by Irvin Muchnick
The Wall Street Journal has broken the story of the WWE board’s investigation of Vince McMahon for reportedly paying $3 million to a former office employee, a female paralegal, with whom he allegedly had a sexual relationship and whom he allegedly passed along, for similar illicit activity, to head of talent relations John Laurinaitis. (The Journal article, at https://www.wsj.com/articles/wwe-board-probes-secret-3-million-hush-pact-by-ceo-vince-mcmahon-sources-say-11655322722, is behind a paywall; CNN’s summary of it is at https://www.cnn.com/2022/06/16/media/wwe-vince-mcmahon-investigation/index.html.)
For those of us who have covered McMahon and WWE for decades, what’s new about the story is the intervention of board members for a company, publicly traded at the New York Stock Exchange, who sniff a fiduciary responsibility. Sexual impropriety and harassment themselves are baked into the cultures of many corporate offices. It is fair to say that McMahon’s legacy in this area is … worse than most others’.
The new allegations call to mind the off-and-on payoffs, across decades, to former then-WWF ring boy Tom Cole, who blew the whistle on harassment and/or abuse by staffers Terry Garvin and Mel Phillips. Cole committed suicide last year.
Even more specifically, the Journal article echoes the historical claim of the company’s breakthrough female referee, Rita Chatterton, that McMahon raped her. Below is a full-text reprint of our 2010 coverage of an aspect of that story.
In addition, see:
“Muchnick Book Bonus: ‘In Bed With the WWF – Sex and Scandal in Pro Wrestling,’” May 15, 2010, https://concussioninc.net/?p=2299
“Linda McMahon’s Lawyer Threatens Libel Suit Against Talking Points Memo,” October 12, 2010, https://concussioninc.net/?p=3136
“How the McMahons’ WWE Beat the Rap in the 1990s (Part 1, the Sex Charges),” November 29, 2010, https://concussioninc.net/?p=3409
EXCLUSIVE: Linda McMahon’s WWE Kept Vince’s Rape Accuser Employed Longer Than Geraldo Lawsuit Suggests
October 13, 2010
As noted here earlier, Jerry McDevitt, the lawyer for Senate candidate Linda McMahon and her World Wrestling Entertainment, is threatening to sue Talking Points Memo for retelling the story of Linda and Vince McMahon’s aborted 1993 lawsuit against Geraldo Rivera for allegedly concocting an allegation by a former wrestling referee that Vince had raped her.
See “FLASHBACK: McMahons Sued Geraldo For Airing Rape Claims By Former WWE Referee,” http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/10/mcmahons-sued-geraldo-fired-employee-for-emotional-distress-after-rape-claim-video.php.
See also TPM’s reproduction of the March 5, 1993, filing in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, at http://www.talkingpointsmemo.com/documents/2010/10/vince-and-linda-mcmahon-file-march-1993-lawsuit-against-wwe-employees-and-tv-show.php?page=1.
Let me say first that I do not know whether Vince McMahon raped Rita Chatterton. During that period of scandals at the then-World Wrestling Federation, many accusations were flying around and some of them were false. (One was a charge by a briefly employed announcer named Murray Hodgson that WWF executive Pat Patterson had sexually harassed him.)
However, it is clear from the McMahons’ Geraldo brief that they were, at a minimum and characteristically, fudging the Chatterton timeline. Page 4 of the complaint states, “In or around 1986, Chatterton was dismissed from the WWF because she was not a competent ring referee and posed a danger to herself in the ring.”
(The TPM story itself, by Christina Bellantoni, says Chatterton “was fired for cause … in 1986.” Lawyer McDevitt is quoted within that paragraph, though he is not directly cited as the source of that fact.)
My problem here is that I don’t understand what’s so complicated about Chatterton’s dismissal date. In my experience, when I’ve been canned from jobs, both sides knew the date. The Week magazine eliminated its sports page and dropped me as a contributing editor “in or around 2003,” but if one or the other of us were filing a lawsuit about it, I think we could look up the exact year, indeed the exact final issue in which I was listed on the masthead.
So, “upon information and belief,” that line in the McMahons’ brief raised a flag. My next step was to check with hard-core wrestling fans.
One fan told me, with great specificity, that in the fall of 2008 he was watching on “24/7,” the WWE website’s on-demand video service, an edition of the company’s “Prime Time” show which originally aired on Thanksgiving Night 1987. The program included a tape of Chatterton refereeing a match between Jose Estrada and Brady Boone from the Boston Garden on October 3, 1987.
I asked a WWE insider for more insight on the Rita Chatterton situation. According to this source, Chatterton was held over “for a year or two” beyond 1986, doing “two to four shots per year.” This person speculated that the part-time extension of her employment might have given Vince McMahon cover in case Chatterton ever later decided to go after him. Of course, such a sequence, if accurate, would suggest that some kind of incident between Chatterton and McMahon had occurred “in or around 1986,” though the parties could have had different interpretations of it.
I have not received a response to an invitation to comment, which was emailed to McDevitt, WWE spokesman Robert Zimmerman, and Linda McMahon campaign spokesman Ed Patru.