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Hollywood Succumbing to Critics, WWF Chief Says

October 12, 2000|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hollywood received a lecture on its failure to safeguard the 1st Amendment in the face of congressional criticism from an unlikely source Wednesday: World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Chairman Vince McMahon.

Addressing a Hollywood Radio and Television Society luncheon audience in Universal City, McMahon chided the entertainment industry for having "kowtowed" last month to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his Senate committee examining the marketing of R-rated entertainment to children.

"Quite frankly, I was disappointed in you--disappointed in the way Hollywood handled its response to that subcommittee," McMahon said. "Where's your chutzpah?"

McMahon maintained that although the focus was on marketing, "we're talking censorship here, plain and simple," because companies have no incentive to create products they are unable to market.

"You can't give one inch on this," McMahon warned. "Don't. You'll regret it."

McMahon also said that consumers are not overly concerned or offended by television programming, despite what elected officials are saying. "The public votes--not just every four years," he said. "The public votes in our industry every day. . . . People don't have a problem with our content. Otherwise, they would not be watching."

Under McMahon, the WWF has become a major entertainment force, producing high-rated programming for Viacom's UPN network and its TNN cable channel.

The company also has become more politically active, staging a voter-registration drive to encourage its audience--which consists primarily of young men and teenage boys--to vote. A well-known WWF personality, the Rock, introduced House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) at the Republican National Convention in August.

McMahon conceded the WWF has experienced difficulty selling advertising time for its "WWF Smackdown!" program on UPN--but not cable--due to pressure brought against sponsors by the Parents Television Council, an advocacy group endorsing traditional values. McMahon accused the group of spreading disinformation and said the WWF would be more aggressive pleading its case to advertisers.

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