One of the strangest explanations Chicago shock jock Erich "Mancow" Muller gave for why his publicist had called his waterboarding "a hoax" was that he risked arrest if she said otherwise. For real? Like Mancow's original stunt, that's a fabrication.
Last month we reported that Muller's publicist, Linda Shafran, sent an e-mail to a friend before Muller's waterboarding stunt last month clearly stating that the affair would be a "hoax" and would "only look real" with Mancow "acting like he is drowning." We also got in touch with the guy who "waterboarded" Mancow, who said he literally had no idea what he was doing.
And then Keith Olbermann got very angry at us and had Muller on Countdown for a second time to rebut out reporting where he said, before he started talking about the Book of Revelations, that he had to pretend that his fake waterboarding would be a hoax because the "the Chicago cops came and said, 'You can't waterboard.'"
That's not true.
See, he only pretended that it would be fake, the story goes, but was planning on actually getting waterboarded all along. Since Shafran had been told—falsely—that the whole thing would be a hoax, it would make sense that she wrote that it would be a hoax.
The notion that the Chicago Police Department actually contacted Muller to tell him that he couldn't voluntarily undergo a waterboarding is preposterous, but Mancow's former producer Midge Ripoli (who went on the air by the rather unfortunate name "DJ Luv Cheez" and was fired by Muller after spending 17 years on the show) says he knows what Muller was talking about: Muller had originally asked a close friend of his who is on the Chicago SWAT team to conduct the waterboarding, but he backed out. Which, Ripoli says, Muller translated into "the Chicago cops came and said, 'You can't waterboard."
In one of the e-mails obtained and published by Gawker, Shafran wrote, "The swat guy he had to do the waterboarding now can't do it."
"When he said he was going to have a SWAT guy do it, but he backed out the last minute," Ripoli told Gawker, "I knew right away what this was. He has a really good friend on the Chicago SWAT team. I'm sure that when he thought about this, he said, 'I don't want to be involved.'" That withdrawal from the project by his SWAT-team friend, Ripoli says, is probably what Muller meant by "the cops told me I can't do it."
"We called it the 'Mancow factor,'" Ripoli says of his former boss' penchant for spinning innocuous details into elaborate stories. "He used to call me, back in the '90s, and say there were black helicopters flying outside his house—he said he actually saw them. For him to try to be a serious pundit now is crazy."
We'll never know for sure what Muller meant, because when we called to ask him, he said "goodbye" and hung up. And the Chicago Police Department, despite repeated requests, said they didn't have enough information to conduct an inquiry into whether or not a representative of the department spoke to Muller prior to the "waterboarding."
Still, we called Lock E. Bowman, the legal director of the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University—which deals in police misconduct cases in Illinois, including torture cases—to ask him whether any Illinois or Chicago laws would prohibit a voluntary waterboarding. He said that Illinois' laws on assault and bodily harm all depend on the victim not granting his or her consent.
"I think that's not correct," he said. "If he consents—and you'd have to set up a clear process where he agrees to it and signs off—then there's no crime. There might be a civil issue if he was accidentally injured in the course of this, but as far as assault, or battery, or any criminal liability is concerned, his consent would be a complete defense."
So either an actual Chicago police officer contacted Muller out of the blue to tell him—falsely—that he couldn't undergo a voluntary waterboarding, thereby causing Muller to say—falsely—that it would only be for pretend, thereby causing his publicist to tell a friend—falsely—that it would be a "hoax," thereby causing us to report—falsely—that it was a hoax. Or Muller's friend who was a cop backed out of the fake waterboarding and, after he was caught in his hoax, Muller spun this fact into an excuse for his publicist's e-mail. We'll take No. 2.