Phil Mushnick And Linda & Vince McMahon And Me

In the next posts I’ll be summarizing Dave Meltzer’s thorough historical review of the Tom Cole ring-boy affair – subject of a big story last week at  Politico.com – in his new issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. First, though, I want to post my own notes on the role then of Phil Mushnick, the sports-media columnist of the New York Post and long the fiercest mainstream media critic of Linda and Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment.

People watching the Linda McMahon Senate race in Connecticut should take stock, I believe, because the McMahons’ tactics in countering Mushnick’s practice of his First Amendment rights involved such things as a frivolous libel suit – what a non-journalist activist would call a “SLAPP” suit (for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”)  — and harassment by private investigators.

I have my own opinion on whether such tactics add up to just another day at the office in turbo-charged capitalism, or cause for pause in considering the qualifications of a candidate for high elective office.

Phil Mushnick is not a relative. However, he has been a friend of mine for more than 25 years. Last year I even bullied him into writing the Foreword to CHRIS & NANCY. Shockingly, that gimmick has yet to catapult my brilliant book anywhere near the New York Times Bestseller List. (You can read Phil’s Foreword – including his point that he and I don’t agree on everything, since “Irv can’t always be right, ya know” – at http://muchnick.net/benoitbookforeword.pdf.)

As I told Politico’s Ben Smith, I disagreed with his failure to name Mushnick as the journalist who was sued by the McMahons during the Tom Cole affair, and not just for reasons of Phil’s vanity or mine.

In September 1993 I was subpoenaed to be deposed by Titan Sports lawyers in the company’s libel suit against Mushnick and the Post. Through my excellent attorney, Karl Olson, on pro bono referral from the California First Amendment Coalition, I cited state journalist shield law in getting the subpoena withdrawn. Later the McMahons dropped the Mushnick suit itself, which I believe was utterly frivolous and designed only to chill.

In his 1999 interview with Wrestling Perspective, ex-ring boy Cole claimed that the company had followed his off-hours movements with trench coats from the Fairfax Group, the big private-eye firm. This was during the period when Cole was being pressured both to turn on his friend Mushnick, who had exposed the ring-boy pedophile scandal, and to carry back messages from Cole’s testimony to a federal grand jury.

One of the reasons Smith and Politico colleague Maggie Haberman did not include this nugget in their report was that there was no confirmation of it independent of Cole himself, whose status as on-again, off-again accuser made his 11-year-old interview allegations less than ironclad-reliable.

But I know that Mushnick was also tailed by Fairfax Group peeps. Indeed, on one occasion Phil confronted one of them at Elaine’s restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

And in case anyone thinks this theme is ancient news, Mike Benoit, the father of Chris Benoit, told me that in the summer of 2007, after the double murder/suicide in Georgia, an ex-FBI agent named Cliff Cormany, now in private practice, showed up at the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, claiming to represent the Benoit family but actually doing undercover work for WWE. (In 2008 I confirmed that Cormany’s name was on public records requests to the sheriff. Neither Cormany nor WWE returned messages requesting comment.)

Unlike Phil Mushnick, I have never been sued by the McMahons, though I was rather ham-handedly threatened by their lawyer, Jerry McDevitt, during my Benoit book research. Not having to answer to corporate newspaper bosses, your humble blogger went the mischievous route of publishing McDevitt’s email volcanics as a multi-hundred-part Twitter series. (See “K&L Gates in Bizarre WWE Smackdown,” American Lawyer Media, http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/amlawdaily/2009/10/kl-gates-in-bizarre-1.html.)

I don’t mean to imply that, whether or not you agree with them, Mushnick lacks for his own opinions or his willingness to express them. In another classic anecdote from the 1990s, Phil was invited to debate Vince McMahon live on the Brian Kilmeade program on the Fox cable news channel, and agreed. An hour later Phil’s participation was canceled, with Kilmeade’s producer explaining that McMahon had refused to be on camera with Mushnick — and since McMahon was the bigger “get,” Kilmeade had no choice.

So what did McMahon proceed to do when he was interviewed by Kilmeade? Vince said, “Phil Mushnick didn’t have the guts to come on this show and debate me!” And what did Brian Kilmeade say in  response? Nothing – he let McMahon get away with the lie.

What makes this old but still-instructive episode both funnier and sicker is that both Fox News Channel and Mushnick’s Post are owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Irv Muchnick

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