Monday, November 29, 2010

How Vince and Linda McMahon’s WWE Beat the 1990s Sex Charges: A Resource Guide

“Tampering Cloud Over Wrestling Big’s Trial,” by Jack Newfield and Phil Mushnick, New York Post, November 22, 1995 — full text viewable at

“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,” by William Bastone, Village Voice, December 19, 1995 — full text viewable at

12/22/09, “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 2 – 1992 Drug and Sex Scandals),”

4/19/2000, “How Linda McMahon Managed the WWE Pedophile Scandal’s Damage Control,”

5/15/10, “In Bed With the WWF: Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling,”

8/1/10, “Politico Is Latest Media Outlet to Bury the Lead of Its Own Linda McMahon Scandal Story,”

8/3/10, “Politico’s Story on Linda McMahon’s Management of the Wrestling Pedophile Ring Story Closes the Subject ... For Now,”

8/3/10, “Pedophile Accuser’s 1993 Complaint Against Linda McMahon’s Wrestling Company,”

10/12/10, “Linda McMahon’s Lawyer Threatens Lawsuit Against Talking Points Memo,”

10/13/10, “EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Kept Vince’s Rape Accuser Employed Longer Than Geraldo Lawsuit Suggests,”

How the McMahons’ WWE Beat the Rap in the 1990s (Part 1, the Sex Charges)

While a much more important story plays out behind the scenes, the Connecticut media remain mesmerized by the nonexistent political future of Linda McMahon, who just blew through $50 million of her World Wrestling Entertainment-generated wealth to lose the U.S. Senate race there by double digits and help drag the state Republican Party down to a shutout defeat in every Congressional and statewide election race.

Commentators with way too much time on their hands are wasting the time of the rest of us speculating about a new run by McMahon in 2012 for Connecticut’s other Senate seat. One variation inexplicably floats her name for state party chair. I haven’t yet seen anyone nominate Linda for secretary-general of the United Nations, based on her sterling Senate campaign, but that’s probably coming.

The much more important story, playing out right under the noses of Nutmeg State journalists, is ongoing investigations of WWE’s business practices. The state of Connecticut is in the midst of auditing what many believe to be the clear misclassification of wrestlers as independent contractors. And when new Senator Richard Blumenthal, who defeated McMahon, takes office in January, he is expected to do something about reenergizing other probes of pro wrestling out of Washington.

As readers of this blog know, there is a long history of government investigations of Vince and Linda McMahon’s company. With the goal of improving general understanding of the challenge of bringing the publicly traded WWE to account for the last generation’s pandemic of industrial deaths, let’s review how its privately owned predecessor, TitanSports/World Wrestling Federation, wriggled off the hook of a two-pronged federal investigation in the 1990s. Back then a grand jury investigated the company both on allegations that it harbored a circle of employees and executives who abused underage boys, and on charges that it brokered illegal steroid transactions between its wrestlers and its already convicted Pennsylvania ringside physician, Dr. George Zahorian.


The WWE legal team was and still is headed by partner Jerry McDevitt of the Pittsburgh law firm now named K&L Gates. McDevitt got a major assist from another current partner at the firm, Laura Brevetti, who defended Vince McMahon at the 1994 federal trial – along with undercover support from Brevetti’s “fixer” husband Martin Bergman, a crony of then New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Team McMahon’s basic approach was that the best defense was a good offense. The year 1993 was one of carefully coordinated PR whose purpose was less to tell WWF’s side of the story than to chill the very telling of that story by others.

Tom Cole, the main pedophile accuser, got fired by the company for the second time early that year, perhaps because he refused to coordinate and share his grand jury testimony. (In May, Cole sued the McMahons a second time.)

In March, WWF sued Geraldo Rivera for libel for reporting the claim of ex-referee Rita Chatterton that Vince had raped her.

In September, I was subpoenaed for testimony in another WWF libel suit, against the New York Post and sports columnist Phil Mushnick. I decided to fight the subpoena with California’s journalist shield law, and the McDevittites dropped it. In due course they dropped both the Rivera and Mushnick lawsuits themselves.

Also in 1993, and continuing to the eve of the steroid trial the next year, the company filed spurious claims with the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility against Anthony Valenti, chief investigator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, and prosecutor Sean O’Shea. Marty Bergman – posing as an independent freelance writer and not disclosing his relationship with Brevetti – co-authored articles in The New York Observer about these self-generated “investigations” of Valenti and O’Shea. Joe Conason, the executive editor of the Observer, later admitted he had been duped. Bergman’s co-author agreed that he and Conason had been taken for a ride, one designed to throw prosecutor O’Shea off his game.

I’ll get to that last point, among other things, in the second part of this series. For now, it’s important to reflect on how the WWF allegation against Valenti (along with the chilling, if baseless, libel suits against journalists) eliminated the sex charges from both the public conversation and the prosecutorial bill. Valenti was accused of colluding with an NBC investigative producer in leaking secret grand jury information. Ultimately, NBC did not air the story on which it had been working.

The dropping of sex charges was a significant victory for McDevitt and his operatives. The reality is that indictment on those allegations (whether or not they were fair) might well have sunk WWF even if Vince and company were later found not guilty at trial. The steroid charges, by contrast, were far more survivable, even in the unhappy event that they would be a conviction at trial.

Irv Muchnick

NEXT: Additional related reading from this blog’s archive.

TOMORROW: Part 2, How the McMahons beat the steroid charges.

Connecticut Columnist Sketches How Linda McMahon Killed State Republican Party, But Ignores Next Step: Government Investigations of WWE

The always sharp Chris Powell of the Manchester Journal Inquirer talks some sense about the lunacy of a second Linda McMahon run for the Senate. See “Amid Republican ruins, McMahon plans encore,”

Right on, brother Chris. Unfortunately, Powell – like everyone else at the media throttle in Connecticut – has not gone on to report that there is a government antidote to McMahonism even if there isn’t a political one. The state’s Labor Department is investigating World Wrestling Entertainment for independent contractor abuse, and Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal has at least hinted that he will work to restart investigations of pro wrestling’s occupational health and safety record at the federal level.

More media coverage of all this is on tap for next week. But as far as I know, none is slated in a Connecticut newspaper.

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Five Questions Linda McMahon Wasn’t Asked on ‘Face the State’

Linda McMahon’s loss-lap interview Sunday on Face the State, WFSB, Channel 3, is online at

Here are some of the topics that didn’t come up during the nine-minute segment:

1. Linda, the vanity thrill of running for political office and feeling important is understandable. But what, besides your wealth, makes you think another run is at all plausible? You just spent $50 million and lost by 12 points. You were the female candidate, yet garnered only two out of five women’s votes. You lost every single Congressional district in Connecticut – that is to say, your opponent, Richard Blumenthal, got majorities in every section of the state and the five Republican candidates for Congress all lost on an election day in which the party made significant gains across the country. For the first time in 24 years, a Democrat was elected governor in Connecticut, and Republican candidate Tom Foley came much closer to Dan Malloy than you did to Blumenthal – further suggesting that you had a deleterious “reverse coattails” effect. There is talk of replacing the state party chairman, Chris Healy, whose wife Suzan Bibisi was down for a fat paycheck on your campaign staff. What’s wrong with this picture?

2. What is the minimum wage?

3. How many of your wrestlers have died since your last appearance on Face the State?

4. One consequence of your entry into the political arena is an investigation by the State of Connecticut of World Wrestling Entertainment’s abuse of the independent contractor classification. Some critics think this audit was long overdue. How happy are your husband Vince and the WWE board of directors, including Lowell Weicker, about that?

5. Why in the world are we wasting precious broadcast time on your spin of a failed campaign while the state and the country face pressing policy issues?

Oh wait ... That last one is a question Dennis House, the host of Face the State, should have asked himself.

Sorry, Dennis.

Irv Muchnick

Report: Ex-Wrestler Dean Malenko Recently Had Heart Attack

[posted 11/22/10 to]

I have been told by a reliable source that in recent months ex-pro wrestler Dean Malenko, who now works for the World Wrestling Entertainment front office, suffered a heart attack.

Malenko (real name Dean Simon, age 50) was a very close friend of the two WWE wrestlers whose deaths most galvanized attention to the company’s occupational health and safety standards: Eddie Guerrero (who died of a heart attack in 2005 at age 38) and Chris Benoit (who committed double murder/suicide in 2007 at age 40).

Malenko was backstage at last night’s WWE Survivor Series pay-per-view in Miami. (He lives in Florida.) No mention was made to anyone of recent health problems.

WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman has not responded as yet to my request for comment on this report.

Irv Muchnick

Connecticut Investigation of WWE Involves Unemployment Insurance Taxes

[posted 11/22/10 to]

Connecticut Department of Labor spokesman Paul Oates told me today that any audit of World Wrestling Entertainment would be coming out of the department’s Unemployment Insurance Division, not its Wage and Workplace Standards Division.

Oates emailed:

“[A]t this time, I am unable to confirm or deny that there is or was a WWE audit undertaken by the UI Tax Division within this Agency. Section 31-254 of the Connecticut General Statute provides the following: ‘The administrator may require from any employer, whether or not otherwise subject to this chapter, any sworn or unsworn reports with respect to persons employed by him which are necessary for the effective administration of this chapter. Information thus obtained shall not be published or be open to public inspection, other than to public employees in the performance of their public duties, in any manner revealing the employee’s or the employer’s identity.... [Emphasis added]‘”

There are two dimensions of independent contractor misclassification. One is the way it can deprive governments of tax revenues. The other is the way it can deprive workers of benefits. My interpretation of the statement issued by the Department of Labor is that its investigation of WWE originated, or is now oriented, on the tax payment issue.

Irv Muchnick

Coverage in Britain’s Shortlist Magazine

This week’s issue of Shortlist, a widely circulated men’s magazine in Great Britain, has an important article by writer James McMahon (no relation to Vince and Linda, obviously), entitled “Is This the Most Dangerous Entertainment in the World?” The piece covers the Chris Benoit murder-suicide and the pandemic of deaths in the wrestling industry, and quotes both Michael Benoit (Chris’s father) and myself. You can view page images at (go to pp. 54-56).

A photo on page 56 is miscaptioned. That is not Chris Benoit with Nancy. Someone thinks it may be Nancy’s first husband (before Chris and before wrestler Kevin Sullivan). Also, in criticism of the World Wrestling Entertainment wellness policy, I’m quoted as saying, in part, that “the men that make money for them don’t get tested.” What I believe I said is not that the top guys don’t get tested at all, but rather that enforcement of the results is erratic. The prime example is Randy Orton, who did not seem to have any consequences from landing on the Signature Pharmacy customer list, while every other WWE performer on the list got suspended.

All in all, Shortlist has made a valuable contribution to the journalism that will drive the next steps in pro wrestling regulation.

Irv Muchnick

Saturday, November 20, 2010

‘Concussion Issue Reaches Critical Mass in American Culture and Politics’ (full text)

[originally published at Beyond Chron, November 12,]

by Irvin Muchnick

Have you seen the new TV commercial from Toyota about concussions in football? The car company brags that its research on crash safety has been turned over to the grand pooh-bahs of sports, where it now allow moms to watch their precious sons block and tackle on the gridiron with renewed confidence that the harm to them will be minimized.

When Madison Avenue jumps on the bandwagon, you know the parade is already well down the road. The year 2011 will be the one in which the American public and government confront the growing evidence of the public-health toll of violent collisions in sports and sports entertainment, and do something substantial about it. Perhaps not enough to satisfy the safety-first crowd and too much for the taste of consumers of our gladiatorial, bread-and-circuses popular culture – but something.

And to think, it’s all because of pro wrestling. In June 2007 a former World Wrestling Entertainment performer named Chris Nowinski started Boston’s Sports Legacy Institute, dedicated to study and reform of concussion prevention and management. Nowinski himself, a Harvard guy who had wrestled with an Ivy League snob gimmick, was forced to retire from the ring due to brain trauma, and then wrote a book about the phenomenon.

The same month, in one of the year’s most sensational crime stories, WWE’s Chris Benoit murdered his wife and their son, before committing suicide, in Georgia. Nowinski asked Benoit’s father, Michael Benoit, for brain tissue that could be studied by Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist (and now chief medical examiner for San Joaquin County, California).

Mike Benoit was a grieving father grasping for answers to the unfathomable. This time the grieving father struck paydirt. Omalu found that Chris Benoit had the disease the doctor was calling “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy” (and that Omalu’s co-director at the West Virginia Brain Research, Dr. Julian Bailes, would like to rename “Mike Webster’s Disease,” after the Steelers’ Hall of Fame center who, like many other former football players, spiraled into mental illness, homelessness, and early death, with CTE as a major or primary factor).

In 2009 another WWE guy died, at 33, from a prescription drug overdose, and Andrew Martin’s post-mortem brain tests showed that he, too, had CTE. Benoit and Martin are just two of the scores of young wrestling deaths in the last generation, but the only ones to date whose brains have been studied.

Today the Sports Legacy Institute’s research affiliates are overflowing with a backlog of donated brains of dead athletes. Even if you’re not a sports fan, you’ve been reading the stories. And it’s almost impossible to watch a National Football League or National Hockey League game these days without hearing references to concussions and controversies over suspensions and fines under evolving rules to eliminate dangerous head shots.

The NFL faces serious political and commercial pressure to civilize its inherently brutal game – pressure that will only intensify if a labor dispute delays or cancels the 2011 season. On the legislative front, the House Judiciary Committee last year conducted highly critical hearings on the league’s concussion studies and management. One of the point people for that criticism, Pittsburgh Steelers neurologist and NFL concussion policy committee member Dr. Joseph Maroon, is also the medical director of World Wrestling Entertainment.

Meanwhile, Congressional investigations of pro wrestling, which began but stalled after the Benoit murder-suicide, should be revived following the failed $50 million self-funded Senate campaign of Linda McMahon, the wife of WWE honcho Vince McMahon, who had served as this billion-dollar publicly traded corporation’s chief executive officer. The state of Connecticut, where WWE is headquartered, is already auditing the company’s controversial classification of its performers as “independent contractors” who do not receive employee health, vacation, or pension benefits, and who sign a talent contract releasing WWE of liability even in the event of injury or death caused by the promotion’s own negligence.

When Linda McMahon’s opponent, Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal (the state’s long-time attorney general), takes office in January, he will have a moral obligation to lead on an issue that contributed significantly to his election. As Blumenthal pointed out in one of his debates with McMahon, seven wrestlers with WWE connections died just during the year-plus of her campaign. One of them, 29-year-old Lance Cade, had fatal “heart failure” two years after being savagely beaten down with a steel chair on the cable television show Raw – almost certainly contributing to his painkiller addiction and possibly causing brain damage.

The national cultural and political stars have begun to align. Listen up, everyone, and circle “concussions” and “WWE investigations” in your Google searches and Twitter hashtags. The future is now.

Beyond Chron contributor Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. Blog: Twitter: @irvmuch.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Muchnick’s Capitol Report

Blumenthal brings Better Business Bureau to its knees ...

Blumenthal to ‘actively’ keep the heat on Google ...

Blumenthal to follow through on investigations of death and occupational safety standards in the pro wrestling industry ...

OK, so only the first two are current headlines in the redoubtable Tom Dudchik’s Capitol Report,

But the third, as Hamlet would say, “’tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Irv Muchnick

Linda McMahon’s Second Act

Linda McMahon, losing Senate candidate in a near-landslide, is crawling out of the woodwork a bit faster than expected. That’s like putting the ball on a tee for an experienced and witty pundit like Rick Green, columnist and blogger for the Hartford Courant. See “Linda in 2012? Are You Paying Any Attention At All?”,

Yo, brother Rick – there’s a government story out there as well as a politics story, and your sources in Connecticut are a lot better than mine. Now that you’ve written a post (probably in your sleep) reminding everyone that there is indeed another major election in 2012 – since, you know, we tend to have these things approximately every two years in this country – how about applying your talent to writing about the state investigation of independent contractor abuse at Linda McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment?

Irv Muchnick

Connecticut: No Complaint Paper Trail in WWE Independent Contractor Investigation

This morning I got an email from Heidi Lane, principal attorney in the Office of Program Policy at the Connecticut Department of Labor. Lane was responding to the public records request I had sent to Acting Labor Commissioner Linda Agnew.

Lane wrote: “A search of the records of the CT Department of Labor (I am unable to speak for other state agencies) reveals that no DOL-83 has been filed concerning World Wrestling Entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., WWE or any other name variation relating to this company.”

Next week I will endeavor to confirm that the same is true of the other four offices with jurisdiction over misclassification investigations: Office of the Attorney General, Office of the State’s Attorney, Department of Revenue Services, and Workers’ Compensation Commission. For good measure, I’ll throw in the Joint Enforcement Commission on Employee Misclassification, which I believe is only advisory.

Also next week, I’ll be reporting further on the status of this matter, with the goal of preventing it from dribbling off into vaporware, like the abruptly dropped 2007 investigation by Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

In my view, Attorney General (and now Senator-elect) Richard Blumenthal has a special obligation to explain publicly where this investigation originated and where it is going. After all, earlier this year, when the enabling state legislation on misclassification was passed, Blumenthal was front and center. His March 17 press release announced a “crackdown” on classification abuse. To be clear, I think that was a good thing.

During the general election campaign against Linda McMahon, former CEO of WWE, Blumenthal suggested that the state audit of WWE (which had been brought to light by Hearst reporter Brian Lockhart) was being handled by the Labor Department. Blumenthal said he was not involved, and added – in what I took as more of a rhetorical dig against McMahon than a representation of the investigation’s status – that his office had jurisdiction only over “civil,” not “criminal,” matters.

Before proceeding to next week’s round of reporting, I have one quick observation on the apparent absence of DOL-83 referral forms in the Connecticut WWE investigation. This would mean that, at least so far, no wrestler has come forward with a complaint. But there’s no reason why wrestlers who have worked for the McMahons can’t act now and add their submissions to the WWE Labor Department investigative file. I’m talking about current wrestlers, if any of them have the guts to do something to help reform and improve their industry. And I’m talking about former WWE performers, such as Scott Levy (“Raven”) and Mike Sanders, two of the three plaintiffs in a 2008 federal lawsuit on the independent contractor issue that got thrown out on technicalities.

I wish I could exhort the third plaintiff, Chris Klucsarits (“Chris Kanyon”), to step up and make his voice heard, too. Unfortunately, Chris is prematurely dead – like too many pro wrestlers, whose misclassification as independent contractors is the opening wedge in scrutiny of this industry’s horrific occupational health and safety standards.

Irv Muchnick

WWE a Beneficiary of Connecticut Film Tax Credits

World Wrestling Entertainment, a Stamford-based company that is being investigated by the Connecticut Department of Labor for alleged misclassification of employees as independent contractors, is a significant beneficiary of a tax credit program to lure television and movie production to the state.

A study of these film tax subsidy programs in 43 states, undertaken by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, concluded that they were bad investments, according to an article about the study in the Hartford Business Journal. See “CT, other states’ film credits panned,”

See also the comments of Connecticut’s governor-elect, Dan Malloy, in today’s Stamford Advocate, “Malloy says ‘jury still out’ on whether film tax credits worth it,”

According to its most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing, the publicly traded WWE received $6.1 million in film tax credits in the last quarter. These revenues are not broken down state-by-state, but the bulk surely came from Connecticut and Louisiana (where WWE’s film division shoots low-budget movies that go quickly or directly to video). WWE also is believed to receive film tax subsidies from some states where it travels to shoot its weekly Raw and Smackdown TV shows.

Irv Muchnick

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Muchnick’s Public Records Request in Connecticut Investigation of WWE

Yesterday I reviewed the little that is known so far about the audit by the Connecticut Department of Labor of World Wrestling Entertainment’s alleged independent contractor misclassification (

This morning, by fax, email, and snail mail, I sent a letter with the following text to Linda Agnew, the state’s acting commissioner of labor:

Dear Commissioner Agnew:

I am an author and journalist based in California. For more information about me, please see my website,

This is a formal request for public records under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.

I am cc’ing Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in the hope that he will use his good offices to expedite this request. According to an article in the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers on September 15, the State of Connecticut is auditing World Wrestling Entertainment for alleged misclassification of employees. The Attorney General’s office told reporters at the time that such work is conducted by the Department of Labor.

If I am correctly reading Public Act 10-12, as explained in the public materials of the Joint Enforcement Commission on Employee Misclassification, inquiries regarding misclassification are to be directed to any of five agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Office of the Attorney General. When those investigations culminate in litigation, they are referred to the Attorney General.

The Commission’s public resources include a Form DOL-83 Referral Form, which is to be sent to the Stop Work Unit of the Connecticut Department of Labor.

By this letter, I am applying for copies of all Forms DOL-83 which have been filed with the State of Connecticut and which list “World Wrestling Entertainment” or a variant (“WWE,” “World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.,” etc.) in the top line, “Company Name.”

Please acknowledge this request and advise me of its status. Thank you.


Irvin Muchnick


Later this morning I received an email from a Labor Department staffer. The email made no reference to my FOIA request and simply said, “What can I do for you?” I replied with a copy of my letter.

A Connecticut source who would know gave me the name of the Labor official (not my email correspondent) who is likely playing point in the WWE investigation.

Stay tuned.

Irv Muchnick

What Is the Status of the State of Connecticut’s WWE Investigation?

[posted 11/17/10 to]

There are two open government investigations of the pro wrestling industry. One is dormant and probably will be revived only if Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal chooses to push for it. The focus of this post is the other one: the state of Connecticut’s audit of World Wrestling Entertainment’s alleged misclassification of its wrestlers as independent contractors, about which little is known.

The dormant investigation is at the federal level. In 2007, in the wake of the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide, Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigated both WWE and its much smaller competitor, TNA, for their drug-testing and occupational health and safety standards. The probe culminated in extensive interviews of WWE executives and contractors by committee staff, but not in public hearings. In January 2009, Waxman, who was leaving Oversight and Government Reform to take the chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, summarized his findings in a letter to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Nothing wrestling-wise has been heard from Washington since that time.

Meanwhile, in WWE’s home state of Connecticut, where former CEO Linda McMahon just concluded an unsuccessful $50 million “self-funded” campaign for the Senate seat won by Blumenthal, reports surfaced this year that the company was under investigation for independent contractor abuse. Since the only on-the-record source on this at the time of the first published report (by Brian Lockhart of Hearst newspapers) was WWE itself, I was suspicious. There are “audits” of various levels of seriousness, and whether they mushroom into wider-scale and important investigations is another matter. That said, after talking to a number of sources, I am convinced that the state probe is for real and was not simply a preemptive leak by WWE to head it off and to abet the Linda McMahon campaign with the suggestion that her opponent, state Attorney General Blumenthal, might be abusing his office for political purposes.

Yet I am also struck by the fact that WWE, a publicly traded corporation, does not disclose a state investigation in its most recent quarterly 10-Q filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (For the 10-Q excerpt in which WWE discloses “Commitments and Contingencies,” see A state audit of independent contractor practices would seem to be material and disclosable.

In Lockhart’s original report, he quoted a Labor Department spokesman, Paul Oates, with a no-comment. Today I left a phone message for Oates, which was not returned.

Yesterday I faxed Blumenthal with a request for a statement on his intentions with respect to WWE investigations. I said that to my knowledge, his sole comment to date “came during your post-election news conference, and it was imprecise, focusing on steroids. In the two weeks since, I note that you have issued a number of statements on other matters you look forward to pursuing when you take office.” I have not heard back from Blumenthal.

More tomorrow.

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Late Lance Cade Might Beg to Differ Over Whether WWE’s ‘Raw’ Belongs on Daily Beast List of TV’s Most Dangerous Shows

As noted here yesterday, pro wrestling programs aren’t listed in The Daily Beast’s ranking of the 22 most dangerous shows on television.

Tell that to the parents, widow, two daughters, and stepson of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Lance McNaught (“Lance Cade”).

In October 2008, on WWE’s Raw, McNaught was beaten down with more than a dozen steel chair shots by fellow wrestler Shawn Michaels — one of them flush on the skull. Shortly thereafter, McNaught had a seizure on an airplane from a bad reaction to high doses of painkillers. During the same period, WWE collected $315 from an Internet auction of the Michaels-autographed chair used to attack McNaught. Early in 2010, McNaught completed a WWE-sponsored drug rehabilitation program. In the spring, the company released him. In August, he died at 29 of “heart failure.”

For the full background, see “Outrageous Death of Linda McMahon’s WWE Wrestler Lance Cade: A Resource Guide,”

Connecticut’s Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal, who two weeks ago defeated WWE centimillionaire Linda McMahon for the seat he will take in January, has promised to follow up on investigations of the wrestling industry. As well as he should. The Lance Cade story was, arguably, the turning point of the campaign – whether or not wrestling shows make The Daily Beast’s bogus “most dangerous” list.

Irv Muchnick

Monday, November 15, 2010

Where Is WWE in Daily Beast Ranking of TV’s Most Dangerous Shows?

The Daily Beast today published a story headlined “The 22 Most Dangerous TV Shows.” See$D6U&om_mid=_BM4TPKB8Vuau5b.

The list starts with The Vampire Diaries (1 minor injury, 0 major injury, 0 deaths) and continues through various drama, talk, and reality shows in what seem like glorified product placements.

The phoniness of the list is exposed by the “most dangerous,” Deadliest Catch, a Discovery Channel documentary covering perils on fishing boats. According to the article, Deadliest Catch has been “responsible” for 8 minor injuries, 8 major injuries, 26 deaths. None of the other 21 listed programs had a single death.

Nowhere mentioned are the shows of World Wrestling Entertainment and other wrestling promotions. Like legit sports, of course, pro wrestling claims many minor and major injuries; unlike real sports, the industry also churns out regular and systematic death. And in contrast with Deadliest Catch, wrestling’s mortalities are mostly avoidable. Some are linked to brain trauma that is a byproduct of scripts for entertainment. These are not spontaneous dangers in nature in the gathering of food. But they don’t make the cut because, I guess, they’re too stupid to think about.

Connecticut’s senator-elect, Richard Blumenthal, who defeated WWE co-founder and centimillionaire Linda McMahon for the seat he will assume in January, has already announced that he will be taking on Internet sex offenders, phone scammers, the Better Business Bureau, and an alcoholic beverage blamed in the deaths of frolicking college students. Let’s hope he also follows through on the public-health hazard of occupational health and safety in wrestling.

Irv Muchnick

Friday, November 12, 2010

Political Commentator: Will Blumenthal Succeed Feingold As ‘Conscience of the Senate’?

“Who Will Replace Russ Feingold as the Conscience of the Senate?”

Philip Terzian, The Weekly Standard

“My own (admittedly unconventional) nominee would be Richard Blumenthal, freshman senator from Connecticut, who combines the requisite personal sanctimony with professional viciousness, and boasts an Eliot Spitzer-like history of achievement as attorney general with a Tom Harkin-quality record of military service, as well as a somber voice and pietistic manner.”

“Muchnick says Blumenthal has ‘moral obligation’ to investigate sports concussions”

Thanks to Tom Dudchik of Connecticut Capitol Report ( for that headline and link to my Beyond Chron piece today.

‘Concussion Issue Reaches Critical Mass in American Culture and Politics’ ... today at Beyond Chron

Have you seen the new TV commercial from Toyota about concussions in football? The car company brags that its research on crash safety has been turned over to the grand pooh-bahs of sports, where it now allow moms to watch their precious sons block and tackle on the gridiron with renewed confidence that the harm to them will be minimized.

When Madison Avenue jumps on the bandwagon, you know the parade is already well down the road. The year 2011 will be the one in which the American public and government confront the growing evidence of the public-health toll of violent collisions in sports and sports entertainment, and do something substantial about it. Perhaps not enough to satisfy the safety-first crowd and too much for the taste of consumers of our gladiatorial, bread-and-circuses popular culture – but something.

And to think, it’s all because of pro wrestling.


Thoughts on Mick Foley’s Interview on TSN’s ‘Off the Record’

[posted 11/11/10 to]

Wrestler-author Mick Foley, the hardcore legend, has another one of his interesting interviews, with Michael Landsberg of the Canadian cable network TSN’s Off the Record. The podcast is at

Charming, uncommonly intelligent, and sincerely interested in using his celebrity for the greater good, Foley is impossible to dislike. However, his insights on concussions and their public-health meaning – both his own, which he estimates at more than 100, and the general problem – are incomplete. A civilized society is not about “chasing your dream” without limits, because those kinds of dreams can have unacceptable costs for the rest of us. Foley, like most pro wrestlers, is too much of a “mark for himself” to understand this.

On the subject of Vince McMahon, Foley testifies to the promoter’s good heart and points to two examples. After the infamous Hell in a Cell match in which Foley inflicted ridiculous damage on himself, McMahon said he didn’t want Foley to do that sort of thing again. (I’m not going to detail the Hell in a Cell performance here, because these phony-shocked descriptions have turned into their own subgenre of pornography of the spirit, and miss the point.)

And when Foley complained of mobility problems, McMahon urged Foley to retire for his own good, even though he was at his peak as a draw for McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment. (Of course, the retirement didn’t take; it rarely does. Foley now works for WWE’s very weak competitor, TNA, and doesn’t rule out returning to WWE.)

Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence that Vince McMahon cares about the people who maim and kill themselves for his near-billionaire wealth – which just funded his stunningly unqualified wife Linda’s unsuccessful $50 million bid for the United States Senate – doesn’t cut it. I’m pretty sure McMahon doesn’t beat his pet dogs, too. As a matter of policy and civilized sense, what we need to be asking is what McMahon’s junk-entertainment factory tells the successor in Foley’s top spot, and every other glory-seeker competing for it, what, if anything, no one is allowed to do in the name of “getting over.” When there is no answer to that question except defensive, corporate, “cost-effective” double-talk, the answer is government regulation.

My essay “Concussion Issue Reaches Critical Mass in American Culture and Politics” is scheduled for publication tomorrow at Beyond Chron, the San Francisco online newspaper (

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Linda McMahon Is Determined to Run for Something Again

In her first post-election interview, with Neil Vigdor of Hearst, Linda McMahon suggests that she will be running again for high elective office, despite her $50 million, 54-to-44-percent loss to Richard Blumenthal last week in the Connecticut Senate race.

See “Linda breaks her silence: what’s $50 million?”,

To those who just want to turn the page on the nightmare of the McMahon family in political power, this is one more reason to pursue dormant government investigations of the pro wrestling industry..

Irv Muchnick

Monday, November 8, 2010

‘Road Map to New Government Investigations of Pro Wrestling’ ... full text from Wrestling Observer website

[originally published on the website of Wrestling Observer on November 3, at]

Road Map to New Government Investigations of Pro Wrestling

by Irvin Muchnick

The average politico is no smarter than the average wrestling fan, and arguably is far dumber because the stakes are greater. So-called smart fans expend more energy in analyzing how they were manipulated than in simply holding onto their wallets. Meanwhile, the chattering classes speculate on whether Linda McMahon, who just finished blowing $50 million on a double-digit Senate loss in a state smaller than California’s Central Valley, will run for the other Senate seat in 2012, or for governor in 2014. This despite the fact that, in a sea of national red on Tuesday night, Linda not only lost her own race but played a major role in keeping her blue home state bluer than ever.

They don’t shoot horses, and they don’t yet shoot Dixie Carter – or Linda McMahon. For me, the more interesting question is what happens to dormant government investigations of the pro wrestling industry that sprang up in the wake of the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide, only to subside per usual until the McMahon family felt it was entitled to be laterally recruited into political power at the top.

Since wrestling fans – again, like politicos – share a deep-seated cynicism only partially grounded in reality, the quick answer is no, nothing will happen because ... I don’t know, because nothing ever happens.

I disagree. It is an inevitable and appropriate part of the process for electoral losers – especially pointless, moneyed propaganda attack machines such as that represented by Linda McMahonism – to bear post-election fallout. And this is a good thing, not just because wrestling itself is out of control in terms of occupational health and safety, but also because its cultural influence opens a window on parallel issues in legit sports and public discourse. In the former, the key example is the new spotlight on concussions in contact sports; in the latter, the key example is the limits of self-funded campaigns and negative advertising.

With that in mind, here are three areas of World Wrestling Entertainment business practices that warrant being probed anew.

Independent contractor classification. Anyone of intelligence who has studied WWE’s lockdown talent contract, complete with a death clause, knows that – as a Yale law professor speaking for the Democratic Party put it during the campaign – it is “immoral,” if not illegal. (See “Ventura, Jesse.”) Armed with the best lawyers money can buy, WWE warded off the poorly designed Scott Levy lawsuit a few years ago, but now the company faces an investigation by the state of Connecticut over misclassification. (It’s not yet clear whether this state audit, which grew out of a bipartisan commission’s findings, predates the campaign.) Why fans would be aloof on this one, or quick to buy into the argument that it’s politically motivated, is beyond me. Does someone really think the wrestlers who entertain us are not entitled to health care, vacations, and pensions just because Vince and Linda say so?

Congressional hearings.
The infamous January 2009 letter by Congressman Henry Waxman to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy could have legs. Waxman no longer chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, but the House Judiciary Committee might pick up the ball. Judiciary was the body that held scathing public hearings last year on concussions in the National Football League; one of the witnesses was NFL brain injury consultant Dr. Joseph Maroon, who is also WWE’s medical director. One of the committee’s movers and shakers, Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, is a rising star in the Democratic Party. As Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal said in his final debate with Linda McMahon, “That wellness policy is not working too well…. I would suggest some other policy might be advisable.”

Securities law.
This one is a wild card. WWE is hardly the first publicly traded corporation to be totally dominated, a decade-plus after the initial public stock offering, by the same original core family shareholders. But the Linda McMahon campaign took WWE into funky new territory in their overall coordination of company announcements and policy, and in the specific confrontation with the Justice Department over Vince’s aborted plan to hand out WWE merchandise at voting locations. You have to wonder if someone is going to take a closer look at related issues, such as the way corporate public relations sometimes supports carny story lines in ways that could cross boundaries and skew financial markets.

Vince McMahon loves being in the news. In this respect, let’s hope he gets his wish.

Irvin Muchnick is author of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. Blog: Twitter: @irvmuch.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

WWE Spokesman: ‘Fans Know When Politicians Are Just Dishing Out BS’

The Hearst Connecticut newspapers’ ever-enterprising Brian Lockhart listened in today on World Wrestling Entertainment’s quarterly conference call to discuss financials released earlier today. To Lockhart’s disappointment, WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon was not there as advertised; the point person was chief operating officer Donna Goldsmith.

Lockhart said that last week he had asked WWE public relations guy Robert Zimmerman whether the Linda McMahon Senate campaign had had a negative impact on the company’s bottom line. Zimmerman emailed back:

“[T]he company does not exist in a singular bubble. I am not a economics major, but there are too many variables and factors that come into play. Not sure what the numbers will be for the quarterly filing, but remember the campaign has been on for over a year now while the economy is still in the toilet – so if there is any one thing that is the cause of any negative #s, especially for a content/entertainment company, it is the economy, as past history has dictated. WWE fans know the brand and know when politicians are just dishing out BS about the company for political purposes. Hence why the ‘Stand Up For WWE’ campaign has been so overwhelmingly successful. Our fans love the brand.”

See “Vince McMahon not in on WWE morning conference call,”

Just as I, like Lockhart, am curious about the interplay between the family business and the family bid for elective office, so am I curious about evidence that “Stand Up for WWE” has been “overwhelmingly successful.” But, drat, Zimmerman never returns my emails.

Irv Muchnick

Wrestling Journalist Caldwell: Blumenthal Off to ‘Less-Than-Flying Start’ on Regulation

James Caldwell of Pro Wrestling Torch disparages the remarks by Connecticut’s senator-elect, Richard Blumenthal, about pro wrestling regulation in his first post-election press conference. See “Will Linda McMahon’s Senate opponent pursue regulation of pro wrestling?”,

Caldwell is right in noting that loose comments about “steroids” show a limited understanding of the real range and cause of the industry’s occupational health and safety issues.

On the other hand, Blumenthal did acknowledge what is obvious but not always acknowledged: that wrestling reform is somewhere on his legislative agenda. And his remarks led the coverage of the press conference in the New London Day. That ain’t chicken feed.

To those annoyed by the shorthand “steroids,” I would also point out that the January 2009 letter by Congressman Henry Waxman (then chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) to the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy was sophisticated and thorough. The problem then was the lack of follow-through, including, especially, public hearings; the staff investigation itself and the questions to World Wrestling Entertainment officials in private interviews were excellent.

Overall, there is no disputing Caldwell’s conclusion that the proof will be in the pudding. I think Blumenthal’s words were a promising start, but given the history, Caldwell and others have every right to be skeptical.

Irv Muchnick

Substitute ‘Wrestlers’ for ‘NFL Players’ in This Story, and You’ll Get the Scale of the Problem

“For N.F.L. Players, Another Risk: Heart Disease”

by Harvey Araton, The New York Times

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wrestling Journalist Dave Meltzer on Regulation Prospects

From the new issue of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, covering Linda McMahon’s Senate election defeat:

Will an effort be made to re-regulate wrestling? Between the economic climate and the fact regulation hasn’t made a difference in the past, it’s doubtful, but not impossible. The Achilles heel of the company may have been classifying its wrestlers as independent contractors. Because wrestling is a relatively small business in the big picture, and active wrestlers know they can’t publicly say anything, if not for this campaign, that issue would likely have stayed under wraps. An investigation is already under way, and with a bad ruling. The vast majority of answers to questions seem to point strongly to WWE wrestlers as employees rather than independent contractors. Of all the business misfires, from the bodybuilding league, to failed outside promotions, a failed football league, a failed restaurant, this right now is the second most money spent on a failed project, behind only the football league, although the family due to the company going public, can afford it. But if these investigations go anywhere, the potential is for this to be the most costly decision the family has ever made.

Blumenthal Asked About Wrestling Regulation at First Post-Election Press Conference

From the blog coverage by Daniela Altimari of the Hartford Courant (

Hearst’s Brian Lockhart asked Blumenthal if he intends to pursue greater regulation of professional wrestling, an issue he repeatedly raised in his campaign against Republican Linda McMahon.

“One issue that I clealry saw as important is the potential dangers of steroids — the real dangers of steroids — and the long-term health consequences of steroid use and that will be a focus of mine as a United States Senator,” he said.

“I won’t say beyond that what I would do about any of the other issues in the campaign that related to the way my opponent ran her business or treated the people who worked for her, but I think the campaign clearly involved a contrast in our respective records,” Blumenthal added.

Irv Muchnick

‘Road Map to New Government Investigations of Pro Wrestling’ ... at Wrestling Observer website

Irv Muchnick talks fallout of McMahon campaign; and possible post-campaign repercussions

Road Map to New Government Investigations of Pro Wrestling

Wrestling Observer/Figure Four Online

Linda McMahon Is Not ‘Going to Fade into the Woodwork’ – Threat or Promise?

Linda McMahon, co-founder of a junk-entertainment death mill that has claimed the lives of scores of young men and women, vowed not to “fade into the woodwork” last night as she conceded a 100,000-vote, double-digit-percentage loss to Richard Blumenthal in the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut.

Well, let’s hope not. The biggest public service McMahon ever performed was the defiant decision she and husband Vince made to pour $50 million of their World Wrestling Entertainment wealth into a negatively driven bid for instant high elective office.

“It was a poorly run campaign,” summed up James Caldwell of Pro Wrestling Torch ( “If I were McMahon, I would be asking for a refund, but the thing is this race was straight from the WWE Playbook of deny, deny, deny until people lose interest and can’t hold their noses any longer having to examine anything related to pro wrestling.”

Caldwell then raised the key question:

Will Richard Blumenthal follow up on his suggestion that he would recommend an investigation of WWE’s business practices if elected Senator?... The law of unintended consequences opened up WWE’s story for the world to see. For the health of the wrestlers and the overall wrestling business, it could be a good thing.

Irv Muchnick

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Linda McMahon Loses

We won’t know the final numbers for a while, but it was not a squeaker. McMahon conceded to Senator-elect Richard Blumenthal around 10:15 p.m. Eastern time.

Tomorrow: Some thoughts from here on what it all means.

Irv Muchnick