ARCHIVE 6/17/08: Benoit and Wikipedia (Yes, Again)

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Benoit and Wikipedia (Yes, Again)

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

The Fayette County sheriff’s report on the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide gives us something about the Wikipedia affair that we didn’t have before: the name of the then-19-year-old University of Connecticut student who edited Benoit’s Wikipedia biography at 12:01 a.m. Monday, June 25, 2007.

Those who followed the media frenzy of June-July 2007 will recall that 14 hours before the Benoit family’s bodies were discovered, Chris’s Wikipedia entry was saying that he’d missed the “Vengeance” pay-per-view in Houston on Sunday night for personal reasons “stemming from the death of his wife Nancy.” This was almost surely just a bizarre coincidence whose genesis was escalation of fan bullslinging online. However, it is an investigative area worth revisiting, for reasons I will develop.

The hoaxer’s name is Matthew T. Greenberg. Working from the Stamford address in the sheriff’s report, I found a phone number listed for Abraham Greenberg (Matt Greenberg’s father?), but that number is no longer in service. I then emailed Matt Greenberg at what I think is a good address, but I’ve not heard back from him.

At the time, news reports noted that the hoaxer’s hometown also houses the headquarters of World Wrestling Entertainment, which raised a few eyebrows. Another curiosity, less extensively reported, was the pattern of the hoaxer’s other vandalism of Wikipedia content. Most were of wrestling subjects and all but one was malicious. The benign exception was Greenberg’s removal of ethnic slurs and defamatory material in the Wiki bio of Chavo Guerrero. And as fate would have it, Guerrero was one of the two Benoit WWE friends who received his final cryptic text messages.

(Remember that there are two versions of Chavo’s text message story. Version 1 is that he got the messages on Sunday but didn’t think they were worth mentioning to anyone else, even after Benoit failed to show up in Houston on Sunday night. Version 2 is that, though the messages were sent in the wee morning hours of Sunday, Guerrero didn’t receive them until the following day, due to problems with his cell phone reception. See “WWE’s McDevitt: Lawyer Garbles Discussion of Chavo Guerrero and the ’30-Hour Gap,’” http://muchnick.net/babylon/2008/06/17/wwe%e2%80%99s-mcdevitt-part-3-of-3-lawyer-garbles-discussion-of-chavo-guerrero-and-the-30-hour-gap/.)

Greenberg is outed by the Fayette County sheriff’s report. Unfortunately, that report provides yet another example of opaque or translucent information, where transparency would have better served.

In his “case supplemental,” Detective Joshua Shelton discusses tracing the Internet Protocol address of the Wikipedia hoaxer to Greenberg, after which “I contacted Det. Tim Dolan of the Stamford, CT police department and requested that he interview Matthew Greenberg about his knowledge of the murders. Det. Dolan informed me after the interview that Matthew was simply speculating as to the reason Benoit missed the event and described Greenberg as ‘harmless.’”

That’s it.

Shelton’s report says that “a copy of the interview … is included in the case file” and that the report from a consent search of Greenberg’s computer “is attached to this supplemental.” But neither was included in the open records released publicly in February. Last week I applied to the county for these additional records; as of Tuesday morning, I had not received a response from the sheriff’s attorney, Rick Lindsey (who typically comes through on these things no matter how sick and tired he is of me).

Thanks to the reporting of Zach Lowe in the July 3, 2007, Stamford Advocate, we know that Dolan’s interview of Greenberg was videotaped. In a phone interview yesterday, Lowe – now with American Lawyer Media – told me that he also had attempted to get Greenberg’s identity for his story, but Stamford Police Captain Richard Conklin refused to reveal it.

In an anonymous apology posted at Wikipedia after his mischief was exposed, Greenberg said not to worry – that he had no connection to WWE. It remains to be seen on the videotape if Greenberg was interrogated in any depth to confirm this.

The chance that the Wikipedia angle of the investigation will reveal anything new relative to the core events of the crime is infinitesimal. Still, there is value in this exercise. Juxtaposing the Wikipedia evidence with all the contemporaneous news coverage, we acquire a fresh perspective on how hard WWE spin doctors were working that week. As the media sought to explain the Wikipedia hoax, WWE’s implausible timeline was put under excruciating pressure. I’ll have more on this aspect of the story in upcoming posts.

Irv Muchnick

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