Archive for May 27th, 2011

Connecticut Department of Labor Attorney on WWE Audit

Me: “I am interested in determining whether the Associated Press report of a settlement between the Labor Department and World Wrestling Entertainment is dispositive. While it is understood that you do not disclose names of employers being audited, does a closed file permit you to confirm that one is not being audited?”

Heidi Lane, Connecticut Labor Department attorney: “DOL is still unable to confirm or deny the existence of an audit.  Further, if there were an audit, information obtained for that audit would be confidential, even at the closure or settlement of the audit.”

Me: “Please allow me to go around on this again to make sure I’m clear. If a case is closed, does DOL policy allow you to confirm it’s closed?”

Lane: “No we are not able to give any information at all.”

Hmm … Sounds like this might be another job for the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

Irv Muchnick

Muchnick Response to Alan Schwarz of The New York Times

Earlier today I posted an angry email from Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. He was responding to the item here yesterday in which I expressed discomfort with the amount of space he and Chris Nowinski were taking up in the national concussion conversation (while also pointing out, as I do repeatedly, their deserved credit for raising that conversation to its present level).

At the bottom of Schwarz’s disagreement with me is a difference of opinion on the forward thrust of federal investigations of the National Football League. I will begin by explaining that disagreement from my perspective. If I may say so, the Schwarz account carefully adumbrates it. More on this fatal phrase as we move along.

“As far as I know,” Schwarz says, “your concern with the [Times] coverage stems only from your Maroon-connection-to-Riddell-study issue.”

Well, that’s one way to read it. Another way is to note that Maroon is a connection that could help push the current probes by executive agencies and members of Congress from their focus on football helmet safety to a wider scope of NFL accountability for a public health tab we are just beginning to tote up. Schwarz is entitled to the opinion – if his opinion it is – that scapegoating helmet manufacturers gets to the heart of the problem. And I am entitled to mine: that the investigations, plural, need to go much higher up the food chain.

I am not sure which dictionary Schwarz consulted for the definition of the word “adumbrate”; nor is it clear whether he ever got his nose out of the air long enough to look at one at all. According to Merriam-Webster, the verb means “to foreshadow vaguely: intimate”; “to suggest, disclose, or outline partially”; to “overshadow, obscure.”

Schwarz says my use of the word means that I think he has presented the story “somewhat incompletely in an effort to be vague or misleading.” I have never speculated as to his intentions. A less malignant interpretation of the phrase carefully adumbrated could also mean that a Times reporter, in contrast with an independent author, journalist, and blogger, lines up his work with certain calculations about the size of his news hole, the number and timing of his investigative angles, and – finally and critically – the internal political demands of the Times editing machine.

Again, it should be obvious that Schwarz’s resources and methods have distinct advantages over my own, as well as less obvious drawbacks. Having clarified as much, let me go on to say that if Schwarz’s interpretive shoe of having been accused of being willfully vague or misleading fits, then he should wear it. Schwarz asserts by fiat that the Maroon link to the Riddell issue is of little or no importance, “for reasons of which you are totally unaware.” I beg to differ, and I also beg Schwarz to enlighten us all on these alleged reasons instead of carefully adumbrating them.

My comparison of the Nowinski/Schwarz relationship to that of the co-authors of the book Freakonomics “is incorrect, misleading and borderline offensive,” Schwarz says. “… [T]hose two are collaborators and business partners, and make no bones about it. Your strong implication that Chris and I are either of those two things is something I recommend you correct.”

This is another great example of inflating a barb into a crime. The point of the Freakonomics analogy was and is not that Levitt and Dubner are ethically challenged. It is that they reside in an echo chamber. This puts their egos in the foreground and their insights in the background. With or without Schwarz’s permission, I will continue to worry publicly that he and Nowinski might be doing something similar.

Speaking of ego, all praise is due Schwarz for spurring the involvement of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. I rather doubt, however, that he’s “killing” himself in the effort. Evidently Times reporters, like the rest of us, employ the occasional figure of speech.

By the same token, your humble blogger is proud to be the named respondent of the landmark United States Supreme Court case Reed Elsevier v. Muchnick, the latest step in a 17-year-long public-interest fight. So there, and onward.

Irv Muchnick



Guide to This Blog’s References to Alan Schwarz of The New York Times

In the previous post I published in full a note I received this morning from Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. I’ll respond in the next post.

Below are pointers to all the things I’ve said about Schwarz – some complimentary, some not.

Irv Muchnick



Where Does WWE ‘Medical Director’ Fit in Shakeup of NFL’s Concussion Committee?



Latest on NFL Concussion Policies



Was It ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ Or Brain Trauma? A Fascinating New Study



Brain Disease Finding in College Football Suicide



It’s the Breakthrough Year of Concussion Awareness in Sports – Will Connecticut Do Its Part?



Why Didn’t NFL’s and WWE’s Dr. Maroon Speak Up About the Riddell Helmet Advertising Claims?



ESPN’s Peter Keating Was First to Expose NFL and WWE Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon’s Conflicts of Interest



Sports Concussion Scandal Ground Zero: NFL and WWE Doc Joseph Maroon’s Hype Article in ‘Neurosurgery’ on Riddell Football Helmets



There’s No Overstating Where the Dave Duerson Suicide Story Could Lead



For Dave Duerson, ‘88 Plan’ Wasn’t Enough



Concussion Inc.: CTE Expert Robert Cantu Has Confused Relationship With Xenith Helmet Company



TIMEOUT! Flashback to My September 2010 Column, ‘Why an NFL Lockout Would Be the Best Thing for America



Duerson Legacy Belongs in a Labor Department Audit, Not in Jock Hagiography



MAROONED: The NFL/WWE Doc … the Journal Neurosurgery … Concussions for Dummies



Chris Nowinski, New York Times’ Alan Schwarz, and the Freakonomicization of Concussions

Yesterday’s Post ‘Pisses Off’ Alan Schwarz of The New York Times

Today I received the following email, with the subject line “what you don’t know.”

is that all I did — based solely on the public-interest aspect of his message, and long before I was even an employee of the Times – was introduce him to a few people. And they quickly blew him off. He didn’t find a publisher for his book for another 12 months, and completely independent of me.

More importantly, your comparison to Leavitt and Dubner is incorrect, misleading and borderline offensive. (Despite the fact that both of them are friends of mine.) Regardless of how they might have met, those two are collaborators and business partners, and make no bones about it. Your strong implication that Chris and I are either of those two things is something I recommend you correct.

Third, and most serious, your characterization of the Times coverage as “carefully adumbrated” — which, I’m assuming for now that you know, means presented somewhat incompletely in an effort to be vague or misleading. As far as I know your concern with the coverage stems only from your Maroon-connection-to-Riddell-study issue. Even if that were an issue, which I know it is not for reasons of which you are totally unaware, you have some nerve casting the entire work that way.
I kill myself for six months to expose a serious safety problem — and even conspiracy — in youth football, cause sweeping changes (some about to be announced) and investigations by the CPSC and the FTC, and you sit back and decide that one small issue you think you’ve found with it makes it “carefully adumbrated”? Wow.

I am not above criticism. But misinformed and careless criticism pisses me off. When you accomplish one-tenth of the good for the world and kids that I — or for that matter, Chris — have on this subject, then you’ll really have something.

–Alan Schwarz.

Irv’s Tweets

May 2011