For years, the World Wrestling Entertainment corporation has tinkered with a variety of strategies to improve its public image. The company toned down the storylines, aiming for a TV PG rating. They inaugurated voter registration drives in 2004, 2006 and 2008. They're a ubiquitous presence on the USO circuit. That latter good deed has gotten them in good with the Bush and Obama White Houses, even as the company faces serious accusations about its wellness policies, its refusal to allow the wrestlers to unionize, its concussion policy, its encouragement of high-risk-taking, and its occasional foray into sexism and offensive stereotyping.
With former WWE CEO Linda McMahon now running for the Senate in Connecticut, her connection to WWE's bad side has naturally become a political issue. Lo and behold: President Obama's decision to tape a message for WWE's annual Salute to the Troops broadcast is being used by McMahon's campaign to add legitimacy to her association with WWE.
Is the president unofficially sanctioning these policies by lending his support to the WWE's PR strategy? I'll stipulate to the fact that WWE has a lot of fans in the military, often (without bragging about it) reserves tickets for troops recovering at Walter Reed when the roadshow comes to Washington, and is, in general, doing a good thing by paying homage to U.S. soldiers.
The White House wouldn't touch this one. Note that President Bush, candidates Obama, McCain and Clinton, all taped messages for the WWE before. WWE may be a spectacle, and a distasteful one (just ask Rep. Henry Waxman), but it's a big part of our culture -- and its demographic -- younger white men -- is an indelible part of the culture.
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.