How Linda McMahon Managed the WWE Pedophile Scandal’s Damage Control

Here’s How a CEO Senate Candidate Responded to Charges of Wrongdoing on Her Corporate Watch (Hint: It’s Not Linda McMahon)
April 17, 2010
Linda McMahon’s Role in the WWE Pedophile Scandal: Additional Resources
April 20, 2010

(I emailed invitations to comment to Ed Patru and Robert Zimmerman, respective spokespersons for the Linda McMahon campaign and World Wrestling Entertainment. They did not respond prior to the publication of this post.)

There has been a lot of discussion of whether WWE’s raunchy television content, much of it in the past and some of it in the present, matters in the consideration of Linda McMahon’s Senate candidacy.

For the most part, I’ve argued that McMahon critics are barking up the wrong tree by dwelling on fictionalized pornography, of either the flesh or the spirit. I would rather talk about the pandemic of death in the pro wrestling industry; about WWE’s specious and PR-centered “Wellness Policy”; and about the aggressively “cost-effective” occupational health and safety hazards inflicted on the company’s “independent contractors.”

But if what the people want to hear is more scandalous sex, then there’s that, too, and it’s real stuff — that is, apart from the “soap opera.” There’s even a YouTube video of the infamous 1992 episode of the Phil Donahue Show focusing on allegations that WWE (then called WWF) harbored a backstage pedophilia ring.

In this series of posts I’ll review the whole tawdry story. For a quick overview, see “Linda McMahon’s Husband Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 2 – 1992 Drug and Sex Scandals),” December 23, 2009,

Over the next few days, I’ll be adding detail on the case of Tom Cole, the settlement of his lawsuit, and his interactions with Linda McMahon and subsequent second estrangement from the company.

For starters, you can watch most of the old Donahue broadcast at the three links below. Of interest is a shot of the studio crowd at around the 1:55 mark of Part 2. Tom Cole, the accuser, is in the audience. He is accompanied by Elizabeth Hulette – wrestling personality “The Lovely Elizabeth,” who 11 years later would become one of the industry’s many drug-lifestyle deaths.

Also accompanying young Cole in the Donahue studio (though I don’t believe she is on camera in the YouTube clip) was Linda McMahon. As Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and one of Donahue’s panelists, recalled in a post last year for his website’s discussion board, Linda and Elizabeth were part of an unrealized,plot to unveil Cole melodramatically on Donahue in the wake of the 11th-hour settlement of his lawsuit.

In Meltzer’s account, Tom Cole’s brother, Lee Cole, had become friendly during this period with ex-wrestler Barry Orton, who was also doing the media circuit with his charges of sexual harassment by WWF executives. (Barry Orton is the uncle of current star Randy Orton.)

The day before the show, however, Lee Cole went incommunicado, and Barry Orton, Meltzer, and the other Donahue panelists who would be confronting Vince McMahon realized that the Coles and WWF had probably made a deal.

Meltzer recalled, “Another kid who complained at about that time [also] suddenly changed his tune and was driving a nice car shortly thereafter.” Meltzer continued:

Before the show, Orton went to me and had this feeling something happened with Cole, and told me not to mention Cole’s name, so I didn’t. I’m sure he told Bruno [Sammartino] the same thing.

As it turned out, Cole was in the audience and came to the show with Elizabeth (with them figuring it was the ultimate mark out for a teenage boy in that time frame) and Linda McMahon (the ability to come across as a sincere caring aunt like figure) in the limo to the show and sat in the crowd with both of them.

Apparently Vince came on the show, with Cole in the audience, so that when someone mentioned Cole’s name, Vince would spring him on the crowd (nobody knew what he looked like), and he’d say that Orton was a liar, [Superstar Billy] Graham was a liar, Bruno was a liar, etc. They had this closing scene [out] of Perry Mason … planned. But nobody mentioned Cole’s name and they never got to pull it off.

It actually would have been the most awesome moment for Vince, which explained him going on the show. Instead, well, during a commercial break about 40 minutes into the show, he whispered in my ear, “This is the longest hour of my life.”

YouTube links: (Part 1) (Part 2) (Part 3)

Irv Muchnick