West Hartford — Linda McMahon was on message Wednesday, briskly talking about business, jobs and the economy. But her old company, World Wrestling Entertainment, intruded with the persistence of a colorful relative.
With a litigation threat against a newspaper columnist who likened its programming to pornography, the company her husband still controls succeeded where her rivals for the U.S. Senate have failed: It focused the media, at least briefly, on WWE’s racy past.
McMahon, the former chief executive officer of the company she co-founded with her husband, Vince McMahon, insisted that the subject of WWE’s litigation threat over an unflattering column has not come up at their Greenwich home.
“I left WWE in 2009,” McMahon said. “Yes, I’m still married to the chairman, but really what WWE does, it believes is right for it to do for its own business, is totally what it’s doing.”
WWE is a publicly traded company, so Vince McMahon’s responsibilities are to its shareholders, though communications specialists probably could debate whether threatening a columnist who views WWE’s past as “pornographic” was good or bad for the company.
It generated controversy and far more attention than the column by Chris Powell of the Journal Inquirer originally attracted. In fact, Powell’s column never named WWE as it jabbed at McMahon’s fitness for office, saying GOP voters learned all they needed during her first run in 2010.
“Her practical qualifications for office did not extend beyond her fantastic wealth, and that wealth derived from the business of violence, pornography, and general raunch,” Powell wrote.
In a letter to Powell, the WWE’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, Brian Flinn, demanded a retraction by June 4: “Should you fail to issue the retraction, we will seek legal and all available remedies.”
Conflict, real or imagined, is WWE’s stock in trade. It has staged feuds and grudge matches between its wrestling performers, and one long-ago story line featured Linda threatening Vince with divorce.
But if this is a story line, McMahon says she was not in on the script.
“I read about the letter that had gone to Chris Powell in my press clippings, and that’s the first I knew about it,” McMahon said.
Without a pause, she quickly returned to a message that reflects a new television ad about her six-point jobs plan and the day’s campaign visits to small businesses, including two bakeries run by women in West Hartford.
“I am focused on the issues I think that are so much on the minds of the people in Connecticut,” McMahon said, locking eyes with a reporter. “It’s not changed. Those are the issues of jobs and the economy.”
When pressed, McMahon neither criticized nor defended WWE’s threat against Powell. She said the company has to act in its best interest.
“It has to be that way. It really has to be that way,” she said.
WWE’s spokesman, Bob Josephson, offered a similar view.
“WWE is a global television content creator and a publicly traded company whose core business is monetizing that very television content,” he said in an email. “When our content is unfairly mischaracterized, it seriously jeopardizes our business.”
Josephson said WWE recognizes that its critics are entitled to their opinions.
“The right to hold and express opinions is not the same as making the false statement of fact that WWE is in ‘the business of pornography,’ as Mr. Powell did,” Josephson wrote. “False factual statements about the nature of our business is not the expression of opinion and serves only to maliciously damage our business and impugn the integrity of the hundreds of our Connecticut based employees who work very hard to produce some of the longest running and most popular shows on television.”
He noted that all WWE broadcast programming has been rated TV-PG since 2008, while previous shows had a more adult rating of TV-14.
Asked if WWE considered the impact of its litigation threat on the McMahon campaign, he made clear it did not.
“WWE refuses to be bullied and will not allow our content to be inaccurately categorized. This is not about politics or Linda McMahon’s candidacy,” he said. “This is about protecting WWE’s business and setting the record straight that WWE has never been in the business of pornography. We must vigorously defend our company with any and all resources at our disposal.”
A company official says that as chairman and chief executive officer, Vince McMahon, who posed for photos with delegates at the Republican State Convention that recently endorsed his wife for U.S. Senate, participated in the decision to threaten Powell.