VICE TV’s ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Producers: We’re Not Responsible For the Train Wreck That Was VICE TV’s ‘Dark Side of the Ring After Dark’ on the Jimmy Snuka Murder Case

In Our Post-‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Reset of the Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka Murder Story, Also Look Here Soon For Reviews of Some of the Best Coverage at the Time of His Death in 2017
April 17, 2020
What to Make of the Intriguing Testimony of Sam (Tonga Kid) Fatu in the ‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Episode on the Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka Murder of Nancy Argentino?
April 20, 2020

PREVIOUSLY:

“‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Blanket-Censors the Jimmy Snuka Murder Cover-Up Back Story,” April 15, https://concussioninc.net/?p=14393

“Time For a Deep Dive Into the VICE TV / ‘Dark Side of the Ring After Dark’ Censorship of My ‘Live-to-Tape’ Interview About the Ongoing Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka Murder Cover-Up in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=14399

“Muchnick on Irish Podcast ‘Off the Ball’ Pro Wrestling Edition, Discussing Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka’s Murder of Nancy Argentino and Other Topics,” https://concussioninc.net/?p=14403

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by Irvin Muchnick

[In the original version of the article below, I incorrectly referred to the host of the podcast as Jim Ross. The podcast Grilling JR is affiliated with the long-time wrestling announcer and executive, but it is hosted by Conrad Thompson.]

On his weekly Wednesday podcast reviewing the latest episode of Dark Side of the Ring with the creative heads of the popular VICE TV documentary series, Conrad Thompson of Grilling JR roundly criticized the choices and choppy editing of the after-show roundtable, Dark Side of the Ring After Dark.

In light of the grave subject matter — the culpability of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in the 1983 death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino — Thompson said it was “tone-deaf” for host Chris Gethard to have spent so much time trading rollicking war stories with Snuka’s former co-wrestlers Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and Brian “Nasty Boy” Knobbs, while giving almost no time to “Irv Muchnick, an expert,” regarding Snuka’s unprosecuted agency in Argentino’s death.

Thompson’s direction of this aspect of the discussion was strong. As I’ve been telling Concussion Inc. readers, however, the Dark Side of the Ring After Dark fiasco was much worse than “tone-deaf.” In combination with the doc itself, which failed to use 90-plus percent of the conclusions in my interviews, based on the earliest and most exhaustive journalistic reporting of the failure to bring criminal charges against Snuka for more than 30 years, the after-show amounted to censorship. It was a rigged fraud perpetrated on viewers. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that After Dark torpedoed the credibility of this interesting, though wildly overpraised, franchise.

On the Wednesday podcast, DSOTR executive producers Jason Eisener and Evan Husney offered Ross an explanation: Dark Side of the Ring After Dark is not their fault! They have nothing to do with it! Apparently, the show slotted by VICE TV to follow up on and hype each week’s documentary episode is off-brand — some sort of wildcat production.

It’s an explanation that takes television non-transparency and non-accountability to dizzying new levels.

“I haven’t seen it,” Eisener demurred.

Husney said he watched some of After Dark and processed the blowback on social media, and agreed that this show was “weird” in that “Irv Muchnick was given such little time…. I can’t explain [the After Dark producers’] thought process.”

Husney added, “I’m not trying to throw them under the bus.” Yet that is exactly what he did. (Link to the full audio: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/dark-side-podcast-jimmy-snuka-death-nancy-argentino/id1370438585?i=1000471577027.)

And now, once again, here is why all this matters:

More than a decade after Senator Ted Kennedy’s death, the verdict from history emerging from the death of Mary Jo Kopechne off Chappaquiddick island is not that something a little bit funky might have been going on out there at Martha’s Vineyard in 1969 — something blurred by confusion, divergent memories, and the passage of time. Rather, there is or should be nonpartisan consensus that Kennedy, valuing the limitation of damage to his political career over the life of another human being, fled the scene and abandoned the drowning Kopechne in dark waters after he drove their car off the bridge. Kennedy paid the immediate price of a slap on the wrist; the longer-term one of permanently and fatally tarnished presidential ambitions.

Similarly, the story of Jimmy Snuka in 2020 — three years after he died, which itself was just weeks after he’d skated on a too-little-too-late, justice-delayed-justice-denied prosecution of his so-called cold case — is not some wrestling fan-centric construction of a “complicated legacy.” That is to say, the appropriate orientation of this narrative is not someone who entertained the masses with previously unseen dives off the tops of steel cages, while evidently having this parallel private problem of beating up women when drunk. The adult, unbiased, real-world prism here is overwhelming circumstantial evidence establishing that on May 10, 1983, Snuka caused the death of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino, with whom he had a documented history of violence, while sharing a room at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Whitehall, Pennsylvania.

From there, the story becomes how the local authorities, for whatever reason — universal disinterest or outright contempt for the pursuit of domestic violence crimes; celebrity awe; the influence of Vince McMahon’s then World Wrestling Federation — failed to do their job. That job would have been to haul Jimmy Snuka’s well-sculpted physique before a jury of his peers in a criminal trial.

The Whitehall police shut down their investigation. They never probed the single one of the ever-varying half-dozen of Snuka’s accounts that they claimed to have more or less accepted: that Argentino had cracked her head not in a physical altercation with her partner, but in some solo accident at some never-identified roadside location while stopping to pee on the drive into town.

The Lehigh County district attorney who punted on prosecuting — while slyly leaving the incident investigation “open,” the better to shield the file from prying public information eyes — was William Platt, who went on to become a senior Pennsylvania state judge. One of his assistants in 1983, James Martin, got elected DA after Platt. Martin is still there today, and in between perennial reelections he harasses Bill Villa, a local victim of another poorly prosecuted crime, with a groundless defamation lawsuit designed to chill the First Amendment rights of a critic of a public official.

Along the way, Martin also hired as an office investigator Gerald Procanyn, who had retired as the chief of detectives in Whitehall Township, and thus double-dipped on a municipal pension, plus a new payroll slot in the local criminal justice system. (Last year Procanyn retired from the county, as well, which means he today may have two government pensions and no day job.)

In 1992, when I traveled to the area for the first in-depth investigation by any journalist of the Snuka-Argentino case, Procanyn served up a passel of bald-faced lies, with arrogance and an embarrassing susceptibility to immediate disproof.

Fortunately, I also spoke to the county coroner at the time, Wayne Snyder, who told me without hesitation and for the record: “Upon viewing the body and speaking to the pathologist, I immediately suspected foul play and so notified the district attorney.”

New York’s Village Voice had sent me to the Allentown area in ‘92. After the Voice refused to publish the resulting article, I won and collected a $4,000 court judgment for my fee. I proceeded to publish the story online, and it became a chapter of my 2007 book Wrestling Babylon.

In 1983 and to this day, DA Martin and his gang of cronies and cover-up artists have benefited from the cowardly, lookaway coverage of the Allentown Morning Call. The newspaper did nothing in 1983. The Morning Call likewise did nothing when the Argentino family won, then was unable to collect a penny of, a $500,000 civil lawsuit judgment against Snuka in federal court in Philadelphia in 1985.

The paper did a whole bunch more of nothing following 1992, even after I had a conference room meeting with a team of editors and reporters. One of them, Tim Blangger, who had written the first-day coverage of the death, told me that Detective Procanyn had grabbed him by the shoulders and reenacted speculation of what the police theorized had probably happened: the 250-pound professional wrestler slamming the much-smaller 23-year-old woman back into a wall, maybe harder than intended.

In 2012, Snuka published a ghostwritten autobiography, which in part dealt with the Argentino death. The Superfly’s literary product both infuriated Nancy’s surviving sisters, Louise and Lorraine, back into action, and arguably included elements of subconscious semi-confession.

Enter the Allentown Morning Call with a celebrated, but in full context underwhelming, 2013 Sunday newspaper package as part of an irregular series on “cold cases.” The centerpiece was the uncovering of primary-source documents — the forensic pathologist’s report for the coroner and the police interrogation of Snuka — whose existence had been revealed and teed up by me 21 years earlier.

Nowhere to be found in the Morning Call’ story? District attorney James Martin.

In the Dark Side of the Ring episode, which also didn’t name Martin (nor even Procanyn), the paper’s two preening cold case news hawks, having performed pale fix-it duty for their own employer’s decades-long flop, enthused that the DA decided, following publication of their article, to present the unresolved case evidence to “the people.” A grand jury, that is. DSOTR thought that was just peachy. Evidently, all these hard-boiled reporters were unaware of the adage that any district attorney worth his salt can persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

In 2014, as the work of Lehigh County’s Seventh Investigating Grand Jury dragged on, mostly turning over evidence that had been gathering dust in the DA’s office for 31 years, the Argentino sisters, Louise and Lorraine, submitted to the Morning Call an essay for the op-ed page that they headlined, “After 31 years, ‘justice’ in our sister’s death has a larger meaning.” The newspaper’s op-ed editor, Bob Orenstein, asked for revisions, and the new version was completed and accepted. But the Morning Call wouldn’t schedule publication; neither Orenstein nor the editor-in-chief, David Erdman, responded to follow-ups. Finally, in February 2015, I arranged for Louise and Lorraine to get the piece published at the Wrestling Observer Newsletter website and at Concussion Inc. You can read it at https://concussioninc.net/?p=9845.

*****

In a separate upcoming piece, I’ll analyze the best new contribution from the Dark Side of the Ring documentary. That was the the pair of interviews strongly suggesting that there was a third person in the car with Snuka and Argentino when they drove into Allentown in May 2013 — the third person being wrestler Sam Fatu, “the Tonga Kid,” who, significantly, remembered no roadside stop for Nancy to pee.

Except for the breakdown of the Fatu interview, the DSOTR tag team’s palaver on the Wednesday podcast was mostly filibuster. Eisener and Husney obviously approach their work not with journalistic chops but with the precious film-school toolbox of auteurs, who think the goal is more to juxtapose images than to impart information. They whined that they could have used two or even three episodes to tell the Snuka story in its exhaustive awfulness.

My own view is that their professional task was to use wisely whatever was their allotted time. No one forced them to reduce me to a generalist wrestling industry analyst, without reference to my seminal and pointed research on the Snuka case and the law enforcement system and major media cover-up timeline — while the Morning Call’s dynamic duo got multiple and redundant chunks of the run time patting themselves on the back for a calculatedly tardy and futile prosecution of a dying old man.

Eisener and Husney complained that they were hamstrung by Martin and Procanyn’s refusal to be interviewed. Obviously, with these ace documentarians, the authorities’ bet that withholding their voices, in service of sowing confusion and ambiguity, would not result in underscoring their responsibility for bungled and corrupt case management.

In addition, the DSOTR guys riffed endlessly with Thompson by reading aloud such things as all the precise iterations of Snuka’s alibi stories. Here’s a free tip, fellas: the fact that the Superfly told so many versions spoke volumes by itself. What viewers wanted to know was: What does it all mean?

Oh, you don’t know either? I thought so. We all appreciate how crazy-making all these “conflicting memories” can get. Especially when repeated by gaslighters through the megaphones of enablers.

WRESTLING BABYLON: Piledriving Tales of Drugs, Sex, Death, and Scandal (ECW Press, 2007)

JUSTICE DENIED: The Untold Story of Nancy Argentino’s Death in Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka’s Motel Room (ebook, 2013)

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