Archive for January, 2010

Linda McMahon Chronicles: Strange Tale of the Stamford Police and the ‘Benoit Wikipedia Hacker’ (Part 3)

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES

Introduction (January 28)

Everything They Didn’t Want to Know and Were Afraid to Ask (January 29)

THE TWO-STATE POLICE RECORDS STONEWALL

I remember that when my late uncle Sam Muchnick promoted pro wrestling in St. Louis, the security at his shows was run by off-duty cops. Where have you gone, Moose Mueller?

While researching my book about the Chris Benoit murder-suicide, I spoke with Captain Richard Conklin of the Stamford police about Matthew T. Greenberg, the “Benoit Wikipedia Hacker.” Conklin confirmed that over the years some of the guys on the force have moonlighted as private security at World Wrestling Entertainment shows.

Outrageous conflict of interest? Or run-of-the-mill community back-scratching? I think most reasonable observers would conclude the latter.

But with Linda McMahon, the former CEO of WWE, now running for the U.S. Senate, I’d like to know a little more about higher levels of go-along, get-along local politics. I’d like to know, for example, whether her and her husband Vince’s position among Stamford’s leading corporate citizens served them in the pinch in June 2007, once the world realized that the guy who had made a mysterious edit of Benoit’s Wikipedia biography happened to live in the company’s home city.

On that score, Captain Conklin didn’t exactly allay suspicions.

Conklin seemed like a nice fellow. And through his work with a private database of pharmacy crimes, called RxPatrol, he has enjoyed an extra-regional reputation in law enforcement circles. (One further note: 2008, the year of our contacts, was one of several last decade in which Conklin earned the distinction of the city’s highest paid employee; that year he grossed more than $276,000 with the help of accrued overtime.)

But when it came to the kid who had bewildered the world with a Benoit scoop, the only transparency Conklin emitted was transparent nonsense.

In our first conversation, Conklin described young Greenberg to me as a juvenile of 12 or 13. I have no idea why Conklin didn’t at least realize that I already knew Greenberg was a young adult of 19.

Conklin also went off on an irrelevant tangent about the Greenberg family’s “modest house.” The captain didn’t get around to mentioning, however, that Matthew’s father Steven worked for the City of Stamford, in the finance department.

It gets worse. As noted in the previous post in this series, the report on the Benoit case by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia either erred or lied in suggesting that it was based on a viewing of the video of the Greenberg interrogation conducted by Stamford Detective Tim Dolan (as well as on what turned out to be a slapdash examination of the kid’s computer by a Darien detective, Chester Perkowski).

After some bureaucratic bobbing and weaving, Fayette County admitted to me that the only video in its possession was a snippet, which abruptly cut off after three minutes. Evidently, the Stamford cops had exhumed Rose Mary Woods – the secretary for President Nixon who “accidentally” erased incriminating Watergate tapes audio – to work on that task.

“Our original is OK,” Captain Conklin assured me. “I think they’ve requested [another] copy [in Georgia].”

Well, the Fayette County authorities artfully refused to confirm that. So I applied directly to the Stamford police for the video.

And the department said no. In a ludicrous argument nowhere supported in administrative or judicial case law, Captain Tom Wuennemann asserted that “voluntary statements” to police were exempt from Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, even in closed cases.

I appealed to the state Freedom of Information Commission – which, I am delighted to say, proved highly competent and helpful. A hearing was scheduled for November 2008. On the virtual eve of my trip to Hartford, Stamford gave up and released the video. The case was dismissed.

The rest is YouTube history.

All this is explained in Chapter 9 of CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death. On March 25, I will be reading from the book, answering questions, and autographing copies at Borders in Stamford.

I hope former Mayor Dan Malloy drops by. Malloy, as you know, endorsed Governor Jodi Rell’s nomination of Linda McMahon to the state Board of Education, and now is running for governor himself. If Hizzoner comes, I hope he brings along Captains Conklin and Wuennemann.

But after jerking me around for months before making me waste a $50 cancellation fee for my airplane ticket, these distinguished public servants had better not be looking for comps.

NEXT (series conclusion): Key to Stamford Police/Wikipedia Story Is What WWE’s Hedged Timeline Reveals About Its Corporate Culture of Death


Irv Muchnick

Hartford Courant’s Rick Green Stirs the Pot Again

“Muchnick Wants Piece of McMahon, Will Bookworm Oblige?”

http://blogs.courant.com/rick_green/2010/01/muchnick-wants-a-piece-of-mcma.html

Muchnick Wants Piece of McMahon, Will Bookworm Oblige?

Linda McMahon’s Amended FEC Filing Shows How Her Campaign and WWE Are Joined at the Lip

The first analysis I’ve seen of the Linda McMahon campaign’s amended and more detailed filing with the Federal Election Commission was at The Day of New London, Connecticut. See “McMahon boosts Senate race spending,” http://www.theday.com/article/20100129/NWS12/301299895/1019&town=.

The most controversial information about McMahon’s vendors is outside my scope. I think we all realize that Linda has the best consultants money can buy. They include the Las Vegas damage-control maestro, Mike Slanker, straight from helping manage the scandal of Nevada Senator Mike Ensign’s affair with a campaign staffer; and the Bryan Cave law firm, whose revolving-door partners include Michael Toner, former chairman of the FEC.

We also can expect people to try to make some hay out of the fact that at the beginning of the campaign, McMahon operated it right out of World Wrestling Entertainment office space in Stamford before locating campaign headquarters in West Hartford. (The filing shows reimbursements to WWE for rent.) But don’t expect these efforts to go too far. They’re like claiming that the recent shift of WWE television programming to PG was not a routine demographic adjustment, but rather a fix to boost Linda. How do you begin proving in-kind corporate contributions in these cases, even if that’s de facto what they are?

As I’ve opined, President Obama got taken for a ride when he taped a greeting to the troops for WWE’s NBC holiday special from Afghanistan. The company followed with a press release patting itself on the back for support of literacy programs. This was a sotto voce pitch for Linda – who, as we all know, was set to become a French teacher before her dream in life got diverted to wanting to be on the receiving end of a tombstone piledriver by Kane.

But seriously, folks …What I most want to know is why Jerry McDevitt of K&L Gates, WWE’s ubiquitous and happy-go-lucky lawyer, isn’t disclosed to the FEC as a McMahon campaign vendor. McDevitt must have billed somebody for the time spent attacking the credibility of  ex-wrestlers who spoke negatively about Linda to the Connecticut and national political media.

Maybe I’ll drop Michael Toner a note and ask him what federal election law has to say about that.

With a cc to the general manager of the SmackDown brand.

Irv Muchnick

Ode to Norah Jones’ ‘Chasing Pirates’

The advantage of blogging is that you can publish whatever you want, whenever you want, on-topic or not.

Sometimes a guy just has to get away from the Connecticut Senate race, death in pro wrestling, and the copyright wars. To do that these days, I kick back and play Norah Jones’ “Chasing Pirates.” For my money, it is the most perfectly crafted pop single since “Conceived,” the minor 2006 hit by Beth Orton.

(And yes, I have a thing for felicitous female voices. Shoot me.)

“Conceived” had sent me diving into Orton’s full oeuvre, which turned out not to measure up to that song’s lightning-in-a-bottle incandescence. Jones, of course, is a different story, having burst on the scene with instantly recognizable and transcendent crossover talent that made her the It Girl of 2002. I don’t apologize for being slow to the party. That is my way. I discovered the Beatles in 1972.

Except for knowing what I like, I know squat about music. So before putting fingertip to keyboard, I rehearsed this essay with one of my sons, a trumpeter who played and occasionally soloed with the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble, and whose musical enthusiasms are both catholic and tasteful. Here’s the best I can come up with.

First, I do not recommend that you run out and view the music video of “Chasing Pirates” on YouTube. The video is a plausible exploitation of Jones’ multiracial beauty and waifish mannerisms, but the viewing experience has the unfortunate effect of reducing the song’s ethereal imagery to prosaic narrative. Instead, I suggest consuming the aural core without sensory filters. Don’t even download the audio track; just wait for it to land in its regular rotation on a radio station such as San Francisco’s KFOG.

What you’ll immediately notice about “Chasing Pirates” is that it’s built around a singular riff and bass line. That’s an old device of pop-hook manipulation. Bo Diddley did it. So did Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” and Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue.” And, of course, the entire genre of funk beats us over the head with it. Now Norah Jones does it, but in a tantalizingly small package, and with the breathy and understated tones that have led some critics to deride her as “Snorah Jones.”

I have not been a partisan in that debate; I was not a fan, and knew Jones simply as a gifted musician with uneven material. But “Chasing Pirates” shows why her detractors have it wrong. Jones has the voice of an angel – obviously – but her stylings aren’t just seductive,  they’re searching. Like jazz vocalists going all the way back to Louis Armstrong, she knows how to coo, illegally and irresistibly, off the beat.

Contrast Jones in “Chasing Pirates” with Brandi Carlile’s “Dreams,” another current hit with spare architecture. Jones is a singer of preternatural depth. Carlile is a pretty good warbler – a modern-day Linda Ronstadt with a great instrument but a mediocre grasp of drama and dynamics. Dreams don’t usually scream, and Carlile (like Ronstadt mangling Roy Orbison) does too much screaming.

The last thing Jones’ pipes and phrasing facilitate is lyricism. I don’t know whether Jones writes her own stuff, and I have enough cynical background in the culture industry to realize that it’s a racket and the names on the credits don’t always tell the truth. I’m not going to bother looking it up because it doesn’t matter. Whoever composed the melody and words of “Chasing Pirates,” Jones’ performance owns them.

Check out the rhyme scheme of the chorus. Abandoning the cheap trick of rhyming at the end of the line – or the somewhat heftier technique of a false rhyme – Jones buries hers in the middle of the line “My mind’s racing / from chasing pirates.” The juxtaposition of “racing” and “chasing” is almost unbearable, allowing Norah to draw out “pirates” across the rest of the measure, and a little differently each time.

Enough exegesis. For the next two minutes and forty-two seconds, just shut up, listen, and weep.

Don’t Sniff at Linda McMahon — Cover Her

In a column in Sunday’s Hartford Courant, former Connecticut State Senator Kevin Rennie calls Linda McMahon a “bulldozer” who is poised to “steamroll” Rob Simmons, her main Republican opponent in the U.S. Senate race. See http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-rennie-mcmahon-simmons.artjan31,0,4909814.column.

Rennie has his reasons for saying this, all politically clinical ones, and they are worth reviewing. McMahon isn’t just wealthy, he believes; she is both rich and savvy, a lethal combination.

Rennie thinks McMahon is “hitting her mark” as a candidate with a personal narrative and an appetizing post-Scott Brown stew of New England Republicanism. The column tries for its own bullseye with an analogy between World Wrestling Entertainment programming and Ronald Reagan’s campy turns in Bedtime for Bonzo.

Here’s where, at a remove of 3,000 miles, I don’t so much dissent — Kevin Rennie sounds like a smart guy — as point out where the validity of his analogy begins and ends.

As I’ve said repeatedly, anyone confronting the McMahon family’s political ambitions, like their business ones, should start by not underestimating them. I don’t and I don’t. That is to say, I have no direct interest in the Senate election in Connecticut, and I do not think for a moment that Linda is stupid. I do think what she represents is dangerous, and what Rennie isolates as the “scary” precision of her focus-group machinery isn’t the half of it.

McMahon is no Reagan. That is not because elites have made the mistake of sniffing at both of them. It is because Bedtime for Bonzo, Knute Rockne, All-American, Hellcats of the Navy, Dark Victory, Kings Row, Death Valley Days, and the future president’s many other shlock classics were never produced by setting up dozens of his fellow actors for needless early deaths. And Reagan was not a boss, and bosses are accountable. Especially when health-care reform is in the air, and her company’s approach to occupational health and safety is basically that of coal mine owners before there were unions.

Whether McMahon proves to be a bulldozer or a buffoon understandably matters to politicos. What matters to the rest of a country whose culture and politics have already been infected by the values and manipulations of WrestleWorld is whether her candidacy becomes the setting for reining in those excesses, or taking them to a new frontier.

We’re watching with morbid fascination. Today you in the Nutmeg State are the canaries in our national coal mine.

Irv Muchnick

Review Reset: What the Critics Are Saying About Irvin Muchnick’s ‘CHRIS & NANCY’

“Great read for anyone who cares about wrestling or is interested in true crime.” – Eric Lyden, Bookgasm.com, http://www.bookgasm.com/reviews/non-fiction/chris-nancy/

“Muchnick provides a great public service in exposing what he describes as the WWE’s ‘Cocktail of Death.’ Now its up to wrestling fans to demand action, or else continue seeing their heroes die early from avoidable deaths, often ending up destitute after enriching the McMahons.” – Randy Shaw, Beyond Chron, http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/_Book_Exposes_Pro_Wrestling_s_Cocktail_of_Death_7522.html

“The latest from Irv Muchnick, who has already authored one of wrestling’s All Time Top Five books with Wrestling Babylon, is hands down the most important wrestling book in years.” — Critic Derek Burgan, http://gumgod.blogspot.com/2009/12/five-wrestling-books-that-you-should.html

“Incredibly well researched … an incredibly valuable resource.” – David Bixenspan, SLAM! Wrestling, http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/Benoit/2009/10/22/11493831.html

“Very few books are ‘good’ and even fewer are ‘important’ – but this book is both.” – Author and blogger Anthony Roberts, http://www.anthonyroberts.co.za/?p=3651

“Muchnick goes where few others care to go.” – Mark Hanzlik, Sacramento News & Review, http://www.newsreview.com/sacramento/content?oid=1317548

“Incredible retelling of the tragic story, with all its odd twists and bizarre turns.” – Rich Tate, GeorgiaWrestlingHistory.com, http://gwhforum.proboards.com/index.cgi?action=display&board=news&thread=8210

“Muchnick is hell-bent on discovering the essence of the cover-ups.” – Joe Babinsack, WrestlingObserver.com, http://www.f4wonline.com/content/view/10962/

“[T]he best book published on the subject to date … Since that day in 2007 I’ve wanted to learn as much as I can about the tragedy and why it happened. If you’r like me then you’ll absolutely love the book.” – Steven Wilson, PWMania.com, http://www.pwmania.com/newsarticle.php?page=266611032

“WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt read this cover to cover and so should you.” – Alan Wojcik, FloridaWrestlingFans.com, http://www.floridawrestlingfans.com/forum/topics/reviews-of-two-ecw-press

Linda McMahon Chronicles: Strange Tale of the Stamford Police and the ‘Benoit Wikipedia Hacker’ (Part 2)

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES

Introduction (January 28)

EVERYTHING THEY DIDN’T WANT TO KNOW AND WERE AFRAID TO ASK

The  media frenzy surrounding the June 2007 double murder/suicide of World Wrestling Entertainment star Chris Benoit intensified when Internet sleuths determined that Benoit’s biography was edited at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, June 25, to note that he had missed the previous night’s wrestling show in Houston because of personal circumstances “stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.” This was more than half-a-day before the Benoit family’s bodies were discovered in their home outside Atlanta.

The Wikipedia insertion was quickly traced to Matthew T. Greenberg, a 19-year-old Stamford resident who had just completed his freshman year at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Because Greenberg lived in the headquarters city of WWE, an already curious story exploded.

It quickly fizzled, however, with the conclusion by the investigating authorities that it was all an awful coincidence.

A report by the Associated Press facilitated “closure” with the incorrect statement that the Wiki edit preceded the earlier-publicized transmissions of Benoit’s final text messages to two wrestler-friends. In fact, Benoit had sent those texts – and they were also, almost certainly, received by the wrestler colleagues – early Sunday morning, as much as 20 hours before Greenberg inputted the note about Nancy.

Further, the AP reporter who wrote the account misstating the chronology of the text messages and the Wikipedia mystery based his story largely on conversations with WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt, The reporter, Harry Weber, would tell me, “[T]here was confusion caused by police, WWE attorney and others as to the timeline,” and “I do believe some of the confusion caused by the timeline discrepancies provided by the WWE were [sic] intentional.” See “Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 2),” https://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/jerry-mcdevitt-lawyer-for-linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-wwe-gets-mad-at-me-again-part-2/

On June 29, Stamford Detective Tim Dolan questioned Greenberg for 25 minutes. The interrogation can be viewed on my YouTube channel in three parts:

http://www.youtube.com/user/WrestlingBabylon#p/u/22/5bHmsfSDvUc

http://www.youtube.com/user/WrestlingBabylon#p/u/21/LLesDwGkeD8

http://www.youtube.com/user/WrestlingBabylon#p/u/20/UY42VBGh5s0

Arguably, Dolan never asked Greenberg the key question of whether Greenberg had a connection with WWE. Inarguably, the detective failed to press in any depth whether Greenberg and the company had a direct or indirect connection.

Most pointedly, Dolan did not ask Greenberg at all about Chavo Guerrero, one of the two wrestlers to whom Chris Benoit had sent his final texts. The reason this omission was significant was that the Internet sleuths had already reported in considerable detail on past Wikipedia pranks of Greenberg and his circle of college friends – most notably, racist and misogynist juvenalia about, respectively, basketball player Ron Artest and wrestling personality/actress Stacy Kiebler. Yet Greenberg also recently had removed scurrilous vandalism at the Wikipedia page for Chavo Guerrero – raising the obvious question of whether Greenberg and Guerrero might have had a friendship or acquaintance.

Quoting Captain Richard Conklin, the Stamford Advocate reported, without naming Greenberg, that he had been interviewed by the local police on videotape. The Advocate reporter, Zach Lowe (now with American Lawyer Media), would tell me that he asked Conklin for the video at the time but was turned down.

In February 2008, eight months later, Greenberg was named in the report of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia, closing the Benoit criminal investigation. According to the summary, Stamford had forwarded, and Fayette County had attached to the public file, copies of both the interrogation of Greenberg and the forensic examination of his computer (on which the Stamford police were assisted by a detective with the Darien police).

But I discovered that these records were not included in the Georgia open records. That led to a tangled freedom-of-information fight with police departments in two states. More on that in the next post.

NEXT: Stamford Police “Accidentally” Fail to Give the Georgia Investigators the Wikipedia Hacker Video Interrogation

Irv Muchnick


Irv’s Tweets

  • RT @TJQuinnESPN: I have this mashup in my head of Jimmy Breslin singing Chuck Berry songs. Kind of overwhelming. 5 days ago
  • RT @Colm_Keaveney: Justine McCarthy moves and nudges us all on a little in todays Sunday Times. A brave story about an Irish family. https:… 5 days ago
  • RT @daveyhannigan: Jimmy Breslin's column the night John Lennon was killed nydailynews.com/news/national/… 5 days ago
  • (2/2) Dad and I looked through his old files, in vain, for the auto insurance application signed by Charles Edward Anderson Berry. 1 week ago
  • (1/2) The great Chuck Berry died on what would have been my father's 99th birthday. Dad sold Berry auto insurance before he was famous. 1 week ago
January 2010
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