CNN's integrity disqualified regarding steroid use - Jason A. Smith

I have a confession to make. I've been a fan of professional wrestling for nearly my entire life.

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed the athleticism, the displays of strength and the storylines that have come to characterize "sports entertainment" through the years.

When World Wrestling Entertainment performer, Chris Benoit, was found dead in his home earlier this year, I was hit hard by the loss to the wrestling world, as were many fans.

In the weeks and months that have followed Benoit's death, I've seen more wrestling-related stories on the news than ever, many of them surrounding the question of steroid use by wrestlers. It's no secret that some wrestlers - perhaps even a majority - have at least dabbled in performance-enhancing drugs at some point in their careers.

Although wrestling has been regarded by many as the redneck relative of the sports world for years, Benoit's death brought wrestling into the mainstream consciousness in a way WWE Chairman Vince McMahon likely never intended.

The latest example of that mainstream publicity came last week, when CNN aired a program titled "Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling." Although CNN could have chosen to report on the issue of steroids from one of WWE's top performers, they instead used a cheap tactic that not only distorted someone's words, but called the network's own integrity into question.

When CNN aired portions of an interview with WWE wrestler, John Cena, on its program, Cena appeared to be dodging the question of whether he had ever used steroids. To someone who watched the program without knowing more of the facts, it looked like Cena was saying, "I can say I haven't until I'm blue in the face, but you never know."

Such has been the mantra of many a wrestler over the years, and for Cena to say something along those lines was believable and made for a more interesting story.

There's just one problem. Cena didn't say that.

WWE aired the uncut interview on their web site, including the part where a reporter began the interview by asking Cena, point-blank, whether he had ever used steroids. Without hesitation, Cena replied, "Absolutely not."

He then went on to say that many wrestlers have been asked that question over the years, with some dodging the question or not being truthful about their past use of such drugs.

I saw both the edited and the uncut versions. However, if I were to have only watched the edited version, I would have come away with an entirely different perspective than what Cena and the WWE intended to portray by participating in the program.

To me, CNN's treatment of the steroid issue raised more questions than it answered, but not about WWE and not about steroid use. It raised questions about the integrity of the network's reporting of the issue as a whole.

Have some wrestlers used steroids? Absolutely. Are some using steroids now, even after the drugs have been linked to the death of Benoit, his family and many other wrestlers? Probably.

Those events were tragic, and they put a microscope on the entire wrestling community. In light of that, when a news organization has the opportunity to get a straight answer on steroid use from someone and doesn't do so, it's irresponsible journalism.

When a network that touts itself as "the most trusted name in news" distributes a message without disseminating essential facts at its disposal, it puts its own integrity at risk, for the sake of a juicier story.

To me, the issue begs a couple of interesting questions: How many other issues has CNN done this with? If someone were to ask CNN that very question, how would anyone be able to trust the answer?

This isn't about me being a life-long wrestling fan or wanting to defend, at all costs, something I grew up on. Wrestlers are flawed, and many of them have made mistakes that have cost them their lives. There's no getting around that.

This issue is now about journalistic integrity, and CNN's decision to forego the truth for the sake of ratings.

Jason A. Smith covers crime and courts for the Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at jsmith@henryherald.com.