Politico Is Latest Media Outlet to Bury the Lead of Its Own Linda McMahon Scandal Story

Syllabus for Further Reading on Politico’s Story About Linda McMahon and the WWE Pedophile Scandal
July 30, 2010
Another Connecticut Newspaper Editorial: ‘When People Die, It’s Not Just a Soap Opera’
August 2, 2010

Seems pretty basic to me: Tom Cole, the highest-profile accuser in the 1990s pedophile scandal at the McMahon family’s pro wrestling company, flips his story yet again in the pressure cooker of Linda McMahon’s $50 million U.S. Senate campaign.

But in “mainstream” political journalism, I’ve been learning all season, nothing is basic. Nine times out of ten, some inscrutable meta-narrative of recursive tactics takes precedence over how the story would have been communicated by any ordinary articulate person, drunk or sober, holding forth in a bar.

Thus, Friday’s Politico.com article about Linda McMahon’s management of Cole’s lawsuit and PR nightmare carried the gauzy non sequitur title “Linda McMahon’s world of wrestling.” And writers Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman waited until the very end for their punchless, read-between-the-lines punch line:

Cole hung up on a POLITICO reporter who called seeking his recollection of McMahon, then, according to [World Wrestling Entertainment lawyer Jerry] McDevitt, alerted him to the call. The next day, McDevitt provided the following e-mail, as written by Cole:

“I can truly say without hesitation I’m thankful for how Linda handled my situation. Without me going out into the world and finding myself, god knows where I’d be,” reads the email. The two alleged harassers, he continued, “were fired for there actions and they NEVER returned to the Company. That alone is more than most Companies would do now (let alone 20yrs ago) I’m sending a check to Linda’s campaign fund this evening. She is after all my favorite type of Politician…Fiscally Sound. As a life long Republican I hope she wins.”

By that point, Smith and Haberman had already decided for their readers the moral of the tale: McMahon either “was a compassionate and effective leader, who put a decisive end to a scandal while rescuing its real victim; [or] she was a calculating executive who knew how to take care of troublesome public relations problems in a boundaries-free industry.”

Unless you read this blog, however, you do not know such details as McMahon chaperoning Cole in the studio audience of the Phil Donahue Show (where the kid was expected to deliver a “Perry Mason moment” if the panelists brought up his case), or her later appearance at a hearing challenging Cole’s unemployment claim.

Nor do you learn that Cole’s relationship with Linda turned south after he stopped both cooperating in the company’s libel suit against New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick — no  relation to me — and divulging his own testimony to a federal grand jury investigating Vince McMahon and the then World Wrestling Federation. (Without naming Mushnick, Politico mentioned parenthetically that there was a libel suit and it was dropped. The story said nothing about the federal criminal investigation of the McMahons.)

McDevitt told Politico that he thought Cole, under the influence of others, had been “pushed to bend the facts a little bit” with respect to Pat Patterson, Vince McMahon’s right-hand man. Patterson’s WWF employment, like that of two other employees, was terminated when the ring-boy scandal broke, but Patterson returned to his post with the company five months later

“Pushed to bend the facts a little bit” – that’s also a good way to describe what Linda McMahon’s spinmeisters did to Politico.

Irv Muchnick

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