Mancow calls out both sides of the media over his waterboarding

(RAWSTORY)   According to his publicist in a leaked e-mail, Mancow’s waterboarding was a hoax … Which is a poor “choice of words,” Mancow’s people later said. After all, it really was the right-wing shock jock getting water poured on his face. It was at least one small gasp of fluid into the lungs. And how could that possibly be a hoax?

Then again, of course it was a hoax, even if Keith Olbermann is absolutely correct about what we all saw.

On last night’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Mancow and Olbermann hit back at celebrity entertainment and gossip Web site Gawker for alleging — as Mancow’s publicist did — that his so-called “waterboarding” was a publicity stunt. A “hoax,” the publicist wrote. “Simulated.”

Olbermann parsed few words in lambasting the Web site, even calling them conspiracy theorists. Watch:

The report, which RAW STORY carried on Friday, was based on e-mails obtained by Gawker which center around the role of a “Chicago-based publicist named Linda Shafran whose clients include the Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos shows.”

In emails dated May 21, Shafran allegedly asked for help from David Kupcinet, who “runs a Chicago-based foundation for veterans called Kup’s Purple Heart Foundation” because she was “hoping that his relationships with Chicago-area veterans and military personnel could help her find a replacement waterboarder.”

Shafran supposedly wrote, “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.”

Shafran denied that Mancow’s waterboarding was a hoax in the following statement sent to Gawker:

It was NOT a hoax. Early on when we were looking for someone to waterboard, an email was sent out looking for someone to do it and I mistakenly said it would be staged. That was my mistake and a misunderstanding.

But that was early and NOT TRUE AT ALL. It was not staged. NOT AT ALL. When it happened several days later, it was real, honest, actual, not staged.

Any info you have was my mistake. THE WATERBOARDING OF MANCOW WAS REAL!!!!!!

No, it was not. More on that in a moment.

Gawker on Saturday came back swinging at Olbermann and Mancow.

So irresistable was the idea of a nominal conservative coming over to Olbermann’s side of the torture debate (the right side, we might add) that even after we reported that Muller’s stunt was at best a half-assed spectacle that didn’t come close to the actual conditions that waterboard victims experience and at worst a deliberate con job designed to get publicity, Olbermann double-downed and blamed us for ruining his fun. Based on the evidence we’ve gathered, and Olbermann and Muller’s confusing and contradictory responses, we’re increasingly convinced that Muller’s waterboarding escapade was a purposeful fabrication—that he set out to engineer a publicity event based on the reversal of his position. But even if you take the most charitable view of the evidence from Muller’s perspective, all that emerges is a fake waterboarding that frightened a callow radio host.


Olbermann says its absurd that Muller would deliberately fake a waterboarding so that he could publicly reverse his position. What’s the motive? Well, how many times has he been on Countdown since he did it? How much publicity has he reaped from this episode? What’s more newsworthy: A waterboarding supporter undergoes the procedure and confirms his beliefs, or a waterboarding advocate undergoes the procedure and changes his tune?

Gawker is, according to Olbermann, a part of a vast right-wing conspiracy to discredit his hero Muller: “It did occur to you,” he asked us, “that the person who sent you the e-mails probably wanted to see Mancow’s conversion discredited because the far right can’t have somebody it considered its own dramatically saying he was wrong, and so somebody played your web site like a three dollar banjo for political purposes?”


Even if Muller didn’t deliberately orchestrate this whole stunt from the beginning, it’s clear that whatever happened to him doesn’t qualify as waterboarding in any recognizable sense of the word. His waterboarder had no training and says he’s “the last person” they should have asked to do it. He wasn’t subjected to anything close to the conditions that actual waterboarding victims suffer, or, for that matter, that journalists like Christopher Hitchens who undertook the procedure suffered. He decided to get waterboarded, so he asked his publicist to find someone who knew nothing about it to look it up on the internet and do it to him. We say it all adds up to a fake—either by orchestration or half-assed laziness. The only reason that Olbermann—or anyone else for that matter—could come to a different conclusion is ideological fervor.

Here’s the rub: Olbermann is right. So is Gawker.

Of course Mancow had water poured on his face and backed it with a charity. That’s as obvious as it is insidious.

Of course it was not waterboarding: he did it willingly, surrounded by cameras and his so-called torturer had no idea what he was doing. By definition, he’s just a dumbass, not a prisoner being tortured.

And of course, Mancow’s description of the experience — namely, the immediate fear of death that grips a human when fluid is sucked into the lungs — is 100 percent real, even if everything else about the ordeal was completely plastic.

However, the existence of Mancow on this national stage, much like the very perpetuation of this “debate” over waterboarding, is a hoax in and of itself.

Mancow (whose name I am so sick of writing) is just the latest in what’s sure to be a growing list of media types who are desperate enough to inhale water for a couple seconds, then ride that hog across the media for the next two months. But what does it prove? That waterboarding is torture? Or that someone who goes into it willingly has absolutely no good sense?

Almost nobody has seen a video of a person really being waterboarded. Not Mancow, not Olbermann, not Gawker and not I. I do not mention this as a way of making waterboarding seem much more ominous. It already is. Applied properly, waterboarding will make anyone say anything just to make it stop. It is teasing a person with death and the United States executed Japanese soldiers for doing it to American prisoners during World War II.

But the mere discussion of waterboarding as something so huge that a contrived simulation of it starring a relatively unknown, right-wing radio comedian would dominate multiple media cycles in otherwise respected venues is dishonest.

The focus on waterboarding is pervasive because those who ordered it, and much, much worse, along with the droves who would seek to protect these individuals, would prefer the discussion stay there.

People were murdered. Innocent people. Children were allegedly abused. A cavalcade of horrors awaits just beyond the media’s grasp, dripping out like blood from a leaky, wooden box.

“They cut off our heads, we put water on their face,” was Mancow’s analogy, before the Big Flip and public reversal of his position.

His analogy, though intended to travel in one direction, travels in two. Sure, cutting off someone’s head is worse than putting water on their face — thus minimizing the impact for right-wingers who want to believe that the Bush administration didn’t commit war crimes. But “we put water on their face” is also a brilliant word trick, as it perpetuates the obfuscation of what was committed in our names.

Putting water on their faces is the least of what was done. Once we move beyond this “waterboarding” debate — and the meaningless, hollow, distracting media circuses that have arisen around it — maybe we can finally have an honest, sober discussion about how we public seekers of the truth can uncover without censor what really happened.

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