As I’ve been discussing on this blog, Dave Meltzer – whose Wrestling Observer Newsletter covers its industry obsessively and often brilliantly – so far has found it beneath his dignity to review my new book CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death.
To put this in perspective, CHRIS & NANCY is the only book looking seriously at the official record of one of the biggest general crime stories of 2007, as well as one of the biggest stories in wrestling history. It is also, almost certainly, the current bestselling independently published wrestling book in America (trailing only Hulk Hogan’s new book and various authorized biographies and pap published under the WWE imprint).
Instead of writing a review – good, bad, or indifferent – in which he focuses his unmatched body of knowledge on important issues raised by the book, Meltzer chose to go on a tiny discussion board at his own subscription website to dismiss my unremarkable answer to a question by a podcast interviewer about my book’s criticism of the Observer’s coverage of the Benoit story.
With exaggerated rhetoric designed to marginalize that criticism rather than grapple honestly with it, Meltzer said, “Irv had a story to write, and the story was how the wrestling media covered up for Vince McMahon. Whether the truth jived [sic] with the story was immaterial.”
Is that really the story of CHRIS & NANCY? Readers will have to decide that one for themselves.
In so deciding, they should also, I think, be asking themselves why the usually prolix Meltzer, in this instance, seems to think that such an obscurely planted and unsubstantiated pronouncement substitutes for a proper review.
As I recount in CHRIS & NANCY, Dave and I have been friends since 1984.My criticism of aspects of his work was leveled privately and unflinchingly before the book was published.
It was also expressed in our voluminous email correspondence during the research of the book, on which he was a tremendous help. (“Tremendous help” may be an understatement: he fact-checked my manuscript before it was submitted to my publisher. This makes especially puzzling his suddenly risen charge that I did not exercise due diligence.)
Let’s look at one sliver of that correspondence. On November 24, 2008, I sent Meltzer an email with the subject line “Uncomfortable but necessary question.” Here is the full text:
I ask this respectfully, and with the goal of being accurate about emotions as well as facts.
Since you realized by the middle of the Raw tribute feed that Vince had to know he was honoring a murderer, (a) why didn’t you just say so directly at the time? and (b) why, specifically, would you write without qualification that Vince was terrific that day with his distraught wrestlers in Corpus Christi, when you knew he was actually working them as props for the tribute?
My first take on the answers:
One, I get the vibe that in your decades of covering this peculiar and complex industry, you have real sympathy for the point of view that the show must go on. (You also refused to judge Vince for his on-the-fly PPV decisions with the Pillman and Owen Hart deaths, and if anything, you were closer to Pillman in particular than to Benoit.)
Two, you didn’t want to give aid and comfort to the enemy while they were piling on. Dan Abrams and the other cable TV people didn’t do any serious work in raising the suspicion that WWE knew, and they probably would have issued the same charge/innuendo even if they had known full well knew that it wouldn’t prove out. I felt that tug of fairness myself, and I obviously am not nearly as much of a fan as you are. But despite my distaste for pandering to the anti-wresting crowd, I don’t know that I could have withheld confirmation of such an important basic fact. I feel, and I don’t think you disagree, that the Raw-was-a-work story was important beyond the general proposition that wrestling promoters routinely lie; it was important in the sense that wrestling’s ultimate insane premature deaths could give legs to meaningful scrutiny of a scandalously inadequate wellness policy, which in turn might spur reforms.
Here is Dave’s November 26 reply:
I really didn’t seriously think about the ramifications until a few days later. Vince was terrific with distraught wrestlers and it is possible to be that way and making the decision he made.
I don’t really have sympathy for the show must go on mentality anymore. I had sympathy for the position that someone after the unexpected situation with Owen Hart could make a decision under pressure that didn’t think things out. I lost sympathy when, intead of just saying that, they came up with the idea that there would have been a riot if the show was canceled, as if baseball fans riot when games are rained out.
However, at that time, while it was a story, to me the big story was what caused Benoit to do what he did, and when it came out he was using the drugs everyone would have expected, an analysis of the ways to make the drug testing policy more honest and effective.
And my November 27 follow-up:
Yes, Dave, but …
You acknowledge that it was a story, if not the big story from your perspective. You write tens of thousands of words every week analyzing every aspect of the business and the coverage of the business, and you regularly make distinctions between big and small stories and discuss how in your judgment they are and are not connected. I simply don’t understand ignoring why WWE published an official tightened-up timeline to defend against criticism that they knew going into Raw, and I don’t see sitting on the fact that you knew with great specificity that the company had no substantive defense against that charge.
I could see, for example, saying something along these lines: “I don’t think whether they knew before Raw is anywhere close to the most important issue. Chris, Nancy, and Daniel are just as dead no matter how tastefully or tastelessly WWE handled it in the first 24 hours, and the truth was that in the midst of the frenzy no one was going to cut them a break. But it has to be said that I learned, hours before Raw went on the air, that company executives knew it was murder-suicide. Like a lot of others, I had a hard time believing Chris could have murdered his son in particular, but when the police details emerged Monday night I realized that Vince had indeed made the call to do a tribute for someone he would almost immediately be writing out of WWE history, and that while he was holding the distraught talent together in Corpus Christi, he was also deceiving them as well as the public.
“The most important issue, going forward, isn’t any of this; it’s the drugs Chris ingested in great quantities, and what impact that will have on the wellness policy and on the business when that becomes clear from the toxicology report. But part of that debate will be shaped by general credibility, and WWE heads into it with none after working a TV audience with a Benoit tribute and then trying to bury the speculation about that by publishing a vague and rewritten timeline of what it knew and when it knew it….”
To me, Dave Meltzer never opened up further about this.
Now CHRIS & NANCY is out, and he’s still refusing to open up about the deeper implications of how the symbiosis of the wrestling media and the wrestling industry contributed to the petering out of calls for post-Benoit reforms.
Is that a cover-up? I don’t think so. I think it is an analysis of how the world works – a world that includes the Dave Meltzers who, like all of us, sometimes fall short of the mark.