I finally watched Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling, a one-hour investigative report on CNN. Overall, I thought the piece was well done, and WWE chairman Vince McMahon, while seeming a little defensive, came across much better than he did in infamous past interviews with Armen Keteyian and Bob Costas. Perhaps the fact that his wife, Linda, was seated next to him helped McMahon keeps his emotions in check.
The big story as it relates to this show, however, has been the controversy regarding John Cena’s response to being asked if he ever took steroids and whether his quotes were taken out of context.
As a media member for over 20 years, I get tired of public figures saying something stupid or controversial and then blaming the “evil media” for being out to get them or taking their words out of context. In this instance, however, I absolutely think CNN is guilty of misrepresenting Cena’s answer.
For those who missed it, this is how Cena’s brief segment played out. There was a voiceover that said: “John Cena doesn’t like being asked if he has used steroids.” To me, that showed a bias right from the start.Then, a reporter asked the question, “Have you ever taken steroids?”
The following is what CNN aired as Cena’s response: “This is a crazy question and it’s something that’s tough to answer just because of the way society is now. The way people conceive things, because performance-enhancing drugs have got the spotlight and it’s a hot thing to talk about. I can’t tell you that I haven’t, but you’ll never be able to prove that I have.”
Sounds pretty bad, right? It reminded me of when I was editor of WCW Magazine and I asked a wrestler about steroid use. He said something along the lines of “All I’ll say is that I have never failed a drug test.”
When I heard Cena make what seemed like a not-so-veiled admission to using steroids, I couldn’t believe it. None of us really know for sure whether he has or hasn’t, but the one thing that was certain was that Cena always unequivocally denied ever using them.
In reaction to what it called biased reporting, WWE posted both the edited and unedited footage of Cena’s response on wwe.com. Seeing Cena’s answer in its entirety was quite revealing.
When asked if he ever took steroids, Cena’s immediate response was: “Absolutely not.” The reporter then interrupted him and said: “Even back in bodybuilding days? Football days?” That’s when Cena said, “This is a crazy question. …”
After he got to the “I can’t tell you that I haven’t” part, which I’m sure CNN saw as a smoking gun, Cena continued his thought: “Because each one of you out there has an opinion on how I carry myself, and I can take a million tests – I’ve been tested for drugs since I was 17 years old. I can take a million tests. I can pass every one of them. As soon as I pass it, there’s some guy on the other end going ‘Oh, there’s masking agents, there’s this, there’s that.’ I know the arguments because I’ve been in the situation. This is a subject that is very, very near and dear to me only because since I was a very small child I have worked my [butt] off to get to where I’m at, and it [stinks] to have to deal with people saying that I rely on a crutch. I take great pride in the fact that I have a God-given gift of above-average natural strength, and I show it off whenever I can, because to me that’s fun, that’s entertaining, it’s what I love to do.”
To me, it’s obvious that Cena was saying, “No matter what I say, you’ll have your own opinion.” That’s what Cena has said as far back as 2003, when he was asked about steroids in the book WWE Unscripted. This was his response then: “I never have tried steroids, but no matter how much I say that, nobody is gonna believe it, so I’ve given up. … People are going to have their opinions; I can’t change them.”
Being a writer and an editor, I understand that quotes often need to be condensed because people sometimes ramble and stray from the point when asked a question. As journalists, however, it is our responsibility to insure that the portion of the quote that we use accurately represents the point the subject was trying to convey.
Cena did leave himself open in the CNN segment by making one ambiguous statement, but I don’t see how a respected news organization such as CNN – or any responsible journalist, for that matter – could omit Cena’s initial response to the question, which was a clear and direct denial to having ever taken steroids.
I have always thought that Vince McMahon was overly paranoid about the media, but after a summer filled with sensationalistic reporting on the Chris Benoit story and now this, I’m starting to think he might be justified.