The credibility of chief accuser Tom Cole ranks at the very bottom of the list of reasons I suspect we eventually will be hearing more about how Linda McMahon managed the story of the sexual abuse of wrestling ring boys in the early 1990s.
Cole, who has flipped and flopped on Vince and Linda McMahon’s treatment or mistreatment of him more times than Brett Favre has retired, told Politico.com that he not only loves Linda but has donated to her Senate campaign, and now please go away.
Though I have some of the same misgivings about the work here by Politico’s Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman that I have of most tales that are told only once, and usually poorly, by the mainstream media, the reporters do earn our gratitude for at least broaching this subject in high society. As delicately as most of their colleagues treat the business substance in the background of this centimillionaire self-funded candidate, you’d think we were shadowing her personal life with private goons. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what Linda McMahon’s own company and indeed campaign have done on more than one occasion.
Ben Smith disagreed with my review of his piece, and we talked it through politely. Our dialogue was shaped at the beginning, in part, by a misunderstanding over whether Politico had talked to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer. I had asked Meltzer point-blank on Saturday morning and he had answered, “Nope.” (Meltzer just emailed me that he regrets incorrectly answering my question.)
Smith told me that his notes showed Meltzer told him World Wrestling Entertainment’s predecessor company “pretty much got to everyone within the first week – that’s why it probably went away at the time it did — you heard the stories of these kids who had cars and stuff….They all shut down.” Smith added, perfectly plausibly, that he didn’t use that piece of information because Meltzer didn’t have firsthand evidence of payoffs.
Smith also kindly shared with me this full statement by WWE on non-Cole cases: “There were two additional small settlements. One was a person who made vague claims involving Phillips in the same time frame as Cole. He indicated he wanted a nominal sum to pay some college tuition and was paid that amount to resolve his claims. In 2000, a 27 year old grown man claimed that he only recently understood that he had been exposed to inappropriate behavior from Phillips when he was in his teens. Given the length of time that had lapsed, the inability to verify such stale claims, and the desire of the claimant to settle for a small nuisance amount, the company agreed to pay a very nominal amount rather than incur extensive legal fees.”
Meltzer’s information – which he discussed freely in a 2007 Internet radio show reminiscing about the Cole affair – definitely involved more than one person “in the same time frame.”
But that’s not my real beef with the Politico account. I’m most disappointed in Smith and Haberman’s decision, in an article supposedly breaking down Linda McMahon’s personal skills and corporate PR tactics, to omit key details in those areas. Much of that information could have been solicited from Meltzer first-hand, or from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post – who owned the ring boy scandal story in 1992 yet wasn’t even named by Politico. The story didn’t get into how Linda, effectively, babysat Tom Cole in the studio audience at the climactic Phil Donahue Show live shoot. (And since when did blogosphere journalists begin shying away from links to pertinent YouTube clips?)
Nor does the story discuss the company’s reliance on private investigators and a baseless libel suit in attempts to intimidate Mushnick. Nor does it mention that while Cole got $55,000 in “back pay” in his April 1992 settlement, his well-connected New York lawyer, Jacob Fuchsberg, was “reimbursed” a cool $82,535.
My other, more general observation about Politico – one familiar to blog readers who have followed my nagging media criticism – is that it didn’t make useful connections between the McMahon style and “corporate culture” and other scandals dogging her. According to Smith and Haberman, “The ‘ring boy’ affair is one in a series that suggests that McMahon — businesswoman or cynic, maternal or manipulative — was good at what she did.”
But they didn’t go on to note that the ring boy affair also gave new momentum to a federal criminal probe of the McMahons, leading to a grand jury investigation and indictment. Or that further intriguing “tactics” would play into the story of how they were eventually acquitted.