I dunno, maybe actual NBC reporters don't want to come on Keith Olbermann's show since he took to bellowing insults at them on the air while anchoring the network's coverage of the Republican convention last year. Whatever the reason, he's now apparently resorted to faking stories. The media-news site Gawker has been reporting for two days that the video of waterboarding you can see up above was faked. And, Gawker adds (though, it should be noted, without attribution), Olbermann knew it.
This is not altogether surprising, since the supposed object of the waterboarding was Erich "Mancow" Muller, a Chicago shock-jock who regularly does silly stunts on the air. Nothing wrong with that on a morning-zoo radio show, but it's a little dicey when you're presenting yourself as a news operation. The idea was that Mancow would undergo waterboarding to test the contention of former Bush administration officials that it doesn't really amount to torture.
But Gawker reprints a series of emails between Muller's publicists and promoters prior to the waterboarding that reveal plans to fake the whole thing. "It is going to have to look "real" but of course would be simulated with Mancow acting like he is drowning," says one. "It will be a hoax but have to look real." The military veteran who supposedly administered the waterboarding later admitted he's never performed the procedure, been trained in it, or even know anything about it. "I didn't know what I was doing," he told Gawker.
Personally, I think the whole debate over the semantics of waterboarding is amazingly stupid -- whether it fits a technical legal description of "torture," it's obviously abusive and hideously unpleasant and not something any sane person would want installed in the routine interrogation arsenal of either law enforcement or the military. The question is -- or ought to be -- are we willing to allow it in the case of captured high-level terrorists? There are reasonable arguments on both sides. But presenting shock-jock publicity gags as news does nothing to illuminate them, though of course even on a good day Olbermann's show provides illumination only to the extent that you put your TV set in a dark room and turn up the brightness control to maximum.
Postscript: If I understood correctly the exchange between Olbermann and Mancow early in the segment, it sounds as if MSNBC paid $10,000 for Mancow's appearance. The fact that the money went to Mancow's favorite charity doesn't make it any less of a case of paying for news, which on real news shows is frowned upon.
Update, 3 p.m.: Gawker now reports that an MSNBC spokeswoman has acknowledged Olbermann's producers knew the score on the "waterboarding" video and used it anyway:
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.
Gawker also has some choice words on the credibility of a newscast that would accept anything on the Mancow show at face value:
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...