Archive for February, 2010

Who Quashed Federal Steroid Investigation of WWE? McMahon Campaign’s Open Question

A political insider pointed out to me that an element was missing from Brian Lockhart’s Hearst newspapers story Sunday on Linda McMahon’s “lucky break” – how, as Lockhart put it, “the White House and Congress dropped the ball  in 2009 on an effort to  investigate the use of steroids in professional wrestling.”

“Nothing happens without someone pushing it,” the politico said. “So who was the friend or powerful contributor who asked, on McMahon’s behalf, to have the investigation buried?”

I don’t fault Lockhart for not going further with this particular story. That’s the next piece of the puzzle. You can’t publish everything in one article. Hell, I could write a book – and come to think of it, I did.

Before getting  to how I try to explain things in CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death – written after Linda McMahon was named to the state Board of Education but before she began her Senate run – let’s talk about the likeliest names in the gossip chain.

The camp of Rob Simmons, McMahon’s main rival for the Republican Senate nomination, can be counted on to whisper, as audibly as a shout, “Rahm Emanuel!” Linda’s pattern of bipartisan donations over the years includes what she has termed a “business investment” in Emanuel’s past Illinois Congressional campaigns, which Linda said were “not politically motivated.”

Of course, Emanuel is now President Obama’s chief of staff. The implication that Emanuel was the one offers subliminal bonus points for Simmons, since it was Emanuel’s recent ill-chosen description of administration critics as “fucking retarded” that helped set off the most furious attacks on the tasteless content of the television programming of McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment.

Another obvious candidate for speculation as the Washington fixer is Lowell Weicker of the WWE board of directors.

Chapter 13 of CHRIS & NANCY , “Congress Cuts a Promo,” posits a theory that is both less and more nefarious: the idea that, because the industry under scrutiny was “only pro wrestling,” the public attention span was short and the political cost of failing to follow through was nil. This consideration gains greater weight from the way wrestling drug scandals juxtapose with those in legitimate sports.

By the late fall of 2007 the Benoit story had exhausted its media shelf life, at the moment when Barry Bonds was getting indicted for lying to the BALCO grand jury and Rogers Clemens was disputing his former personal trainer Brian McNamee’s statement in the Mitchell Report that he personally poked Clemens in the butt with steroids and growth hormone.

Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform – which, as the Lockhart story notes, fanned on follow-up after conducting a pretty decent behind-the-scenes investigation – was the second to pipe up about scrutinizing wrestling in the wake of the Benoit murder-suicide. The first was Bobby Rush’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

(The Rush Subcommittee is under the House Energy Committee – whose chairmanship Waxman assumed after giving up Oversight and Government Reform in January 2009 with the 111th Congress. It also should be noted that Rush and Emanuel share Chicago political turf; indeed, the former is the only politician ever to defeat Emanuel’s boss, Obama, in an election.)

On November 21, 2008, I blogged a post headlined “Where Are They Now? Congressman Bobby Rush.” I accused Rush of being missing in action nine months after saying at a hearing (which every major sports league attended but Vince McMahon blew off), “This committee fully intends to deal with the illegal steroid abuse in professional wrestling.”

Three months before that bit of bluster, Rush had expressed the same sentiment in an email to a Baltimore Sun reporter. But the November 2007 Rush email turned out to be a month before the Waxman staff interviewed Vince and Linda McMahon. I suspect the fix was in at that point, and that the terms of the committee’s closed-door interrogation included a tacit deal that this would be the McMahons’ last words on the matter.

Whatever the explanation, on January 2, 2009 – in a classically buried Friday afternoon release, further buried by the fact that it came as George W. Bush was preparing to leave office and Barack Obama was preparing to to occupy it – Congressman Waxman published his letter to the White House drug policy office.

Three days later I wrote:

“One thing, and one thing only, mattered when the [Waxman and Rush committees] began their work in the summer of 2007: Would it culminate in public hearings on C-SPAN? At a closed interrogation by counsel and investigators, McMahon could play the royal asshole to his heart’s content. But would he — like the tobacco executives who denied with straight faces the link between smoking and lung cancer — really have the chutzpah to contend in a Congressional hearing room, in front of live cameras, that the wrestling industry’s early-death rate was anything other than off the charts?”

Irv Muchnick

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Will Hearst Newspapers’ Linda McMahon Story Be a Game Changer?

Brian Lockhart of the Stamford Advocate and Hearst newspapers has filled a syringe with substance and injected it deep into the flabby gluteus maximus of Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign.

The heavily promoted front-page investigative piece was not released online. Eventually there should be a full-text link, and I’ll provide one when I have it.

The headline has, in small capital letters, “FIZZLED STEROID-ABUSE INVESTIGATION MAY BE …,” followed by, in larger capital letters, “LINDA’S LUCKY BREAK.”

Here is Lockhart’s lead paragraph: “The White House and Congress dropped the ball in 2009 on an effort to investigate the use of steroids in professional wrestling — a lapse that represents a break for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment who is campaigning on her success as a businesswoman.”

Here is how Lockhart accurately quotes me at the end of his long story:

Irv Muchnick, a West Coast-based writer and blogger who will be in Stamford in March promoting a book on the [Chris] Benoit murder-suicide, called the responses by [Congressman Henry] Waxman and the [White House Office of National Drug Control Policy] to Hearst “hilarious.”

“It’s clear what’s going on here. They don’t want to do anything more with it,” Muchnick said. “You can see what a joke the dance of the government bureaucrats on this.

Muchnick said Waxman’s report is a very good document that could lay the groundwork for a future investigation of WWE but he said the California Democrat should have stuck with the issue this past year.

“They probably take on lots of things every year. Some they pursue all the way, some they drop altogether,” Muchnick said. “And some wind up in the middle with a castigating report that doesn’t mean much at the end of the day because it gets stuffed into a drawer.”

Once the full text of the article is available, I’ll comment more fully on it.

But today is a day for readers in Connecticut to read it for themselves and process a lot of new information, and for congratulating Brian Lockhart on an excellent job.

Irv Muchnick

WWE Releases Scott Armstrong, Recipient of Chris Benoit’s Final Text Messages

World Wrestling Entertainment periodically purges names from its roster – sometimes for mysterious reasons of internal office politics, but most often as part of a routine process of cost-cutting or keeping talent fresh and developed.

Of the four people dropped yesterday, only one was “a big surprise,” according to the Wrestling Observer website: referee Scott Armstrong, an ex-wrestler whose real name is Scott James. Armstrong “was well respected in the role” and “they need referees and they aren’t highly paid.”

I don’t know if this move is significant or not. But after we get past the breaking news of the next few days, I’ll review for new blog readers Armstrong’s role in the events of June 2007, when WWE was dealing with the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit. Armstrong was one of Benoit’s best friends and one of two recipients of his final text messages, whose timing and disclosure were a source of controversy. (The other recipient was wrestler Chavo Guerrero.)

Irv Muchnick

How Linda McMahon’s WWE ‘Handled’ The Undertaker’s Heat

All of today’s talk about Linda McMahon’s Senate campaign entourage handlers reminds me of how her company, World Wrestling Entertainment, handles spontaneity.

Occasionally at WWE television tapings, a wrestler screws up his lines in an interview, or the planned “finish” of a match doesn’t go well. When that happens, they just re-shoot it. The difference between a political campaign and wrestling is that, in the latter, there are thousands of people eagerly telling “the rest of the story” on scores of forums in the fan blogosphere.

Then, for those of you who haven’t heard, there’s the incident from this Sunday’s “Elimination Chamber” pay-per-view show from St. Louis, which illuminated – literally – the demands of the McMahons’ industry, as well as identifying the people who bear the occupational health and safety risks in its service.

In the midst of the elaborate production number that was his ring entrance, Mark Calloway, who plays “The Undertaker,” very nearly met the real one when a mistimed release of pyrotechnics engulfed him in flames. Some of the people at the arena, but almost no one watching at home, could tell something was amiss when Calloway threw off his jacket and hat, abandoned his next entrance spot, and doused himself with water. A show-must-go-on trooper, Calloway not only went through with his main-event match but even refused to shorten it from the planned half-hour length.

A later medical examination showed first- and second-degree burns on The Undertaker’s chest and neck. WWE flack Robert Zimmerman said, “Thank God he was fine. It basically amounted to a sunburn.” Yeah, right. Lather up with a little SPF 6,000 next time, Mark.

Wasn’t it Harry Truman who said, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the squared circle”?

Irv Muchnick

Reporter Confirms Linda McMahon ‘Press Wrangler’ Is State Party Chief’s Wife

Joseph Cole, the Valley Independent Sentinel reporter, confirms in an email that Suzan Bibisi was Linda McMahon’s aggressive “handler” at her campaign event last night in Seymour — the subject of the previous post on this blog.

Cole told me, “That it was Bibisi was quite the astute guess. That you picked up on that so easily raises some questions of my own.”

Irv Muchnick

How to Handle Linda McMahon’s Handlers

Joseph Cole of the Valley Independent Sentinel (a community newspaper in the lower Naugatuck Valley) has a valuable account of Linda McMahon’s appearance last night at the meeting of the Seymour Republican Town Committee.  See http://valley.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/linda_mcmahon_makes_her_case_in_seymour/.

The reporter describes how inquiries from the lone journalist covering the event (presumably Cole himself) were “shut down by a press wrangler.” He adds: “The well-funded campaign has tried, in general, to seal off McMahon from reporters. Rather than alert the press to public events, even after repeated requests, it often posts YouTube videos after the fact and distributes the link to the media instead.”

A bit later I want to get into some of the substance of unfriendly questions on which McMahon is hiding behind her handlers. They involve things like World Wrestling Entertainment’s acceptance of federal stimulus money in the interest of the company’s shareholders, without using the funds to forestall layoffs during recent rounds of corporate cost-cutting. This subject opens into a wider one on the tension – one might even say the antagonism – between businesswoman, the title McMahon has owned, and stateswoman, the one to which she aspires.

But while we all chew on that one, I want to ask a question. Is McMahon’s campaign event “press wrangler,” by any chance, the redoubtable Suzan Bibisi herself, wife of state Republican Party chief Chris Healy, who controversially is on the McMahon payroll to the tune of thousands of dollars a month?

I also want to make a suggestion to all my friends in Connecticut. So Linda is marketing herself with slickly edited YouTube videos of her campaign appearances? Well, how about capturing some real-time footage of what happens when her cameras are off? A professional TV news crew could do that. So could anyone with a cell phone video camera. Of course, that’s how the world got the most raw and grisly accounts of the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Irv Muchnick

‘If Linda McMahon Is P.T. Barnum’ … today at Beyond Chron

I’ve spent months hammering at the glossed-over business record of Linda McMahon, the Meg Whitman of Connecticut. McMahon, wife of World Wrestling Entertainment kingpin Vince McMahon, is the former CEO of WWE who is running strong for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat Chris Dodd is vacating. The McMahons are spending up to $50 million of their nearly billion-dollar junk-entertainment family fortune to buy the seat, and they may just succeed.

If they do, it will be time for a word from our sponsor:  P.T. Barnum, the 19th century Connecticut circus entrepreneur who, as a politician, proved quite a bit more progressive and effective than expected. After profiting from minstrel shows, Barnum in the state legislature was, first, an abolitionist and, later, a fiercely benign advocate of improved post-Civil War race relations.  As mayor of Bridgeport, he was credited with modernizing the water-supply system.

full text continued in “IF LINDA McMAHON IS P.T. BARNUM, CONNECTICUT IN MORE TROUBLE THAN WE KNOW,” Beyond Chron, http://snipr.com/uiyl5

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Hear Irv interviewed today at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time on Home Turf with Corey Costello, ESPN Radio in Bakersfield, California (live stream http://espnbakersfield.com).

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See the display of Irv’s book, CHRIS & NANCY: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, at Borders Books & Records in Farmington, Connecticut (http://muchnick.net/bordersfarmington.jpg).


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