Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 2)

JERRY McDEVITT PLAYS THE ASSOCIATED PRESS LIKE A CELLO

In our current system of news delivery, a huge chunk of mainstream coverage is still shaped by the major wire services. When the Chris Benoit murder-suicide broke in Georgia in June 2007, not even the newspapers in Connecticut – home of current Senate candidate Linda McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment – had much independent coverage; they either reproduced in their entirety the accounts of the Associated Press or used them as rewrite templates.

WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt, perhaps the company’s chief spin doctor during this moment of crisis, is in one of his periodic saber-rattling snits with me. So while he picks at a nit in my 2008 blog coverage that I’ve published fully and openly, let’s also take a look at how McDevitt covered himself with glory and credibility in the early days of the Benoit story.

In a dispatch at 10:34 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time on June 27, 2007 – less than 48 hours after the Benoit family’s bodies were discovered – the AP Atlanta bureau’s Greg Bluestein wrote the following:

Meanwhile, authorities in Georgia were investigating a link between Benoit and a Florida business that may have supplied him with steroids.

Prosecutors in upstate New York who have been investigating the company’s drug sales said Benoit received deliveries from Signature Pharmacy and MedXLife.com, which sold steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone on the Internet.

Six people, including two of the pharmacy’s owners, have pleaded guilty in the investigation, and 20 more have been arrested, including doctors and pharmacists.

“That’s something that sounds like we ought to be investigating,” [District Attorney Scott] Ballard told the AP on Wednesday.

A lawyer for MedXLife co-owner Dr. Gary Brandwein scoffed at allegations that his client’s company sold steroids to Benoit.

“I’ve only read that in the paper. I have no direct information about that whatsoever,” Terence Kindlon said Wednesday, adding that prosecutors in Albany County, N.Y., were trying to “distract everyone’s attention from the fact that their case is disintegrating.”

Brandwein, a 44-year-old osteopath from Boca Raton, Fla., has pleaded not guilty to six counts in New York state court related to the criminal sale of a controlled substance. He was accused of signing and sending prescriptions without ever seeing patients.

Telephone messages left for attorneys for Brian Schafler and Greg Trotta two other co-owners of MedXLife were not immediately returned Wednesday. The two men have pleaded guilty to felony third-degree diversion of prescription medications and prescriptions, admitting they helped get drugs in 2006 for customers in upstate New York who had no medical need for them.

McDevitt said the drugs found in Benoit’s house were legitimately prescribed. “There’s no question, none of these drugs are out there, none of these drugs came from Internet pharmacies,” he said.

Also, on June 27 – most likely within hours, one way or the other, of this AP story – the district attorney of Albany County, New York, David Soares, issued a statement including the following paragraph:

After learning about the tragic deaths over the weekend, we were able to confirm that professional wrestler Christopher Benoit received packages from Signature Pharmacy and “wellness clinic” MedXLife.

At around 3:15 p.m. Eastern time on June 25, Mitchell Howard of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office had been one of several detectives called to the crime scene to assist in the investigation.  After the search warrant was obtained, he would write in the case supplemental later released with the sheriff’s report, “I located a box of human growth hormone in a small refrigerator in the room over the garage.” The final report by Detective Ethon Harper developed the additional detail that the bottles were labeled “Recombinant Human Growth Hormone” from a Chinese company, GeneScience Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.

GeneScience Pharmaceutical, owned by a Chinese national named Lei Jin, who had been educated in the U.S. and had homes in both countries, marketed one of the most popular underground growth hormone knockoffs of the time, under the brand name “Jintropin.” Today Lei Jin is a fugitive from an indictment issued for him in Rhode Island in the wake of federal busts, code-named “Operation Raw Deal,” later in 2007. Jin forfeited millions of dollars in assets that were seized under provisions of the Patriot Act. The next year, on the eve of the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese government de-licensed Jintropin, which had been legitimately marketed there. GeneScience Pharmaceutical is out of business.

*****

Later that last week of June 2007, a second wave of the Benoit media frenzy ensued over the report that an anonymous online editor, some 14 hours before the bodies were found, had already changed Chris Benoit’s biography at Wikipedia to state that his wife Nancy was dead.

In a story whose first transmission was at 9:57 p.m. GMT on June 28, AP’s Harry R. Weber wrote in part:

WWE attorney Jerry McDevitt said that to his knowledge, no one at the WWE knew Nancy Benoit was dead before her body was found Monday afternoon. Text messages released by officials show that messages from Chris Benoit’s cell phone were being sent to co-workers a few hours after the Wikipedia posting.

Nearly a year later, on June 14-16, 2008, I exchanged emails about this with Harry Weber. Here are the relevant excerpts:

MUCHNICK

Mr. Weber,

I’m writing a book about the Benoit murder-suicide in Georgia last June – see the links below.

Reviewing for the umpteenth time the contemporaneous news coverage, I have an important question about some information you may recall, based on the AP story about the edit of Benoit’s Wikipedia bio. (Some versions of the piece have your byline, some Jason Bronis’s, and some both of your names.) Could I have a few minutes of your time to explore this? Phone would be better but email is OK. Thanks for your attention.

+++

WEBER

What’s the question?

Harry

+++

MUCHNICK

The wire story says text messages from Benoit were sent “a few hours after the Wikipedia posting.” Not true — the messages were sent around 4 a.m. Sunday and the Wikipedia edit was fully 20 hours later, at 12:01 a.m. Monday. The bodies were discovered around 2:30 p.m. Monday. One of the things I’m investigating is the 30-hour gap between when those texts were first sent to two other wrestlers and when the World Wrestling Entertainment timeline claims company executives were told of them.

WWE lawyer Jerry McDevitt is quoted in your story. Did you speak to him? And was he the source for saying that the Wikipedia edit preceded the text messages? Depending on your answer, other questions would flow from that.

+++

WEBER

To be clearer, the story should have said the messages were “received” by various people after the wikipedia posting, rather than were ‘sent’ after the posting. At that early stage in the case, there was confusion caused by police, WWE attorney and others as to the timeline.

Thanks for pointing it out.

We spoke to McDevitt at length, but the sourcing for the story stands as written.

Hope that helps.

+++

MUCHNICK

Thanks, Harry, that does help.

Now: Since you were aware that the sending of the texts preceded the Wikipedia edit, is there a reason why the story didn’t explain that?

One possible reason that occurs to me is that someone might have asserted to you that, regardless of the time stamp on the text messages, they were actually RECEIVED subsequent to the Wikipedia edit. And, further, that you should exercise your discretion not to get into all that in this particular story (maybe because you were persuaded that the Wikipedia thing truly was a hoax, had nothing to do with the crime itself, etc.).

You’re quite right that there was timeline confusion, which you can’t lay at the feet of those reporting the best information they were being given. What I’m trying to figure out is if some of the confusion was deliberately sown, and if so, by whom.

+++

WEBER

Irv,

Off the record, I do believe some of the confusion caused by the timeline discrepancies provided by the WWE were intentional. We used a lot of discretion and news judgment and the best information available at the time.

Harry

+++

MUCHNICK

Harry,

Can I develop this further with you — off the record, of course — in a phone conversation?

Thanks,
Irv

+++

WEBER

I will try to call you when I am in the office Monday.

Cheers

Harry

+++

MUCHNICK

Thanks so much.

+++

MUCHNICK

Gently following up here. Thanks, Irv

+++

WEBER

Irv,

Sorry for not getting back to you. I’ve been hesitant because AP does not allow reporters to comment outside of AP or discuss our stories beyond what we have reported. I must exercise caution and not proceed any further.

I think you are on the right track in the line of inquiry you are pursuing. Good luck!

Cheers

Harry

+++

MUCHNICK

Thanks, Harry. I want to protect my sources in addition to being thorough and fair. This statement by you in the first round of our exchange would seem to have preceded any restrictions: “To be clearer, the story should have said the messages were ‘received’ by various people after the wikipedia posting, rather than were ‘sent’ after the posting. At that early stage in the case, there was confusion caused by police, WWE attorney and others as to the timeline.” If you’re uncomfortable with that, please let me know what we could do about it. Also, if a solution to this or my overall body of questions might include kicking me upstairs to one of your editors for more expansive comment, that should be considered.

This wire story was the gold standard — and, really, just about the only complete example — of takeout coverage of the Wikipedia affair. As I close in on the clear discrepancies in WWE’s timeline (and who knows why; it has nothing to do with the commission of the crime itself)…. I can’t play hippity-hop-at-the-barbershop with what shapes up as a clear example of how [McDevitt] was subtly misleading the public about the timing of Benoit’s final text messages.

Please give me your further thoughts.

Thanks,
Irv

+++

WEBER

Irv,

I did not agree to participate in your book, nor do I. I was simply trying to be helpful from one journalist to another. Please don’t make me regret being helpful to you.

Cheers

Harry

+++

MUCHNICK

Harry, I’ll do the very best I can do. But, respectfully, your last response does not answer my last question. There was nothing whatsoever deceitful about my approach to you, and I do not — as you would not — feel bound by a retroactive assertion that a statement was off the record.

Irv

+++

WEBER

I will have no further contact with you and I will be forwarding all of our e-mail exchanges to AP’s lawyers.

+++

MUCHNICK

And as you do, I’ll ponder the question, “Whatever happened to a good old-fashioned published correction?”


NEXT: Jerry McDevitt spins WWE’s spin of the ESPN brain institute story

Irv Muchnick

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1 Response to “Jerry McDevitt, Lawyer for Linda McMahon’s WWE, Gets Mad at Me Again (Part 2)”



  1. 1 Linda McMahon’s Lawyer Threatens Libel Suit Against Talking Points Memo « Chris & Nancy: … by IRVIN MUCHNICK Trackback on October 12, 2010 at 11:32 pm

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