thursday, the same day as the London bombings. A group of masked men choked out the Undertaker character while another Arab wrestler knelt in prayer. The scene was edited out of the UK edition of Smackdown. UPN said it couldn't change the episode in time for the US version, and instead they ran a parental discretion advisory message across the screen. "

(discussion about the topic begins as video clips of the segment air on the screen)

Tucker Carlson: Now... professional wrestling has always had villains. In the 50's, Nazis were villains in wrestling, and during the Cold War you had the Russian villains. The villains in the modern world are radical Islamic extremists...

Max Kellerman: Yeah, this is very, very serious. I am very serious about this. Anything that trivializes terrorism... listen, in the 50's, World War II had already been decided. The Nazis were no longer a threat. You know, Nikolai Volkoff wrestling during the Gorbachev era of the Cold War, Gorbachev was a guy who could talk reasonably with Ronald Reagan. This is not the same thing. These terrorists are the equivalent of Nazis during World War II. They should be hunted down, and brought to justice, and in most cases killed. They should not be trivialized by the WWE, or anything that turns them into caricatures. I mean, these are not enemies from the last 20 or 30 years. This is much more serious [than previous wrestling villains].

Tucker Carlson: Actually, I think you make a good point. But I think what also happened is that UPN must have gotten a lot of complaints from Muslin civil rights groups saying it was insensitive...

Max Kellerman: ... Well, my objection is not from being a Muslim or along the lines of racial stereotyping, because they were clearly shown to be terrorists [on Smackdown]. But I mean, they simulated a beheading? Not only was this segment in very poor taste, but again, anything that makes a caricature out of this issue or trivializes it... this is a completely serious issue. There is no room for it to be trivialized like this in any way.

Tucker Carlson: Okay, you know what? I will concede. You've won me over. I give up. You're right about this.

(end of transcript)

WWE Tries to Take Advantage of Negative Mainstream Publicity
As I wrote in my original article on this subject, "I think WWE might actually be hoping to get some negative publicity on this from the mainstream media, with the theory being that any publicity is good publicity because it gets your brand name out there. What WWE still doesn't seem to realize is that exactly this kind of thing is what hurts them so severely in the advertising world."

Any doubt that WWE is hoping to use the terrorist storyline to garner mainstream media attention for itself was removed on Tuesday when WWE actually wrote a news story on its web site in which it re-published the New York Post and Daily Variety articles, and encouraged web site visitors to return soon to hear Mohammad Hassan's response to the backlash. I guess WWE figures, if they can get some mainstream media publicity (even if it's negative publicity) with a little terrorism storyline, what's the harm in it?

WWE Aiming for More "Worked Shoot" Nonsense with the Terrorism Storyline
The line on WWE.com that says, "Hassan has promised to respond to the negative press right here on WWE.com" serves as yet another example of WWE trying to take a real-life situation and "control" it by turning it into a worked storyline of sorts. Recent examples of this would be Brock Lesnar supposedly negotiating with WWE, the whole situation with John Bradshaw Layfield at the ECW pay-per-view, Matt Hardy's return to WWE, wrestlers who have just been laid off by WWE being interviewed on WWE.com, and the list could go on.

When WWE acknowledges the mainstream media backlash to a WWE storyline and then says, "Hassan has promised to respond to the negative press right here on WWE.com," there's a giant hole in that logic. Let me get this straight... a WWE-contracted performer who was only doing what the WWE creative team scripted him to do is going to respond? Shouldn't it be the WWE creative team responding given that they wrote the damn segment?

So now Mohammad Hassan (who is actually an Italian kid in his 20's from New York who isn't even Arab-American) is presumably going to do a "worked shoot" interview on WWE.com, and by that I mean he's presumably going to be responding to real-life media articles, but is only going to do so in his fake pro wrestling character.

The writing team at WWE seems to have become fixated on "worked shoots" in recent weeks. If WWE wants to do 50 worked shoot situations in a one-month period, more power to them. I just think they should leave the whole "exploiting terrorism" thing out of this massive WWE worked shoot bonanza.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if WWE wants to pretend that Matt Hardy doesn't really work for WWE and is just a crazed lunatic jumping over the guard-rail and attacking Edge, that's fine. But if WWE wants to pretend that Mohammad Hassan is a real person (as opposed to a completely scripted pro wrestling character) who is responding to real media stories about WWE's lack of taste, that's not fine, and it only shines a brighter spotlight on WWE's lack of taste.

UPN Lays the Hammer Down on the Terrorism Storyline, At Least for Now
The word came out on the Wrestling Observer web site on Tuesday that UPN had exercised its veto power and asked WWE not to use the Hassan character in any way at the Tuesday night Smackdown tapings in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Here is what the Observer reported on Tuesday afternoon: "UPN Nixes Angle Ahead of Time This Week... UPN sent word today [to WWE] that after all the negative media publicity stemming from last week's show, they didn't want the Mohammad Hassan character on this week's episode of Smackdown. WWE had planned a storyline change for Hassan tonight in Worcester after the storyline involving terrorists from last week backfired."

According to a report on the Observer web site from a correspondent who attended the Smackdown tapings in Worcester, the only role that Hassan had on the episode of Smackdown that will air this Thursday was for his "lawyer" to come out and announce that Hassan was taking a leave of absence from Smackdown until after his match with The Undertaker at the next pay-per-view event, which is on Sunday, July 24. If WWE sticks to that proclamation, that would mean that the earliest Hassan could appear on Smackdown again would be Thursday, July 28.

WWE Still Chooses to Film a New Hassan Segment for Possible Weekend Airing
Though Hassan won't be appearing this week on UPN's Smackdown broadcast, he may still be appearing on the weekend show "WWE Velocity," which airs on Saturday nights at 11:00 PM on Spike TV. At the tapings in Worcester, WWE filmed a segment in which the company attempted to take advantage of the negative mainstream media backlash to garner more heel heat for the Hassan character.

The Observer correspondent's report from the tapings in Worcester said, "Hassan and Daivari came out, inciting the crowd with another rant about the injustice he endures as an Arab-American... being unfairly labeled as a terrorist by people who don't know him, like Don Kaplan of the New York Post, whose article Hassan read excerpts from and threw the article on the ground... Hassan concluded by saying he was proud of his heritage and left." Again, WWE might choose to air this segment on WWE Velocity, or they might choose not to air the segment at all.

What All Wrestling Fans Should Now Be Fearing
If you have followed the pro wrestling closely, your immediate reaction to the news that UPN yanked Hassan from this week's broadcast was probably, "Oh no, I hope WWE doesn't make Hassan the champion of the Smackdown brand for ten months!"

If you think back to this time last year, there was a big controversy after WWE wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) decided on his own that a good way for him to get a strong heel reaction from fans at a WWE house show in Germany would be to goose-step around the ring and salute Adolf Hitler, which he did on the anniversary of D-Day no less.

Layfield was promptly fired by CNBC from his job as a financial analyst for the cable network, as well he should have been. How did WWE respond to JBL's actions, you ask? Did they fire him? Suspend him? Hit him with a big fine? Nope. They rewarded him by booking him to win the WWE Title.

The word in the insider pro wrestling media at the time was that Vince McMahon felt that Layfield didn't deserve to be fired from his job at CNBC, and WWE gave Layfield the WWE Title largely out of spite for all of the people who were outraged by Layfield's Hitler-saluting antics. WWE then chose to keep Layfield in his position as the WWE Champion for over ten months, during which he got ten months' worth of main-event-level PPV bonus checks and house show money.

So, if John Bradshaw Layfield can goose-step and salute in Adolf Hitler in Germany, and get fired from his CNBC job as a result, and then immediately get rewarded by WWE with a 10-month run as a main-eventer with main-eventer paychecks, it's not entirely out of the question that we're about to have a "Mohammad Hassan as World Champion Era" in WWE. It's unlikely, but stranger things have happened.