Kirkpatrick & Lockhart’s Use of Commercial Speech Doctrine

July 2, 2002

Pittsburgh, PA — As announced Monday by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (“WWE”), Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP (“K&L”) led the company to a successful settlement in its lawsuit against the Parents Television Council (“PTC”), L. Brent Bozell III, Media Research Center, and others. As a result, WWE will receive $3.5 million and a series of non-monetary considerations, including a personal letter of apology from Mr. Bozell, the president of PTC.

The lawsuit centered on various statements made by PTC and its representatives linking the deaths of four children to the WWE SmackDown! television program and on statements claiming that certain advertisers had stopped advertising on SmackDown. At one point, the PTC produced a fundraising video which advanced the notion that the murder of a young girl in Florida named Tiffany Eunick was caused by the influence of professional wrestling on the murderer, Lionel Tate.

In a letter of apology issued over the weekend, Bozell said, “I now believe that professional wrestling played no role in the murder of Tiffany Eunick, which was a part of our ‘Clean Up TV Now!’ campaign, and am equally convinced that it was incorrect and wrong to have blamed WWE or any of its programs for the deaths of the other children.”

K&L lawyers, led by Jerry S. McDevitt, argued that PTC’s statements were false and, because these statements were used in its fundraising activities, fell under the commercial speech doctrine and were not subject to the full protections of the First Amendment. In commercial speech cases, all that must be proven is factual falsity. In regular defamation cases, it must also be proven that the factually false statements were made with a reckless disregard for the truth. K&L lawyers were prepared in any event to prove reckless disregard for the truth.

“K&L utilized the commercial speech doctrine as a new and effective method of dealing with the disparagement of a business entity,” said Jerry McDevitt. “We believe this to be one of the largest defamation settlements ever reported.”


Contact:
Jerry S. McDevitt, 412.355.8608, jmcdevitt@kl.com

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