Editorial: WWE faces ‘Backlash’ over press conference

Photo Courtesy: WWE

There was additional fallout from the WWE Backlash press conference involving freelance reporter Lucas Charpiot, who was the journalist responsible for asking Paul Levesque about Drew Gulak’s departure.

On Thursday, Charpiot joined us on Pollock & Thurston and shared that a WWE PR rep remarked to him, “That was a dumb thing to do”, following his question about Gulak and whether his departure had anything to do with Ronda Rousey’s accusation made on NewsNation.

Levesque was criticized for taking the opportunity to discredit two sites – PWinsider and Fightful – which Charpiot named as the outlets reporting Gulak was gone. Levesque clarified that Gulak’s contract was expiring rather than being cut. Afterward, WWE reached out to both sites to discuss Levesque’s comments as neither site reported the Rousey accusation was the reason behind the decision not to renew Gulak, nor did Charpiot state that in his question.

The comment made by the WWE PR rep may not represent the company’s attitude toward the media asking serious questions, but it does force us to look at the issue. As a representative for the WWE, the employee’s comment does extend as a voice for the company and, specific to their role in public relations, reflects poorly as an example of suppressing the press.

In this specific instance, we were twenty-four hours removed from a series of cuts (and at least one confirmed non-renewal of a contract) with a reporter asking about one of those talents in a respectful fashion.

From a WWE standpoint, what is the purpose of these press conferences? It would seem they are happy to produce an extra hour of content on their platforms with a potential sponsor attached while fielding questions that are deemed “safe”. However, if the WWE is going to open press conferences to the working press, the promotion needs to be equipped and prepared for a wide range of questions. Between his handling of questions at the Royal Rumble and Backlash press conferences, Levesque has shown a defensive nature whenever a serious topic is introduced.

To WWE’s credit, one of the consistent voices they provide an opportunity to ask questions is Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics, who typically introduces provocative topics. Others like Jon Alba would fall into the same category.

At WrestleMania XL, there was frustration among certain media members for not being provided access to the post-show press conference. I was one of them. Though I wanted to attend, I have to be fair in my assessment that there was a lot of media present and only a limited number should be expected to be granted access.

Levesque cultivated his dialogue with wrestling-specific media beginning with NXT and his TakeOver calls, inviting a section of the media that doesn’t always receive access. Levesque was very effective on these calls, understanding the audience he was speaking with and knowing who the NXT product was being targeted for. The only time I can recall Levesque being audibly flustered was when he was asked about the status of Patrick Clark, a.k.a. Velveteen Dream, during the period when allegations about Clark were public and the company chose to stick by him.

The larger point of Saturday’s press conference was what was implied by Levesque contrasted with what was outright stated by the PR rep. Combined, you are left with the understanding that the WWE doesn’t want these types of questions at its press events, and if a media member goes against that grain, they would be upsetting them and risk responses that would open themselves to online ridicule.

I don’t sit here typing without the understanding that I have the unique privilege of running a site that is self-sustaining and has never needed to leverage relationships with promotions for content or access, though there are other outlets where having a presence at these press conferences or interview opportunities with WWE talent is more of a concern.

Lucas Charpiot was attacked online for simply respectfully doing his job. Judging by his appearance on our show this week, he doesn’t seem deterred from that onslaught, but other reporters looking on may not want to ask tough questions for fear of the fallout.

The lesson I learned this week is that there is a greater need for the media to band together in these types of situations rather than operating on our islands. No one covering this industry should be viewing these events from last Saturday with indifference, as opting to ignore this would be “a dumb thing to do”.

About John Pollock 5598 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.