Friday, January 12, 2018

The Failed State of Wrestling Journalism

Pictured: A failed journalist
Photo via @Observerinthe90s
Journalism in pro wrestling has never had a high reputation. While its model of anonymous source reporting is unfairly maligned, as it is the basis of all journalism, the subjects of reporting, read, promoters and bookers, have unprecedented power to change plan on whims, discrediting reports and reporters. In an industry not helmed by legit crazy people, this would not be a problem, but when the most notable promoter is less a human and more a caricature of a paranoid robber baron, it sets a poor example for the industry. Accuracy in reporting in an industry such as this can be forgiven because of this atmosphere, even if many journalists in this field never really figured out how to adapt to the landscape.

However, the function of a healthy fourth estate is dual in nature. It reports the news and it speaks truth to power, acting as an adversarial entity towards the influential and lucrative entities for the benefit of those who feel the adverse effects of said power. Sometimes, this relationship puts the media on the side of the wrestlers against bookers. Sometimes, it's called to protect powerless wrestlers, fans, or bystanders from workers. No matter what the circumstances are, the media should always look to provide truth on behalf of the oppressed to the public at large. Otherwise, it's just a propaganda arm.

In this arena, wrestling journalism has undergone a complete and abhorrent failure in its duty lately. Two prominent journalists, Dave Meltzer and Bruce Mitchell, showed they were more concerned with protecting "the boys" rather than standing up for victims of malfeasance, in this case sexual in nature. Their recent attempts at painting news that either disregarded or even attempted to discredit victims shows that as situated, wrestling journalism is a broken entity that serves no use.

Meltzer's actions are the most egregious, because he's actively involved in the smear campaign against a rape victim/accuser. The Sean Orleans sexual assault which involved Michael Elgin acting as a two-faced cretin, saying the right things in public but doing his part to harass and silence the victim in private, has continued to be at the forefront of the indie wrestling scene, mainly because Elgin keeps making ham-handed "apologies" and the victim continues to be on the butt-end of a harassment campaign. Not only did Meltzer brush the story under the rug, his coverage on his site and newsletter was sympathetic to Elgin despite every piece of evidence coming out that showed him as guiltier and guiltier with each passing day.

The final straw came when Meltzer linked a burner Tumblr account set up by an anonymous figure close to the situation that reprinted screenshots of the victim interacting with various people within the wrestling community in an attempt to paint her in an unflattering light on his message board as a piece of evidence to defend Elgin in all this. In doing so, Meltzer went from irresponsible journalist to active participant in the cover-up of the incident and discrediting of the victim in a sexual assault case. In this case, Meltzer showed he's not only a bad champion of the downtrodden, but that he's also a terrible reporter.

It's not the first time Meltzer has failed to stand up for the oppressed and marginalized. Remember when his reaction to Tomoaki Honma's domestic violence accusations was to claim the victim was making it up out of jealousy of a work angle where Honma got to be romantically linked to a comely young lass? Or when his reaction to Darren Young coming out of the closet, the first wrestler in a major company to do so while active, was that it was a "non-story?" Or when he compared the usage of the word "mark" in the wrestling industry to that of "the n-word?" Hint here, Meltzer, when you can't spell one of the words out, that's the worse one. Meltzer is not a reporter, he's a propagandist, and a transparent one as well.

Mitchell's transgressions seem less egregious on the surface. He released a report detailing Brad Stutts' release from CWF Mid-Atlantic that was actually full of legitimate reporting, shedding light on a situation whose details few people were privy to. However, reporting is nothing when the bias is placed towards rehabilitating the transgressor and not towards presenting the truth and doing right by the victims. The only thing the piece was missing was a gif of Mitchell at the bottom in a cheerleader outfit doing a routine in support of Stutts' eventual redemption tour. The piece described Stutts bringing a convicted recidivist felon into the CWF locker room and running a prostitution ring, which Stutts tried to recruit someone in the locker room to, as "Brad being Brad." It's the same kind of attitudes of toxic dismissal towards men that Warren Zevon skewered in the title track to his 1978 album, Excitable Boy:
He took little Suzie to the Junior Prom
Excitable boy, they all said
And he raped her and killed her, then he took her home
Excitable boy, they all said
Well, he's just an excitable boy
The song's protagonist certainly was not "just" an excitable boy, he was a psychopath. Stutts isn't an "excitable boy" either. He's obviously a predator who needs to be separated from the CWF locker room at best and probably thrown in a prison cell and rehabilitated at worst. Again, to paint him as such is to further attack the marginalized people that Stutts preyed upon. It's a systemic failure of the purpose of journalism wrapped up in a neat bow and praised because Mitchell did "REPORTING!" to back up his puff piece.

As a whole, professional wrestling's journalistic arm has shown to have withered and died. If it cannot stand up for people as theoretically as easy to stand up for as sexual assault victims, it is a useless entity. One could argue that pro wrestling journalism is "just as bad" as the regular media in this regard, but someone has to make the change. Someone should start standing up for the little guy, especially when it comes to sexual assault. Maybe instead of trying to cozy up to THE BOYS and be a part of their locker rooms, they should be holding them accountable for the gross, predatory bullshit they seem to think is part of the business, and instead of toadying to management when it comes to labor relations, stand with the wrestlers then. Then again, maybe having a wrestling move named after you is better than doing your actual fucking job.