Archive for April, 2010

Dear Glenn Thrush of Did Linda McMahon Campaign Plant Your Story on Her Steroid-Doc Memo?

As the following email text to Glenn Thrush of — sent earlier today — was being posted, he had not replied to me.

Mr. Thrush:

Below are links to posts on my blog – one today, the other a couple of weeks ago:

My unflattering opinion of the depth of your coverage of the Linda McMahon campaign is just that: an opinion.

What is a question of fact is whether you were – as I have written I suspect  – a conduit of a McMahon-planted “Friday evening bad-news dump” of the exclusive that Ted Mann of The Day in New London was preparing for publication on Sunday, April 11. The piece revealed an unredacted 1989 internal office memo by McMahon in which she told another wrestling executive to tip off their Pennsylvania ring doctor, and wrestlers’ illegal steroid connection, that he was under federal criminal investigation.

Let me just say that news organizations compete with each other, and if you did the complex investigative work to dig this document out of court archives, then confronted Linda McMahon (and forced her hand to publish and explain the previously redacted portion of it), I tip my hat to you. However, I see no such strain of shoe-leather investigation in your other work for Politico. Hence my question.

I’ll publish my message and any reply by you later today – conveniently, on Friday evening in case the upshot is in any way embarrassing to you. My contact info is below. Thanks for your time.

Irv Muchnick

Who Will Be the First to Resolve the Conflicts in Linda McMahon’s Spin of Her Steroid-Doc Memo?

While Joseph Pulitizer and William Randolph Hearst spin in their graves, a third full week has passed without a single mainstream media outlet pushing forward by even one centimeter the story behind Linda McMahon’s 1989 memo directing an aide to tip the target of a federal criminal investigation.

When the governor of New York State made an ill-advised call to a victim of domestic violence by one of his top aides, David Patterson got pushed to the knife-point of resignation. But when a new fact central to the scandalous past of a U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut surfaces, everyone yawns.

On April 16 the Norwich Bulletin editorialized: “McMahon owes state an explanation.”

On April 13 The Day of New London – the newspaper that published reporter Ted Mann’s groundbreaking story – concluded an editorial headlined “McMahon’s memo” with these words: “The candidate champions her business success as her greatest qualification. That’s the business. It’s not a pretty picture.”

These two editorials, plus $750, will get you a ringside seat at the next WrestleMania, which is only 11 months away. It is also only eight months until Christmas, and seven until the election of the successor to Chris Dodd.

Let’s review the basic questions any loop-closing follow-up story should confront.

1. The McMahon family/company/campaign account is that the source of the tip about the investigation of Dr. George Zahorian, the subsequently convicted steroid pusher, was James J. West, then U.S. attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania. West, now a private lawyer in Harrisburg, said no, he was not the source. Who’s lying?

2. Linda McMahon’s memo referred to a tip at “a fundraiser.” West pointed out to reporter Mann that federal prosecutors are barred from attending political fundraisers. But the memo did not say “political” fundraiser. So what was the event, or were the events, if any, at which West and Jack Krill – a partner at World Wrestling Entertainment’s Pittsburgh-based law firm, K&L Gates – had social or business contact prior to December 1, 2009?

3. West emailed me, “I am not commenting on something that happened 20 years ago.” Well, sorry to inconvenience you, Mr. West, but the charge of misconduct by a public servant in a high position in law enforcement needs to be addressed. If the allegation is true, it should be investigated for possible prosecution in its own right. If the statute of limitations on a crime associated with such a tip has expired, then the parties should be subjected to large helpings of public opprobrium.

4. Was the memo itself a “poison pill” insurance policy designed to neutralize prosecutors? As 1995 articles in the New York Post and the Village Voice showed, complex tactics to smear prosecutors seemed to be part of the McMahon company’s lawyer’s palette. (Other, even more exotic tactics included possible witness-tampering.)

Some defenders of the media’s passivity on this story might say that they will get to it in their sweet time. No sale here on that one. The more time passes, the more opportunity the targets have to coordinate and paper over their contradictions. Even more important, if the few real journalists out there drop the ball now and try to pick it up later, they will enable the perception that they’re gratuitously digging for dirt rather than just doing their job.

Irv Muchnick

Is Linda McMahon Just Like Ronald Reagan — Or Fatty Arbuckle?

Glenn Thrush of is the latest to recycle the cliche that Linda McMahon’s background in World Wrestling Entertainment is analogous to Ronald Reagan’s in Hollywood. See “McMahon: WWE just like the Gipper’s ‘acting,'”

On this blog, I have argued that the analogy is flawed — that the McMahon family, unlike Reagan, are bosses, and that their own role is closer to that of Fatty Arbuckle (the silent-film star who was ruined by his involvement in the mysterious death of a starlet). See “Linda McMahon and the Fatty Arbuckle Defense,” March 21,

My Arbuckle post was in response to the Hartford Courant columnist I have cheekily dubbed Kevin “Don’t Call Linda McMahon My Mouthpiece” Rennie. But Politico’s Thrush is moving up fast on the outside for the title of McMahon’s No. 1 media lackey. Thrush wrote the piece earlier this month scooping Ted Mann of the New London Day on the story of how McMahon tipped a wrestling doctor that he was under federal investigation for illegally distributing steroids. As I have written previously, I strongly suspect that Politico’s report was a “Friday news dump” planted by the McMahon campaign to soften the impact of Mann’s.

I’ll email these posts to Thrush, and if he has anything to share about my sour assessment of his coverage, I’ll let everyone know.

Irv Muchnick

Hartford Courant’s Rick Green: There’s No Media Blackout on Linda McMahon Prosecutor Tip

Hartford Courant columnist/blogger Rick Green wrote, in part of an interesting email exchange with me, “I’m not sure whether I completely buy the media blackout argument” with respect to in-depth Connecticut newspaper coverage of the story of Linda McMahon’s 1989 memo revealing that her wrestling company got an advance tip — allegedly from a federal prosecutor.

“A lot of this has been reported, it doesn’t yet have traction. I’m not sure why but it’s more than lazy reporters,” Green said.

The lazy-reporter argument is a straw man. I don’t think newspaper writers are lazy at all. I think they’re stretched and overworked.

For example, Ted Mann of the New London Day, the reporter who broke the Linda McMahon story, also blogs. Right now he’s getting buzz for his pungent observation that conservatives who complain about big government can be strangely silent when they’re also victims of the recent Connecticut floods, who are clamoring for federal relief. And good for Mann. However, I, personally, would rather see less bloviation from Mann and his brethren, in favor of extending his fine work on the McMahon story with additional enterprise journalism. Giving his own work “traction,” if you will. Traction is in the eye of the beholder.

The problem, Brother Rick,  isn’t reportorial initiative; it’s the difference between the corporate news filter of a newspaper and the personal news filter of a blog like mine.

Green and I have come a long way since January, when he was calling me “The Desperate California Sportswriter” and joked that I was accusing Connecticut journalists of being spineless. Then, Green was just having fun. Now, when he defends the vertebrae of his fellow ink-stained wretches, he’s being serious. But the charge is no more on point in the spring than it was in the winter.

For me, the real question is, How long is the learning curve for the Connecticut media on the Linda McMahon Senate candidacy? At what point does this slick and well-funded campaign of the head of an industrial death cult cease to be chatter and start to coalesce as an affair of state?

I’ll take my answer off the air.

Irv Muchnick

Tied for the Most Important Post in the History of My Blogs

My other son, Jacob Schneider, has co-authored a long and brilliant profile of Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, for The Eye, the magazine of the Columbia Daily Spectator.

And his mother, his brother Nate, his sisters Mara and Lia, and I are very proud of Jake, too.

Read and enjoy:

Finding Bollinger

Eight years after his inauguration, he’s fundamentally changed—or restored—the presidency. This is how he did it.

By Jacob Schneider and Joy Resmovits

Linda McMahon’s ‘Media Sleeperhold’ … today at Beyond Chron

Connecticut’s Meg Whitman Clamps Media in Wrestling Sleeperhold

I’ve been arguing in this space for months that Californians interested in upending the gubernatorial ambitions of Meg Whitman would do well to study the petri dish that is the U.S. Senate race in Connecticut. World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Linda McMahon is spending $50 million of her own fortune there in an attempt to win the Republican nomination and then take the measure of Chris Dodd’s successor-in-waiting, Democratic state attorney general Richard Blumenthal.

Connecticut is much smaller than California and – if possible – even weirder. McMahon’s wall-to-wall TV advertising has portrayed a mother and grandmother, and one-time wannabe French teacher, who is a woman. And did I forget to mention that she is a woman?

That, her experience in what she has called “the very testosterone-loaded” wrestling business, and some blather about ending government deficits and “incentivizing” small business are the sum of her pitch. (WWE, a publicly traded corporation with market capitalization of around a billion dollars, has received millions of dollars in tax breaks at all levels.)

The newspapers of the Nutmeg State are so flummoxed by all this that they don’t seem to know an honest-to-God scoop even when they unearth one.


Canvassing the Senate Candidates on the Linda McMahon Memo

Sent to the Linda McMahon, Rob Simmons, Peter Schiff, Richard Blumenthal, and Merrick Alpert campaigns:

My blog,, is following up on the report earlier this month in the New London Day that Linda McMahon and her wrestling company alerted the target of a federal criminal investigation after receiving a tip about it at a “fundraiser.” James J. West, the former U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, denies the McMahon camp’s contention that he was the source of the tip, but declines to elaborate.

Do you believe the contradictions between Ms. McMahon’s and Mr. West’s accounts are an issue in the Senate campaign? If your answer is no, please explain why you so believe. If your answer is yes, please propose the steps that you believe should be taken to air the full story behind Ms. McMahon’s published memorandum in this matter.

Linda McMahon and the Annals of Jurisprudence

“A former Philadelphia police officer, Rickie Durham, will spend two years in prison for alerting former NBA player and childhood friend Jerome ‘Pooh’ Richardson to a drug raid in 2005.”

News story today.


“I don’t pretend to remember to go back, to revisit all the aspects of that case.”

Senate candidate Linda McMahon to The Day of New London, on the publication of her memo instructing another pro wrestling executive to tell their wrestlers’ illegal steroid connection, Dr. George Zahorian, that he was under criminal investigation. Zahorian would be convicted at a 1991 federal trial; Vince McMahon and the McMahons’ wrestling company would be acquitted at another trial in 1994.


“I am not commenting on something that happened 20 years ago.”

Former U.S. Attorney James J. West, in an email to me, refusing to elaborate on his denial that he was the source of the tip to the McMahons.


Linda McMahon Halts ‘Voter Bounty’; Now … What About the Tip on the Steroid Doc?

Congratulations to Brian Lockhart of the Stamford Advocate for his report on the $5-per-head “bounty” offered to the employees of Linda McMahon’s voter registration drive at the University of Connecticut.

In response to the negative press, McMahon says that she didn’t know about the operation and is ending it.

Still unexamined is a story that I think is of at least equal importance: the report earlier this month that a federal prosecutor in 1989 was alleged to have tipped McMahon and the predecessor company of her World Wrestling Entertainment that a Pennsylvania ring doctor, George Zahorian, was under investigation for illegally pushing steroids to wrestlers.

Zahorian was convicted on federal charges in 1991 and served prison time. Vince McMahon and the McMahons’ company, then called TitanSports, were acquitted of related charges at a trial three years later.

Previously, the tip to the McMahons was believed to have come from inside the Pennsylvania state government. But when Ted Mann of The Day in New London produced an unredacted copy of Linda’s December 1, 1989, memo to another wrestling executive, she said the tip actually had come from James J. West, who at the time was the U.S. attorney for the middle district of Pennsylvania.

West denied to Mann that he had tipped Jack Krill, one of the McMahons’ lawyers.

No Connecticut newspaper – not even The Day itself – has yet probed the contradictions between West’s account and WWE’s. Linda McMahon’s memo said Krill got the word from West at a “fundraiser.” West said he would not have been attending a “political fundraiser.” The possibilities that a current candidate might have been involved in obstruction of justice, and a U.S. attorney in misconduct, are very serious.

A week ago, after West refused to comment further to me, I queried the current U.S. attorney, Dennis C. Pfannenschmidt, who has not responded. Today I forwarded my faxes to Pfannenschmidt’s boss, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler.

Irv Muchnick

Linda McMahon ‘Voter Bounty’ Story Is a Reminder That WWE Was Built by ‘Legal Payola’

While we wait to see if the Hearst Connecticut newspapers’ Sunday report on the Linda McMahon candidacy and World Wrestling Entertainment is just more hot air, Hearst’s Brian Lockhart has produced a valuable examination of the campaign’s controversial voter-registration effort among University of Connecticut students. See “Paying for voters: McMahon campaign plan draws questions,”

Though outside the scope of my own investigations, the so-called “$5-per-GOP-voter bounty” does align with what I know about WWE history in one important respect. The McMahons’ media and merchandising empire was built in the 1980s by a wrinkle called “barter syndication.” The then World Wrestling Federation, the Northeastern territory of the pro wrestling industry’s Mafioso cartel, expanded nationally thanks to the advent of cable TV and the rampant deregulatory actions of the Federal Communications Commissions under Mark Fowler, the chairman appointed by President Ronald Reagan. With the elimination of quotas for advertising minutes, a large category of programs — chiefly wrestling and children’s cartoons — became wall-to-wall infomercials. Vince McMahon, with Linda tagging along, outbid old-line promoters across the country for their traditional local TV time slots. Often those deals included splits between WWF and the TV stations on local wrestling ticket sales and marketing revenues, and the parties also swapped out commercial time; the McMahons used the latter to establish an ad hoc national syndicated network.

All perfectly legal, I should add. I analogize this to the outrage over the subtle bribes to disk jockeys in the 1950s who plugged pop music records, and the silence over the high-level manipulations of America’s culture industry ever since. The former is called “payola.” The latter is just business. If Linda McMahon has her own, business, politics, and statecraft will be not only interrelated, but indistinguishable.

Irv Muchnick

Irv’s Tweets

April 2010