U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon kept smiling, but her appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” turned tense this morning as analyst Lawrence O’Donnell accused her wrestling company, the WWE, of exploiting its performers.

“You make money off the blood of people who destroyed themselves for a living for you, and you did nothing as far as I know to clean up the drug use and the steroid use in your business,” O’Donnell said.

“Well, I think, actually, you’re far behind the times,” McMahon replied. “If you would look at what the WWE has done, the policies it’s had over time, its health and wellness policies for our talent. After all they are, the performers, are the biggest assets in the WWE.”

McMahon talked about physicals, wellness programs and ring safety.

It was a moment made for YouTube, which had a clip online before the show went off the air. (MSNBC has posted the entire interview.)

“I just want to thank you for a situation where I can ask a politician about the WWE,” said O’Donnell, a former Democratic top Senate aide with a reputation for provocative questions and commentary.

Joe Scarborough, the host, seemed unaware of the allegations of steroid use by wrestlers, which were the subject of a congressional hearing and have periodically dogged McMahon.

“You just made that up,” he said to O’Donnell.

O’Donnell told Scarborough there have been “all sorts of exposes of wild, rampant drug use” in the WWE, the company McMahon ran until starting her Senate campaign.

“They did nothing to police it,” O’Donnell said, then turned to McMahon and add, “Everyone thinks your business is a joke. That’s why you’re off the hook in this thing.”

“Come on, I have to stop you now,” McMahon replied. “This is all entertainment.”

She quickly reverted to a talking point, emphasizing that 70 percent of the WWE’s weekly audience of 16 million are 18 and older.

“It’s fiction. It’s a soap opera,” McMahon said, then she smiled and added, “Except if I give you a body slam this morning. That’d be for real.”

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Mark PazniokasCapitol Bureau Chief

Mark is the Capitol Bureau Chief and a co-founder of CT Mirror. He is a frequent contributor to WNPR, a former state politics writer for The Hartford Courant and Journal Inquirer, and contributor for The New York Times.

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