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.