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World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. has settled a suit against a group claiming that televised wrestling causes violence in children. In a recently announced defamation settlement involving Media Research Center, a nonprofit conservative corporation, the Parents Television Council and various other defendants, the pro wrestling organization will receive $3.5 million. Beginning in 1999, the Parents Television Council and its parent organization, the Media Research Center, began to target the wrestling show “Smackdown” for what they believed was inappropriate content for broadcast television. The organizations, both run by L. Brent Bozell III, sought out sponsors and advertisers, to convince them of the inappropriate content of the television program. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, a representative from the Parents Television Council called “Smackdown,” “one of the most violent, sexually graphic, racist, sexist and foul-mouthed programs to air on prime time television” at a meeting in 2000. The settlement included damages stemming from a fund-raising video of the parents’ group claiming that the murders of four children by minors were caused by the murderers’ learning moves from “Smackdown.” The video’s focus was the murder of Tiffany Eunick, 6, who was killed by Lionel Tate, 12, in Florida in 1999. On the video, Tate’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, claimed that the murder was caused by moves that Tate learned by watching the show. However, the murder was committed before “Smackdown” went on the air. Bozell wrote an apology to the wrestling group admitting that the deaths bore no relation to “Smackdown.” The Media Research Center is a conservative organization whose mission, according to its Web site, is to “bring balance and responsibility to the news media.” The Parents Television Council ranks television programs and its mission is “restore television to its roots.” According to Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry McDevitt of Pittsburgh’s Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, the parent groups made repeated public declarations, including Bozell’s statements at the Conservative Leadership Conference and on CNN’s Crossfire, that kids are killing other kids because of such programs as “Smackdown.” McDevitt asserted that since the defendants’ statements were used in fund-raising efforts they constituted commercial speech and were not subject to the full protection of the First Amendment. The Parents Television Council and the Media Research Center declined to comment through Elizabeth Baggett, a spokeswoman for Bozell. The case is WWFE v. Bozell, No. 00CIV8616 (DC) (S.D.N.Y.).

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