Wednesday, May 19, 2010

‘Connecticut Senate Race Serves Up a Trio of Vietnam War Sanctimony’ ... Friday at BeyondChron

Chris Benoit's Father Adds His Voice to Connecticut Senate Campaign

YOUR VIEW: MICHAEL BENOIT
Wrestling Empire’s Grim Toll On Performers


Hartford Courant
, May 19

courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-hc-benoit-wwe-mcmahon-0519.artmay19,0,777313.story

Linda McMahon Takes a Stroll Down Schadenfreude Lane

Maybe it’s because she wanted to be a French teacher, and schadenfreude is a German word. Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t have enough experience in politics, or otherwise lacks the basic maturity, to know that it is bad form to derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others. World Wrestling Entertainment, where Linda McMahon made her centimillions, is a zero-sum world of cartoon humiliation, and concepts like restraint, discretion, and modesty are foreign objects there.

Whatever the explanation, the McMahon Senate campaign in Connecticut today managed to pull off an unlikely daily double. She landed a haymaker on presumptive Democratic candidate Richard Blumenthal, and it could prove to be a fatal one. At the same time, she stepped on her own story.

By now all of you are aware that The New York Times, tipped by McMahon, exposed Blumenthal on the front page for having lied or misled about his military record – on occasion artfully allowing audiences to believe that his stateside Marine Corp Reserves service during the Vietnam War was actually service in Vietnam.

You probably also know that the McMahon campaign bragged on its website about being the source of the Times report. When others observed that such bragging was tasteless and unsenatorial, McMahon then pulled the item.

From 3,000 miles away, I have no better guess than anyone else as to how the Blumenthal bombshell will play out. The timing of the story was passing strange: why would McMahon leak it so early in the campaign, before the party nominations were even decided? The explanation, according to my sources, is that the McMahon camp’s hand was forced. The rumors of the Times hit, which was months in the making, led to fear that the campaign of Rob Simmons, McMahon’s main Republican opponent, would plant it elsewhere first and get credit for it.

I’m no expert on the cesspool that is Connecticut politics. When it comes to the ways and means of Senator Schadenfreude, however, I have an advanced degree – which is one more than Linda McMahon claims in the latest airbrushed version of her own c.v.

Doing and saying much more than necessary is the McMahon family modus operandi, one that Linda now submits for the approval of the electorate.


Irv Muchnick

Quality and Quantity of Linda McMahon's WWE Job-Creation Machine Come Under Scrutiny

In the old Woody Allen joke, an elderly lady complains about the culinary offerings at a Catskills resort: “The food – terrible! And the portions – so small!”

That’s what I was thinking when I read the excellent story in today’s Waterbury Republican-American about the outsourcing of the manufacturing of World Wrestling Entertainment licensed merchandise. See “McMahon campaigns for more American jobs, but her toys are made in China,” http://rep-am.com/news/local/483687.txt. (The full text is available only to subscribers, but the website teaser offers a good taste.)

Like the Manchester Journal Inquirer’s Don Michak in an article last week about WWE’s corporate tax breaks – which helped produced windfall stock dividends for the McMahon family even as they were trimming the staff at corporate headquarters in Stamford – the Republican-American’s Paul Hughes isn’t wasting time trying to deconstruct raunchy TV programming or nail Linda McMahon for the completely in-character name of her husband Vince’s yacht.

Instead, Hughes is raising a classic question suggested by the business background underpinning her candidacy: If WWE is such a job-creation machine, then what are the jobs and what is the quality of those jobs?

A further step would involve examining WWE’s employment onstage as well as offstage. Oh, but excuse me. I forgot that pro wrestlers are not employees. They are independent contractors. I guess that makes it OK that these “assets” drop dead in horrifying numbers caused by profiteering occupational health and safety standards – sometimes before and sometimes after their “intellectual property,” as measured by toys made in Chinese sweatshops, is exhausted.

It’s good to see at least a few Connecticut journalists hitting their stride in the coverage of the McMahon campaign.


Irv Muchnick

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Muchnick Book Bonus: ‘In Bed With the WWF – Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling’

With the Connecticut Republican Party state convention less than a week away, World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon is leading in the polls for the nomination in the general election this fall to succeed retiring Democratic Senator Chris Dodd.

This blog has been filling in some of the record of McMahon’s experience running WWE in partnership with her husband Vince. Most recently I have been focusing on what I call WWE’s corporate culture of sexual harassment – a subject made topical by the departure of its head in-house lawyer after a complaint that he harassed a lower-ranked manager.

The essay below, “In Bed With the WWF: Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling,” was originally published in August 2000 in ThePosition.com, an online magazine then published by the Museum of Sex in New York. The piece would become Chapter 4 of my 2007 book WRESTLING BABYLON.

The Museum of Sex – which is still thriving even if its magazine isn’t – stiffed me out of my contracted $1,000 fee. If Linda McMahon gets angry about anything in this article, I suggest that she deliver a solid kick in the nuts to the museum’s deadbeat founder and director, Jeffrey Gluck.


Irv Muchnick

++++++++++

ON A MONDAY NIGHT IN
the mid-1980s following a World Wrestling Federation show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, a teenage member of the ring crew – the guys who set up and tear down the three-roped, four-posted, 12-turnbuckled squared circle – was given a piece of fatherly advice by a veteran WWF performer.

The ring crew kid, whose name was Tom Cole, had been reviewing assignments for the next stop on the WWF circuit with his supervisor, Mel Phillips. When Phillips walked away, the wrestler standing next to Cole nudged him and said, ”Watch yourself around Phillips. He’s bad news.” Prophetic words.

A few years later, Phillips was a central figure in a pedophilia scandal that came within a federal grand jury of sinking the WWF, and Tom Cole was the chief whistleblower. More on that later. In the institutional memory of the pro wrestling public, where the results of last month’s pay-per-view event have already vaporized, the events of the early 90s may as well have taken place in Greco-Roman antiquity.

The wrestler who made the remark to Cole had recently retired from the ring due to blood clots in his lung (a condition that can be caused by abuse of muscle-enhancing anabolic steroids though he claimed it was from Agent Orange). His forced retirement turned out to be a big break, however, for he soon found fame as a heel commentator on WWF television. Now he was about to head to Hollywood for an even bigger break: a role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Predator. The ex-wrestler signed his checks “James Janos.” Aided by a state law allowing political candidates to use their noms de guerre on the ballot, he later would be elected mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, then governor of Minnesota.

He was, is, Jesse “The Body” Ventura.

* * *

YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE A Reform Party renegade, a French semiotician, or a board member of the Parents Television Council to know that sex and wrestling go together like a horse and carriage. In an earlier era they used to call this pseudo-sport “grunting and groaning.” The pejorative was despised by my uncle, the late Sam Muchnick.

“They do grunt and they do groan,” he once conceded to me, “but putting it that way sounds so . . . undignified.” Sam was perhaps the industry’s most important promoter before WWF hypemeister Vince McMahon crossed new technology with postmodern perversity to create the strangest marketing juggernaut in pop-culture history.

Part of McMahon’s particular genius was to cut out the middleman, end any pretense of dignity and give the people exactly what they want: homophobia locked in mortal combat with homoeroticism. But this is not a disquisition on the sexual content of cfthe wrestling product. It is a report on the companion phenomenon of sex inside wrestling. The question is whether the backstage manipulations of promoters, bookers, performers and hangers-on mirror the displaced fetishes, dominance games and double (and sometimes single) entendres so boldly evident on the sunny side of the proscenium.

And the answer is: Uh, yeah.

Understand, for starters, that wrestling sex is to real sex what wrestling violence is to real violence. Just as the most effective punch is the pulled variety, the best fuck is the mind kind. Consenting adults trespass this blue line at their own risk. For proof, we offer Kevin Sullivan, a booker, or storyline weaver, for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling, the WWF’s chief rival.

Four years ago Sullivan was casting about for a way to put “heat” on Chris Benoit, a technically virtuosic but relatively colorless Canadian wrestler, when Sullivan hit upon a brilliant idea. It involved Sullivan’s wife Nancy Daus, a buxom brunette who appeared on WCW television as a valet known, economically, as “Woman.” Sullivan cooked up a subplot (an “angle” in carny patois) whereby Woman left Sullivan for Benoit. Wrestlers tend to take method acting to extremes. In this instance, to give the gimmick credibility, Sullivan ordered his wife and Benoit to hang out together 24/7. When Chris went to the gym, Nancy went with him. When he went to his hotel room, she … well, you get the point. Before long, life was imitating art. On February 23, 2000, Nancy celebrated the birth of her baby boy, Daniel Christopher Benoit. It is not known if Sullivan sent a shower gift. Chris Benoit was by now in the WWF.

“Kevin Sullivan,” says Wrestling Observer Newsletter publisher Dave Meltzer, “booked his own divorce.”

Legendary wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart saw his 14-year marriage to his wife Julie (not a TV character) collapse, in part under the strain of sexual innuendo, on a 1997 WWF tour ably captured in the award-winning documentary Wrestling With Shadows. In one memorable scene, Hart and his then-nemesis Shawn Michaels are recording a promotional “shoot” for a series of upcoming matches. The two men were said to truly detest each other and their insults, though elliptical to the uninitiated, added up to more than a contrived “work.”

At one point Michaels says to Hart, “You’ve been having a lot of ‘sunny’ days lately” – a reference to Hart’s rumored affair with wrestling personality Sunny (Tammy Sytch). Hart, who now wrestles for WCW, denies the rumor. It also must be noted that Hart has had more important things on his mind since the 1999 death of his brother, Owen, during a stunt at a WWF pay-per-view show.

Husband-and-wife combos are no less common among wrestlers than in other professions. Unions of recent vintage include Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Elizabeth (they’re now divorced). Also Eddie “Hot Stuff” Gilbert, who would die of a drug overdose, married and divorced both Missy Hyatt and Medusa Miceli. The aforementioned Ms. Sytch is now married to wrestler Chris Candido. And there are many, many others.

The thinking person’s wrestling fan, therefore, ponders the future of those volatile lovebirds Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Paul Levesque) and Stephanie McMahon. That Stephanie is billed with a hyphenated surname on Smackdown is about as meaningful as the championship belt her bogus hubby once held and may one day regain.

Still, how many opportunities does a man get to French-kiss the boss’s daughter on national TV? Insiders describe the relationship as legitimately on-again, off-again, or at least serious enough to make Triple H forget his former squeeze, Chyna (Joanie Laurer), whose biceps measure somewhere between Stephanie’s and his own. And you thought Vince was kidding when he said he wanted his children to follow him in the family business.

* * *

HOLLYWOOD HAS THE CASTING COUCH and wrestling, too, has its ways of separating the wheat from the shaft.

As long ago as the early 80s, dressing-room scuttlebutt ascribed a quickie National Wrestling Alliance title change to a blowjob that a certain promoter was allowed to administer to his short-lived young champion. In the last decade, Barry Orton, a second-generation wrestler who is now out of the business, claimed that his resistance to sexual harassment was the reason he never rose above prelim status. Another disillusioned ex-WWFer, Billy Jack Haynes, used to joke that he had to be careful about bending down for a bar of soap on the shower floor.

Vince McMahon’s right-hand man on the talent side is Pat Patterson, a former main eventer. Patterson’s boyfriend, a “jobber” (perennial loser) called the Brooklyn Brawler (Steve Lombardi), has precious little else to recommend him, though that’s just the start of allegations that Patterson has abused his power. Until recently, WWF wrestlers talking about their moves in interviews would slyly allude to “the Pat Patterson go-behind.” In wrestleworld, this passes for sublime wit.

For former ring attendant Tom Cole, it isn’t funny and understandably so. When Cole was 15 or 16, he recalls, “Patterson would look at you when he was talking to you. He’d look right at your crotch and he’d lick his lips. He’d put his hand on your ass and squeeze your ass and stuff like that.” Cole, now 28 and a married small business owner, was speaking on the record and last year also gave a detailed interview to the newsletter Wrestling Perspective, which can be accessed online at www.wrestlingperspective.com.

Cole got started with the WWF around 1984 at the age of 12, in Yonkers, New York, through Mel Phillips, then a ring announcer and head of the ring crew. Cole says Phillips had a black book with names of kids – mostly from broken homes – from all over the country.

“He used to have a thing where he played with your feet,” Cole says. “He would wrestle you for five seconds, then he’d pull your shoes off and start playing with your toes. When I was a young kid, I wasn’t thinking too much about it. Now I look at it like, ‘Wow, that was a foot fetish. There’s something wrong here.’”

In 1990, Cole says, Patterson’s assistant Terry Garvin secured him a steady job at the WWF parts warehouse and promised him a tryout as a ring announcer. Garvin subsequently maneuvered Cole to his house, near the WWF’s Stamford, Connecticut, base, on an evening when Garvin’s wife and two kids were away. Garvin popped a porn tape into the VCR and offered to fellate Cole, who declined and spent the night in a van parked outside. Shortly thereafter, Cole was fired.

Cole first told his story to Phil Mushnick of the New York Post (and now TV Guide), the only mainstream journalist who has given the industry any kind of sustained scrutiny. In 1992, evidence of harassment and abuse of underage ring boys synergized with a federal grand jury investigation of McMahon’s role in steroid trafficking among WWF talent. Hopelessly in over his head, Cole settled, on the eve of Phil Donahue and Geraldo Rivera shows devoted to the scandals, for $150,000, back pay, and the return of his old job. (Cole says his lawyer, Alan Fuchsberg, pocketed $100,000 of the settlement sum for “about four hours’ work.”)

At the height of the tabloid blitz, Patterson, Phillips and Garvin (who died last year) all left the company. But within a few weeks, Patterson had quietly returned. Barely more than a year later the WWF fired Cole again because, he contends, he stopped sharing information from his grand jury testimony and refused to cooperate in McMahon’s ultimately unsuccessful libel suit against Mushnick and the Post.

Not all of wrestling’s legal-sexual problems stem from homosexual conduct. In 1999, the WWF’s former women’s champion Sable (Rena Mero), a Playboy cover girl, filed a $120 million lawsuit claiming she was verbally assaulted and threatened by WWF personnel who had also tried to coerce her into baring her breasts on a pay-per-view show and participating in a lesbian “angle.” The suit was later dropped. Meanwhile, WCW has had several parallel pieces of litigation. The best known of them featured former valet Missy Hyatt and was settled in 1996.

And not every incident of male aggression stops at sex. In 1983, the girlfriend of then-WWF headliner Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka died from a blow to the head in a motel room near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Observers who have studied the case still question the official ruling of accidental death.

* * *

FOR THE FEDS, NATURALLY, THE big enchilada was Vince McMahon. And when they smelled blood, accusers of varying degrees of probity came out of the woodwork faster than The Rock can ooze hip-hop attitude. One of them, Murray Hodgson, who was briefly employed by the WWF in a minor TV announcing slot, claimed in a civil lawsuit that Pat Patterson had crudely propositioned him. But at the conclusion of Hodgson’s videotaped deposition, his attorney, Ed Nusbaum, withdrew from the case.

“The WWF spent what I would estimate at around $100,000 in its private investigation of Hodgson,” Nusbaum says. (Tom Cole believes that during certain periods he was tailed by WWF-hired detectives from the Fairfax Group, now DSFX.) “I was absolutely convinced by the evidence that emerged establishing that Hodgson was a lifelong con man.”

Around the same time, the WWF’s first female referee, Rita Chatterton, came forward with a tale of having been raped by McMahon in the back seat of his limousine. Chauffeur Jim Stuart corroborated Chatterton’s account and filed a lawsuit of his own, alleging that, during his WWF employment, he had been forced into witnessing the commission of crimes. Both Chatterton and Stuart have since disappeared into the fog machine. Stuart’s lawyer at the time, Frank Riccio, is not returning calls.

For McMahon’s part, he relies heavily in such situations on Jerry McDevitt of the Pittsburgh law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, otherwise distinguished by his representation of President Clinton’s naughty ex-political consultant, Dick Morris. Ultimately, the grand jury ignored the sex stuff and handed down indictments on charges that McMahon had brokered illegal steroid transactions for WWF wrestlers through a Pennsylvania doctor.

At a sensational 1994 trial in New York, prosecutors thought they were delivering the goods via the testimony of McMahon’s former secretary, Emily Feinberg, the wife of a WWF script writer and a one-time Playboy model, and someone assumed to have spent time doing the nasty with Vince. Feinberg’s performance under cross-examination withered, however. Some speculate this had something to do with the fact that, outside the courtroom, she had been pumped for information by one Martin Bergman, who may or may not have been a TV producer, but who definitely was the husband of McMahon’s lead defense attorney, Laura Brevetti. (Bergman also is the brother of Lowell Bergman, the 60 Minutes producer who took on the tobacco industry and is portrayed by Al Pacino in The Insider.) In any event, a jury acquitted McMahon on all counts.

Now fast-forward four years. McMahon, heretofore a babyface TV announcer, calculates that he is of more value to his company playing the evil corporate boss in a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. And so, in one popular magazine interview after another, McMahon becomes the first imminent Wall Street tycoon ever to brag – falsely – that he was convicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute steroids. And the magazine writers buy it, giving Virtual Vince even more of an outlaw image than he deserves.

Book that, Kevin Sullivan.

# # #

Copyright 2000, 2007 Irvin Muchnick

Connecticut Newspaper Columnist on What’s Different and What’s the Same About Linda McMahon

Highly recommended reading:

“Nothing’s different about buying an election”

Chris Powell, Manchester Journal Inquirer

http://www.journalinquirer.com/articles/2010/05/15/chris_powell/doc4bed598a55650171354821.txt

Thursday, May 13, 2010

WWE and General Counsel ‘Have Parted Ways Amicably’

World Wrestling Entertainment has broken its silence on the sexual harassment case of Jared Barties, the company’s executive vice president and general counsel. Bartie “was not terminated by WWE,” WWE said in a statement to Corporate Counsel. “Jared Bartie and WWE have parted ways amicably. James Langham is acting general counsel for WWE.”

See ”World Wrestling Entertainment Denies Report That They Fired GC Over Sexual Harassment,” Andrew Hard, http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202458078752&World_Wrestling_Entertainment_Denies_Report_That_They_Fired_GC_Over_Sexual_Harassment.

Jason Powell of ProWrestling.net observed: “The key here is that WWE did not deny the sexual harassment allegation. They simply denied firing Bartie as a direct result of the allegation.”

Another Corporate Counsel writer, Amy Miller, interviewed me earlier today for another story that will be up on the website there soon.


Irv Muchnick

Linda McMahon’s WWE and ESPN — Connecticut Cohorts in ‘Sports Entertainment’ and Sexual Harassment

“Popular culture has always been a bit coarser than political leaders like to acknowledge.”

– Kevin Rennie, Hartford Courant, March 21



It’s always hard to know exactly what went down when competing versions of boys and girls are involved. I look forward to getting more facts on the allegation of sexual harassment that led to the dismissal of World Wrestling Entertainment executive vice president and general counsel Jared Bartie in the middle of ex-CEO Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.

One thing is clear, however, to anyone who knows the second and third things about the “very testosterone-loaded business” in which McMahon touts her success, which in turn is submitted for the approval of voters – and that is that there is a lot more where this story came from. More on all this in due course.

For now, let’s give the story some context. I think of Stamford-based WWE in much the same way I regard its Connecticut cousin in sports crime, Bristol-based ESPN. Both have turned themselves into iconic brands by ratcheting up the shlock and commerce of their respective genres. Their culture of hyper-commodification, I think not coincidentally, has been nurtured by offices plagued by much more than their share of sexual harassment scandals.

WWE executive Bartie’s female accuser herself came to the company from other high-level marketing jobs in the television industry. In a 2005 trade magazine interview about directing her former employer’s new and racier marketing campaign, the woman said selling sex was “easier today than it was 20 years ago. It’s an evolution of our society; our sensibilities change.”

She added: “We want to be clever and innovative and have fantastic humor and talk about what’s happening in the now. But we don’t want to go over the edge.”

One can only imagine what a great impression this woman must have made in her job interview at “PG” WWE. (I’m even wondering if Linda McMahon stole her line about “evolving” standards – a word McMahon applies to everything from program content to now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t drug testing. If WWE had seen at least a little of it between 1996 and 2006, a few more wrestling performers might still be walking around today in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.)

At ESPN – according to New York Times reporter Michael Freeman’s 2000 book, ESPN: The Uncensored History – more than 90 claims of sexual harassment were filed by female employees of the network during the 1990s. One of the accused, Mike Tirico, is now the lead announcer on Monday Night Football.

In 2006, ESPN fired analyst Harold Reynolds, who had just signed a six-year contract, amidst charges that he showed a little too much range inside and outside the “Baseball Tonight” set. (Reynolds is now with the MLB Network.)

The more recent case of the tawdry affair with a production assistant of another ESPN baseball commentator, Steve Phillips, is slightly off-topic but in the same ballpark.

At the time, Reynolds argued that he was being scapegoated. Reporting on the Jared Bartie scandal in the new issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer, whose knowledge and perspective on these matters are unquestioned, wrote: “The only thing we got is that Bartie is not there, it looks like he’s gone, and [the story on my blog] is the reason why, but there was a feeling he may have been a scapegoat. WWE made no mention of this even though Bartie ranked No. 5 in the company’s hierarchy at the time of his suspension or termination. The WWE web site has removed Bartie from the Executive Officers page which would seem to confirm him no longer being with the company.”

Not knowing exactly what happened, I’m not sure Bartie was a scapegoat. But consider this: As general counsel of WWE, he no doubt had spent a larger percentage of his time than the average “GC” on managing and defending sexual harassment disputes. That he then felt bulletproof enough to have engaged in behavior even coming close to that line says a lot.

As in all other areas of this blog’s reporting, I do not presume to be telling the women – or men – of Connecticut what to think. If the former fully understand Linda McMahon’s business background and have calculated that, in the world of realpolitik, it was an appropriate path to power, then so be it.

But I do ask everyone to spare us all that mother/grandmother/French teacher crap.


Irv Muchnick

Legal Trade Press Picks Up WWE Exec Sexual Harassment Story

The website of Corporate Counsel, part of the American Lawyer family of magazines, has picked up the story here of the dismissal of World Wrestling Entertainment’s executive vice president and general counsel, Jared Bartie, for sexual harassment.

See “FIRED! World Wrestling Entertainment GC Reportedly Axed Over Sexual Harassment,” by Andrew Hard, http://www.law.com/jsp/cc/PubArticleCC.jsp?id=1202458078752&emFIREDem_World_Wrestling_Entertainment_GC_Reportedly_Axed_Over_Sexual_Harassment.

Pickups by the media in Connecticut — where former WWE CEO Linda McMahon, whose experience includes managing other company sexual harassment scandals, some involving her husband Vince, is running for the U.S. Senate — so far total zilch.


Irv Muchnick

Follow-Up Notes on the Sexual Harassment Scandal at Senate Candidate Linda McMahon’s WWE

“Popular culture has always been a bit coarser than political leaders like to acknowledge.”

– Kevin Rennie, Hartford Courant, March 21


I know very little about Jared Bartie, the World Wrestling Entertainment executive vice president and general counsel who recently and quietly departed after an allegation of sexual harassment. Perhaps Bartie committed a singular lapse in judgment at a very bad time, and is being held up to disproportionate public shame.

But the history of the company co-founded and run by, and essentially bankrolling, Linda McMahon’s candidacy for the United States Senate – a history predating its status as a publicly traded entity with a billion-dollar market cap – shows that quiet departures of the sexually harassing (and harassed) are built into the budget.

For anyone who cares to pay attention, the lesson is that for corporations, as for the politicians who are made by them, character is destiny.

One of the many stories on this blog that no one in the mainstream media has even bunted, much less taken deep, tells how Pat Patterson, Vince McMahon’s right-hand man, resigned in 1992 in the middle of a company pedophile scandal. This was the same Pat Patterson whom Linda McMahon, in 1989, had instructed to tip off their wrestlers’ illegal steroid connection, Dr. George Zahorian, that he was under federal criminal investigation. The occupational health and safety hazards of the McMahons’ business, along with the drug cocktails prescribed by the doctors enabling it, would continue to contribute hugely to the premature deaths of scores of people involved in the production of their “fake soap opera.”

A few days, weeks, or months after Patterson’s resignation, when no one was looking, he got right back in the saddle. And the boys in the locker room, and in TV interviews, resumed telling inside jokes about how the most valuable move in wrestling was the “Pat Patterson go-behind.”

Meanwhile, the kid who had made sex-abuse allegations in a lawsuit settled just as the old Phil Donahue Show was about to tackle the scandal. Linda McMahon babysat the kid in the studio audience. Later Linda would appear at a state unemployment compensation appeal hearing to challenge the kid’s claim after he again quit or was fired.

Coarser than political leaders like to acknowledge – indeed.

***

Though the Connecticut press, as a rule, continues to cover the McMahon campaign with dog-bites-man banality, Don Michak of the Manchester Journal Inquirer yesterday produced an excellent piece headlined “McMahon family got $182 million from Bush tax break she seeks to preserve.” The full text of the story is behind the subscription wall on the newspaper’s website. Here’s the money passage:

Under “step one” of what she calls her “framework for creating jobs,” McMahon says she wants to halt the dividend tax rate from nearly tripling from 15 percent to 39.6 percent next year.

The former World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. executive adds that failing to preserve the lower rate set during the George W. Bush administration would mean “lower productivity, reduced take-home pay, and lost jobs for American workers.”

But reports the Stamford-based WWE has made to the Securities and Exchange Commission suggest that the higher levy also would prove personally costly to McMahon and her family, who have been the biggest beneficiaries of a dividend program the company created soon after the controversial tax cut was enacted in 2003.

That program, initiated two weeks after Bush signed into law the legislation that more than halved the previous tax rate, had WWE within three years granting its shareholders a relatively lavish 24 cents per share dividend every quarter.

...

WWE’s proxy statements show that the McMahons already have earned about $45 million in quarterly dividend payments in both 2006 and 2007 and about $46 million in both 2008 and 2009.

That adds up to approximately $182 million over the four-year period, or $193 million if [an upcoming] June payment is included.


***

Yesterday was this blog’s busiest traffic day of the year, and the second-busiest in its history.

The lead video at my YouTube channel (http://youtube.com/WrestlingBabylon) – a clip from a 2007 CNN edition of Nancy Grace just after the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide, in which I confront wrestling great Bret Hart – has passed the 10,000-view mark. My first television interview promoting CHRIS & NANCY, with Gary Radnich of KRON4 in San Francisco, has gone over 1,000 views.


Irv Muchnick

Questions for Senate Candidate Linda McMahon About WWE Executive Jared Bartie’s Reported Dismissal for Sexual Harassment

The following text was emailed to Ed Patru, spokesman for Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.

Mr. Patru:

My blog is reporting that Jared Bartie, World Wrestling Entertainment’s executive vice president and general counsel, has been dismissed for sexual harassment.

Please ask Linda McMahon to address the following questions:

1. Can you confirm that, as CEO of WWE, you approved Mr. Bartie’s hire in October 2008?

2. Does the report on Mr. Bartie’s incident, combined with other reports on my blog about sexual harassment at WWE (some involving your husband Vince), raise important questions about the corporate culture there and your role in it?

Thank you.

Irvin Muchnick

Questions for WWE About Its General Counsel and Sexual Harassment Allegation

The following text was emailed to Robert Zimmerman, World Wrestling Entertainment’s vice president of public relations and corporate communications.

Mr. Zimmerman:

My blog is reporting that Jared Bartie, WWE’s executive vice president and general counsel, has been dismissed for sexual harassment, and that you have not responded to my request for comment.

The WWE website has removed Mr. Bartie’s listing from the page about the executive management team.

Please update me on Mr. Bartie’s status, with a time line of his suspension and./or termination.

Please also clarify if your publicly traded company has been functioning and continues to function, unannounced, without an in-house general counsel.

Thank you.

Irvin Muchnick

WWE Sex Harassment Exec Appears to Have Been Terminated

A second knowledgeable source tells me that World Wrestling Entertainment’s chief in-house lawyer, executive vice president and general counsel Jared F. Bartie, has been fired. In the previous post, I said that Bartie, who was No. 5 in the corporation’s administrative hierarchy, had been suspended for a sexual-harassment episode during WrestleMania week in Arizona in late March.

Bartie no longer can be found on the Executive Officers page of the corporate website (http://corporate.wwe.com/company/executive.jsp). Though the October 7, 2008, announcement of Bartie’s appointment is still among the news releases at the website, a click on the search result for his bio jumps to the Bartie-free Executive Officers page instead.

Tomorrow I’ll again ask WWE communications head Robert Zimmerman to clarify Bartie’s status. I’ll also ask the Linda McMahon campaign for comment.


Irv Muchnick

Source: WWE's General Counsel Suspended for Sexual Harassment

According to a World Wrestling Entertainment source, the executive vice president and general counsel of Connecticut Senate candidate Linda McMahon’s “former” company was suspended for sexual harassment for an incident at WrestleMania in Arizona in late March.

My source said that Jared Bartie, who was described as having been drinking, hit inappropriately on a female accuser who was an executive in the WWE sales department. I do not know the length of Bartie’s suspension, or when it was to have begun or ended.

The woman herself got fired a few weeks later, in late April, after being seen performing a sex act on yet another subordinate male employee, on the work premises during business hours, according to the same source.

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.


Irv Muchnick

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Jim Leeson, 1930-2010

I invite blog readers to take a break and read this beautiful appreciation of my lifelong friend and mentor, Jim Leeson, who died this week.

“A Man in Full: Jim Leeson, 1930-2010″

by E. Thomas Wood

http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2010/05/06/a-man-in-full-jim-leeson-1930-2010

Linda McMahon with Rudy Giuliani --the Ultimate Outsider

Linda McMahon on Twitter: “Greeting an old friend of mine, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in West Hartford.”

Here’s how old a friend: Giuliani officiated the marriage of Linda and Vince McMahon’s defense lawyer, Laura Brevetti, and her fixer-husband, Martin Bergman.

See:

“THE FIXER: Journalist. Private Eye. Mole. Snitch. It’s All in a Day’s Work for Marty Bergman, the Zelig of New York’s Information Highway,” William Bastone, Village Voice, December 19, 1995 — full text at http://muchnick.net/bergmanarticle.pdf

“TAMPERING CLOUD OVER WRESTLING BIG’S TRIAL,” Jack Newfield and Phil Mushnick, New York Post, November 22, 1995 — full text at http://muchnick.net/newyorkposttext.pdf


Irv Muchnick

'Connecticut's Meg Whitman Clamps Media in Wrestling Sleeperhold' (full text)

[originally published at Beyond Chron, April 28, http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Connecticut_s_Meg_Whitman_Clamps_Media_in_Wrestling_Sleeperhold_8064.html]


by Irvin Muchnick


I’ve been arguing in this space for months that Californians interested in upending the gubernatorial ambitions of Meg Whitman would do well to study the petri dish that is the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut. World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon is spending $50 million of her own fortune there in an attempt to win the Republican nomination and then take the measure of Chris Dodd’s successor-in-waiting, Democratic state attorney general Richard Blumenthal.

Connecticut is much smaller than California and – if possible – even weirder. McMahon’s wall-to-wall TV advertising has portrayed a mother and grandmother, and one-time wannabe French teacher, who is a woman. And did I forget to mention that she is a woman?

That, her experience in what she has called “the very testosterone-loaded” wrestling business, and some blather about ending government deficits and “incentivizing” small business are the sum of her pitch. (WWE, a publicly traded corporation with market capitalization of around a billion dollars, has received millions of dollars in tax breaks at all levels.)

The newspapers of the Nutmeg State are so flummoxed by all this that they don’t seem to know an honest-to-God scoop even when they unearth one.

On April 9, The Day of New London published for the first time the unexpurgated internal 1989 office memorandum in which McMahon told another executive of her wrestling company to fire their Pennsylvania ringside doctor – and also inform him that they’d gotten a tip that he was under federal investigation for illegally pushing steroids to their wrestlers. The doctor, George Zahorian, would be convicted in federal court in 1991.

Linda McMahon’s husband Vince and their company were acquitted on similar charges three years later, and the World Wrestling Federation – which had its initial stock offering in 1999 and was renamed WWE shortly thereafter – was on its merry way. As my books have documented, a statistically impossible scores upon scores of performers have failed to make it to age 50 in the postmodernist death mill of the pro wrestling industry under the McMahons’ watch.

The investigative report by The Day’s Ted Mann was originally scheduled for publication on Sunday, April 11, but got moved up when Politico.com ran a similar piece. I suspect, though cannot prove, that Politico’s was planted – a classic (and, so far, successful) “Friday evening bad-news dump” by the McMahon team to time the release and soften the impact.

What I can prove is that no one – not even, perversely, The Day itself – has followed up on this huge story. Previously it was known that the McMahons got a tip, but it was believed to have come from someone inside the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission. The newly unredacted Linda McMahon memo somewhat confusingly refers to a source in the “State Department.” To reporter Mann, she and WWE clarified that she meant to say “Justice Department,” and they went on to identify the source as James J. West, then the U.S. attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania, who is now in private practice in Harrisburg.

West denied that he spilled the beans to Jack Krill, a WWE lawyer, at what McMahon called “a fundraiser,” but refuses to elaborate. About the serious allegation that a prosecutor indirectly assisted the target of his own criminal investigation – and directly assisted the party that would become the target of someone else’s – West emailed me, “I am not commenting on something that happened 20 years ago.”

Linda McMahon’s own line is: “I don’t pretend to remember to go back, to revisit all the aspects of that case.”

Neither the current occupant of West’s U.S. attorney’s office, Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, nor the acting deputy attorney general in Washington, Gary Grindler, who supervises the U.S. attorneys’ offices, has responded to my requests for comment.

The person who may know more than anyone about this scenario is another Bay Area journalist: Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Campbell-based Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Helpfully, Meltzer (who also writes a column on mixed martial arts for Yahoo Sports) has pointed out that McMahon’s claim that she can’t remember the episode is not credible. Unhelpfully, Meltzer has not gone on even to attempt to explain the significance of the difference between a tip from someone in state government (which has been his story all these years) and one from the U.S. attorney.

Upon reading my exhortation to him to add value to the public’s understanding of a Senate candidate’s background, Meltzer told a wrestling fan discussion board, “I’ve never laughed so hard in my life … this has been so much fun.”

Imagine a wrestling newsletter writer, rather than Woodward and Bernstein, on the police beat at The Washington Post on June 17, 1972. Now imagine all of American politics and journalism reduced to the profundity of a wrestling newsletter. Welcome to Campaign 2010.

For more, see my blog, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com.


Irvin Muchnick, author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, is @irvmuch at Twitter. He’ll update Beyond Chron readers soon on the writers’ rights case, Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, which the U.S. Supreme Court recently sent back to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Linda McMahon’s Scandals Are Softballs Blumenthal Will Knock Out of the Park

While leaving little to the imagination about what I think of Linda McMahon’s Senate bid, I try to avoid horse-race punditry. The Republican nomination and the general election for the U.S. Senate seat in Connecticut are for the people of Connecticut to decide.

I believe they should be basing their decisions on facts, not smoke and mirrors. But at the end of the day, Republicans can go ahead and offer up the sister-in-law of Scott Brown’s truck mechanic, and voters can choose the Emir of Shmoe to succeed Chris Dodd. If this blog’s project is the book hustle that some perceive as its sole purpose, then bring on the circus; it’s good for sales.

However, at this point, with the media doing such a poor job of vetting this largely unknown political quantity, and with presumptive Democratic nominee Richard Blumenthal stumbling a bit out of the gate, an outsider would like to point out a thing or three about the elephant in McMahon’s closet – which is actually an entire pack of pachyderms.

For all of Blumenthal’s supposed difficulty in finding his voice, and for all the presumed free-floating anger of the electorate this year, does anyone out there really believe for a second that the cumulative unexamined scandals in McMahon’s business background would not become certifiable partisan fodder in the fall campaign?

Coverage of the McMahon nomination quest has barely scratched the surface. Brian Lockhart of Hearst suggested, but didn’t close the deal on, the behind-the-scenes hanky-panky relating to a dropped investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of World Wrestling Entertainment drug-testing policies. I can easily see the Blumenthal camp allowing that one to continue to sit there, unresolved, for a couple of reasons. First, Henry Waxman’s conclusions, in substance, were for the most part on the mark, even if the timing and delivery of them were oddly convenient for McMahon. Second, the “fixers” of the Congressional investigation denouement were almost certainly a mix of Republicans and Democrats – and Blumenthal would get negative mileage out of exposure of the latter.

The strangely muted story of Linda and Vince McMahon’s 1990s federal criminal investigation and trial is another matter. Coverage by Ted Mann of The Day in New London has implicated a former U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, during a Republican administration in Washington, in a tip to the McMahons and their wrestling company of the boom being lowered on their wrestlers’ steroid connection. This sets up the whole narrative of the generation-long death pandemic in the wrestling industry, from whose accountability Linda McMahon can hide for only so long. Equally pertinent is that the content of this story is right up the alley of Richard Blumenthal, a career public prosecutor. I would expect him to make some hay with it.

Then there’s all the Linda dirt that absolutely no one, save your humble blogger, so far has ventured to touch on at all – including, but not limited to, something that looks an awful lot like witness-tampering by the McMahons’ defense lawyer’s husband prior to their 1994 trial; and the company pedophile scandal, so ham-handedly co-managed by the favorite mother and grandmother of Republican women.

The Connecticut media have played the WWE YouTube card and come up empty, and they seem to be concluding that no one cares. But if Linda McMahon is the Republican flag-bearer, the questions raised by her better-funded and less restrained Democrat opponent figure to be sharper and more effective. If so, look for the media to go on to frame this as an entertainingly “dirty” campaign, even if it’s one they have done their share to sow.


Irv Muchnick

Dear Glenn Thrush of Politico.com: Did Linda McMahon Campaign Plant Your Story on Her Steroid-Doc Memo?

As the following email text to Glenn Thrush of Politico.com — sent earlier today — was being posted, he had not replied to me.

Mr. Thrush:

Below are links to posts on my blog – one today, the other a couple of weeks ago:

http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/is-linda-mcmahon-just-like-ronald-reagan-or-fatty-arbuckle/

http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/04/10/did-linda-mcmahon-obstruct-justice-2nd-in-a-series-%E2%80%93-%E2%80%98the-day%E2%80%99-after/

My unflattering opinion of the depth of your coverage of the Linda McMahon campaign is just that: an opinion.

What is a question of fact is whether you were – as I have written I suspect – a conduit of a McMahon-planted “Friday evening bad-news dump” of the exclusive that Ted Mann of The Day in New London was preparing for publication on Sunday, April 11. The piece revealed an unredacted 1989 internal office memo by McMahon in which she told another wrestling executive to tip off their Pennsylvania ring doctor, and wrestlers’ illegal steroid connection, that he was under federal criminal investigation.

Let me just say that news organizations compete with each other, and if you did the complex investigative work to dig this document out of court archives, then confronted Linda McMahon (and forced her hand to publish and explain the previously redacted portion of it), I tip my hat to you. However, I see no such strain of shoe-leather investigation in your other work for Politico. Hence my question.

I’ll publish my message and any reply by you later today – conveniently, on Friday evening in case the upshot is in any way embarrassing to you. My contact info is below. Thanks for your time.

Irv Muchnick

Who Will Be the First to Resolve the Conflicts in Linda McMahon’s Spin of Her Steroid-Doc Memo?

While Joseph Pulitizer and William Randolph Hearst spin in their graves, a third full week has passed without a single mainstream media outlet pushing forward by even one centimeter the story behind Linda McMahon’s 1989 memo directing an aide to tip the target of a federal criminal investigation.

When the governor of New York State made an ill-advised call to a victim of domestic violence by one of his top aides, David Patterson got pushed to the knife-point of resignation. But when a new fact central to the scandalous past of a U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut surfaces, everyone yawns.

On April 16 the Norwich Bulletin editorialized: “McMahon owes state an explanation.”

On April 13 The Day of New London – the newspaper that published reporter Ted Mann’s groundbreaking story – concluded an editorial headlined “McMahon’s memo” with these words: “The candidate champions her business success as her greatest qualification. That’s the business. It’s not a pretty picture.”

These two editorials, plus $750, will get you a ringside seat at the next WrestleMania, which is only 11 months away. It is also only eight months until Christmas, and seven until the election of the successor to Chris Dodd.

Let’s review the basic questions any loop-closing follow-up story should confront.

1. The McMahon family/company/campaign account is that the source of the tip about the investigation of Dr. George Zahorian, the subsequently convicted steroid pusher, was James J. West, then U.S. attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania. West, now a private lawyer in Harrisburg, said no, he was not the source. Who’s lying?

2. Linda McMahon’s memo referred to a tip at “a fundraiser.” West pointed out to reporter Mann that federal prosecutors are barred from attending political fundraisers. But the memo did not say “political” fundraiser. So what was the event, or were the events, if any, at which West and Jack Krill – a partner at World Wrestling Entertainment’s Pittsburgh-based law firm, K&L Gates – had social or business contact prior to December 1, 2009?

3. West emailed me, “I am not commenting on something that happened 20 years ago.” Well, sorry to inconvenience you, Mr. West, but the charge of misconduct by a public servant in a high position in law enforcement needs to be addressed. If the allegation is true, it should be investigated for possible prosecution in its own right. If the statute of limitations on a crime associated with such a tip has expired, then the parties should be subjected to large helpings of public opprobrium.

4. Was the memo itself a “poison pill” insurance policy designed to neutralize prosecutors? As 1995 articles in the New York Post and the Village Voice showed, complex tactics to smear prosecutors seemed to be part of the McMahon company’s lawyer’s palette. (Other, even more exotic tactics included possible witness-tampering.)


Some defenders of the media’s passivity on this story might say that they will get to it in their sweet time. No sale here on that one. The more time passes, the more opportunity the targets have to coordinate and paper over their contradictions. Even more important, if the few real journalists out there drop the ball now and try to pick it up later, they will enable the perception that they’re gratuitously digging for dirt rather than just doing their job.


Irv Muchnick

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Is Linda McMahon Just Like Ronald Reagan -- Or Fatty Arbuckle?

Glenn Thrush of Politico.com is the latest to recycle the cliche that Linda McMahon’s background in World Wrestling Entertainment is analogous to Ronald Reagan’s in Hollywood. See “McMahon: WWE just like the Gipper’s ‘acting,’” http://www.politico.com/blogs/glennthrush/0410/McMahon_WWE_just_like_the_Gippers_acting.html.

On this blog, I have argued that the analogy is flawed — that the McMahon family, unlike Reagan, are bosses, and that their own role is closer to that of Fatty Arbuckle (the silent-film star who was ruined by his involvement in the mysterious death of a starlet). See “Linda McMahon and the Fatty Arbuckle Defense,” March 21, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/?s=fatty+arbuckle.

My Arbuckle post was in response to the Hartford Courant columnist I have cheekily dubbed Kevin “Don’t Call Linda McMahon My Mouthpiece” Rennie. But Politico’s Thrush is moving up fast on the outside for the title of McMahon’s No. 1 media lackey. Thrush wrote the piece earlier this month scooping Ted Mann of the New London Day on the story of how McMahon tipped a wrestling doctor that he was under federal investigation for illegally distributing steroids. As I have written previously, I strongly suspect that Politico’s report was a “Friday news dump” planted by the McMahon campaign to soften the impact of Mann’s.

I’ll email these posts to Thrush, and if he has anything to share about my sour assessment of his coverage, I’ll let everyone know.


Irv Muchnick

Program Note: 'Mirror' Blog Catching Up With Old Posts

This blog site, http://benoitbook.blogspot.com, is a "mirror" of another blog site, http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com.

The posts on the two sites are sometimes out of sync with each other. Today the administrator here will catch up on a week's worth of posts at the other site. As a result, the dates here will be off slightly.