Cook County Record

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ousted megachurch pastor accuses radio host 'Mancow' of defamation for calling him a 'con man,' fabricating stories


By Jonathan Bilyk | Dec 14, 2019

Mancow muller
Erich "Mancow" Muller | Youtube screenshot

James MacDonald, who was ousted earlier this year as senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel, has hit radio host “Mancow” Muller with a lawsuit for defamation, accusing the one-time “shock jock” of wrongly calling him a "con man' and fabricating stories about MacDonald on the air, including accusing him of scheming to murder "rivals" and plant "kiddie porn" on others' computers.

On Dec. 12, MacDonald filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court against Matthew Erich Muller, who has for decades hosted radio programs on the Chicago airwaves under the moniker “Mancow.”

Muller currently serves as the host of the morning program for WLS AM 890 in Chicago. WLS owner Cumulus Media is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

The complaint includes multiple counts of defamation against Muller, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other allegations. The complaint seeks compensatory damages of at least $50,000, but potentially much more in punitive damages, which are used by courts to punish those who have committed the alleged offenses and to deter others from following suit.

MacDonald had served as senior pastor at the suburban Chicago evangelical megachurch since founding the congregation in 1988 with just 18 people. By 2018, the congregation numbered more than 13,000 across seven campuses in the Chicago area.

MacDonald also was featured on his radio and television program, Walk in the Word, which boasted more than 5 million viewers and listeners per month, according to the complaint. MacDonald has authored more than 15 books and has won awards from faith-based broadcast associations.

However, MacDonald’s tenure at Harvest came to a sudden end earlier this year, after allegations emerged of mismanagement of church finances and resources; improper use of his “spiritual authority;" and of “bullying” behavior toward those in the church and elsewhere. Those allegations were spelled out in a recent statement from the Harvest church’s board of elders – which oversees the church’s operations, and which fired MacDonald in February. The board has since declared MacDonald to be “unfit” for ministry.

The church is currently in arbitration with MacDonald over the termination and ownership of the radio and television broadcast ministry, according to an article published by Christianity Today.

MacDonald’s new complaint does not address those controversies. Rather, in MacDonald’s complaint, the former pastor accuses Muller of using his radio show on WLS and his podcasts to accuse MacDonald of various misdeeds.

Among others, MacDonald’s complaint points to statements allegedly made by Muller accusing MacDonald of being a "con man" running a racketeering operation through the church; of scheming to plant child pornography on Muller’s computer or smartphone, in an effort to silence him; of telling Muller he wanted the radio host to help him hire a “hitman … to kill one of his (MacDonald’s) rivals; and of groping and sexually molesting a woman while on a flight.

MacDonald said Muller accused the former pastor of “conspiracy to commit murder,” and Muller said he and others “are afraid of James MacDonald for their very lives.”

MacDonald said all of these statements and incidents were false and fabricated by Muller “to build up listener interest for his radio/podcast shows.”

The complaint accuses Muller of a pattern of similar incidents in the past, noting Muller and his employers had previously been sued by others targeted on the air by Muller, including former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Keith Van Horne.

The complaint further accuses Cumulus of “reckless hiring,” for hiring Muller, despite his alleged history.

And the complaint accuses Cumulus of failing to properly supervise and control Muller’s broadcasts, to prevent such alleged incidents from occurring.

Further, the complaint accuses Muller of violating Illinois eavesdropping laws, by obtaining and then playing on the air statements MacDonald allegedly made in a “surreptitiously” recorded private telephone conversation between MacDonald and others, concerning three of MacDonald’s most public critics.

Those critics would later be the target of a lawsuit, filed by MacDonald and Harvest, which the church later withdrew following the ouster of MacDonald.

MacDonald is represented in the action by attorneys Phillip J. Zisook and Richard M. Goldwasser, of the firm of Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg LLC, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Harvest Bible ChapelCumulus MediaCircuit Court of Cook CountySchoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg

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