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Saturday, January 28, 2006
Pro Wrestling--- I am a huge fan of the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter and have been a subscriber since Issue #300-something (they are now up to Issue #900-something), but I take great exception to one specific topic and the way in which the Torch has handled it.
In a Torch forum thread regarding the fact that Triple H took last summer off so that he could try to conceive a child with his wife, Stephanie McMahon, Torch editor Wade Keller wrote that readers should "go back and look at [the WWE Newswire in the Torch Newsletter last summer] and you'll see me dance around this without saying it." Wade previously said something similar on the forum, which is that if you go back and read between the lines, you could tell what he was saying over the summer.
Far beyond the Stephanie-Triple H issue, this is turning into a problem at the Torch these days: There is too much "dancing around," at least when it comes to this situation and one other situation. I do not think that it's okay for the Torch to "dance around" the issue of Kurt Angle's life-threatening health situation and then maybe several weeks or months from now if he dies, point back to the previous coverage and say, "See, we did report on the Kurt Angle situation, we just 'danced around it.'" That would be the opposite of good journalism.
(If you're wondering what in the hell I'm talking about when I say "the Kurt Angle situation," here is a brief recap to catch you up: Kurt Angle needs help and should not step foot into a wrestling ring again until he gets it. The Torch has reported through a series of blind news items that Kurt Angle's life is in danger due to an extreme addiction to high levels of prescription pain pills. Rather than taking time off to let injuries heal, or undergoing major surgery that could be career-ending, Angle wants to prove to WWE management that he can continue to work the full-time WWE schedule and be a reliable main event wrestler. He continues to work despite the fact that he still has a broken neck, and he also has an additional major injury to his lower back that he just suffered in the past few months. Angle has already lost his wife and children due to his extreme dedication to continuing to work the WWE schedule at all costs, and if someone doesn't do something, this story is not going to have a happy ending.)
When Wade Keller talked about the point at which he decided to go ahead and report on Triple H and Stephanie trying to conceive, he wrote, "By that point, it was well enough known to not create any kind of an uproar from anyone that I mentioned it."
Okay, so if the standard of whether it's acceptable to report something, or at least a significant part of that standard, is whether it's well enough known, would the Kurt Angle situation not meet and exceed that standard? From the initial Torch reporting, it sounds like it would have met that standard from the very beginning when the Torch published its first blind item about Kurt Angle's dire health situation... and if not, it would certainly meet that standard now with the subsequent weeks of the Torch continuing to "dance around" the issue by indirectly (but never directly) saying that Angle needs help and should be taken off the road or he's going to drop dead.
The two defenses to the way that the Kurt Angle situation has been journalistically handled by the Torch have been: A) They can't do anything for legal reasons, and B) They can't do anything because of protecting a source.
The legal reason is not a valid reason, and if anyone wants to get into the specifics of why it's not a valid reason, I'd be happy to do that. In short, the legal standard for libel is to not only prove that someone spread false statements about you, but also that the person knew the statements were false and spread them with malice.
(It's also laughable to try to say that the Torch can't report on someone's drug issues by name... with one example being that the Torch reported on Steve Austin's drug problems in his latter years of wrestling, and he wasn't even on a "death watch" or thought to be in a life-threatening situation.)
The "protecting a source" reason is also not valid, if for no other reason because enough people in WWE know about it that it's not compromising any individual person (or even a group of individuals) to publish any information that the Torch has. The Torch's indirect, blind-item reporting on the Angle situation has made it clear that they have more than one source, so that's also not an issue.
The Kurt Angle situation is a lot more serious than Triple H and Stephanie McMahon trying to conceive because it's about someone on a "death watch," which according to the definition of "death watch" in the Torch's Sean Waltman interview, means that he could drop dead at any moment and no one in the wrestling business would be surprised or wonder why it happened.
The way it has been handled by the Torch is such that when and if Kurt Angle dies prematurely, the Torch can say, "All these wrestlers knew about it and they did nothing to stop it, so we don't want to hear a damn word from them about being upset or wishing he was still alive."
The problem with that line of thinking is that the Torch falls into the same category, regardless of whether it would be convenient for people to pretend that it doesn't.
As I said when Wade (rightfully) patted Triple H on the back for having exposed Billy Gunn's drug problems when Billy Gunn was in WWE, "I think it's great when people who are in a position of having some degree of influence, who are aware of someone having a serious, life-threatening drug problem, choose to do something about it instead of sitting back and doing nothing and then talking about it after the person dies as if they're not among the people who could have done more than they did. That's just my opinion."
Unfortunately, there is little that I can do that would potentially affect change in the situation, as I could scream it from a mega-phone on the roof of WWE Headquarters and no one would listen. The Torch, on the other hand, does have a certain amount of influence, visibility, and clout, as evidenced by the fact that Kurt Angle felt the need to respond to the Torch blind items by issuing a ridiculous statement that he is in "perfect health" (which Angle himself has contradicted many times in mainstream interviews).
I don't want to wake up tomorrow morning and read a headline that Kurt Angle was found dead somewhere, not just for myself as a fan and admirer of Angle's, but much more importantly for all of his friends and family.
Since the publication of the Torch's first blind item about Kurt Angle, I have been troubled by the Torch's journalistic handling of the situation, and by the possibility that Kurt Angle, one of my favorite wrestlers and one of the people who I have admired more than anyone else over the years, could drop dead at any moment.
It has been troubling since the publication of the first blind item, and now it has only gotten more troubling with the Torch openly talking about "dancing around" issues and having inconsistent standards for when it's okay to come out and report something.
I have a great deal of respect for Wade Keller, and I'm a huge fan of the Torch Newsletter, but on this topic they've got it all wrong.
Labels: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)
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