Last evening our night watchman Cajun Boy reported that Chicago radio talker Erich "Mancow" Muller may have faked his waterboarding for publicity. We talked to both Muller and his waterboarder this morning, and the whole thing is a farce. Muller wasn't waterboarded.
"We went into this thinking it was going to be a joke," Muller said very quickly when we called him. "But it was not a joke—it was horrible. 'Hoax' is probably not the right word, but we did think it was going to be a joke."
According to e-mails from Muller's publicist obtained by Cajun Boy, on the day before the heavily promoted stunt was supposed to happen, Muller was frantically looking for anybody to perform the waterboarding:
It is going to have to look "real" but of course would be simulated with Mancow acting like he is drowning. It will be a hoax but have to look real. Would be great if they could dress in fatigues and bring whatever is needed. We will supply the water.
"It was a marine who did it," Muller said. "I don't know his training. Is he a professional interrogator? I don't think so. But he knew what to do. If I wanted to fake it, it would have lasted for six minutes—I lasted six seconds. I'm on the air, bud, I'm on the air." Then he hung up.
So we called Klay South, the marine Mancow found at the last minute to perform the waterboarding. He says he had no idea what he was doing! To wit:
I know nothing about waterboarding. I had never done it before, I have no formal training in it, and I've never had it done to me. The only thing I knew was what I saw on the internet. I went to waterboarding.org and looked it up. I just did what I was told—poured the water on his face and that was it. I'm probably the last person they should have had do it. I didn't know what I was doing.
That settles it for us! South is the founder of Veterans of Valor, a nonprofit that helps out wounded vets, and he said he agreed to the gig just to gain a donation and publicity for the organization, a noble enough reason.
According to South's main resource, waterboarding.org, waterboarders should "restrain the interrogation subject on a board" and "incline the board about 15-20 degrees so that the feet are above the head." South says Muller's feet were bound, but his arms were not. And although his feet were elevated, he was laying on a flat surface.
We asked South if it seemed like Muller was faking it: "I don't know. I couldn't tell you if he was in distress or not."
UPDATE: Mancow called us back to say that even though his waterboarder didn't know what he was doing, and his publicist called the whole thing a "hoax," it wasn't supposed to be a REALLY real waterboarding to begin with. Just the radio stunt kind! "Of course I wasn't a radical terrorist," he said. "Of course it was simulated. To compare what I went through to what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed went through—of course it was not the same. I'm sure it was worse for them."
Undoubtedly it was. But isn't the whole point of these exercises to let people know exactly what we talk about when we talk about waterboarding? We've learned that Mancow can't take six seconds of having water poured on his face—we guess he doesn't take showers?—but we've learned absolutely nothing about the mechanics or ethics of what goes on at CIA black sites. If anything, a bullshit stunt like this one gives ammunition to torture proponents, who can poke holes in Muller's grand conversion by pointing out that it's a bullshit stunt. Keith Olbermann and other righteous anti-torture advocates are holding up Muller's experience as evidence—someone who was inclined to support waterboarding and deny that it's torture has actually experienced it, which Sean Hannity and his ilk lack the courage to do, and the facts have changed his mind. Only he hasn't actually experienced it, or anything remotely approaching what actual torture victims experienced. None of it is real.
On last night's show, Olbermann brought up Muller during an interview with Jesse Ventura:
Mancow went into this knowing that—being a swimmer as a kid and in fact having been drowned and resuscitated—he knew what this was really like and he knew this couldn't possibly be that. He lasted six seconds and he said, not only is it torture, not only is it drowning—it's death! It's being undersold.
Compare that to South, the waterboarder, who couldn't even answer whether Muller was actually in any kind of distress. We have know idea if Muller was deliberately faking the whole episode for publicity, or if he ginned up a fake waterboarding as a gag and then was surprised to find himself actually terrified by it. But either way, Olbermann is a disingenuous ideologue who hurts his own cause—and ours—when he takes this fakery at face value and promotes it as evidence of his own rectitude on the torture debate.
Astonishingly, MSNBC is standing by its flackery for Muller's hoax. An MSNBC spokeswoman acknowledged that Olbermann's producers had been made aware prior to airing the Muller interview that his publicist had described it as a hoax, saying, "We asked the publicist and were assured by her that she just used a poor choice of words." But when asked if MSNBC still believes that publicist, in light of the fact that Muller's waterboarder had no idea what he was doing, she declined to comment.
She also confirmed that the network made no effort to reach South prior to airing the interview [UPDATE: Olbermann said on his show Friday night that his producers "left messages" for him but didn't talk to him]. Mancow Muller is a shock jock. He calls himself Mancow! He's been making ludicrous, insane comments for a living and pranking people for years. He's claimed that Obama is a Muslim and that Hillary Clinton was sitting on a secret tape of Michelle Obama making a racist tirade. Nothing he says should be taken at face value. For Olbermann to do so sort of undercuts the self-righteous, sanctimonious, posturing that has made him an icon in his own mind and motivates him to hurl insults at doo-doo-covered blogs.