Former Harvest Bible pastor sues Mancow for defamation

Erich Mancow Muller and James MacDonald

James MacDonald, the embattled former pastor of the Harvest Bible Chapel megachurch, is suing Chicago radio personality Erich Mancow Muller for branding him a “con man” and allegedly fabricating stories about him on the air.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court alleges Muller repeatedly defamed MacDonald on the morning show Muller hosts for Cumulus Media news/talk WLS 890-AM. The complaint also names Cumulus Media as a defendant.

MacDonald is seeking more than $50,000 in damages for multiple counts of defamation, intentional infliction of emotion distress and other allegations.

Muller, once an outspoken follower and close friend of MacDonald, broke with the pastor, accusing MacDonald in a Daily Herald essay of leading "a culture of authoritarianism, secrecy, intimidation, outlandish fundraising expectations, poor financial controls and debt."

Rolling Meadows-based Harvest Bible Chapel fired MacDonald in February after Muller aired a recording of the pastor discussing planting child pornography on the computer of a Christianity Today magazine editor.

Muller later accused MacDonald in a police report of attempting to hire a hit man to kill one of his critics.

McDonald's complaint, first reported by Cook County Record, claims Muller fabricated all of the statements and incidents “to build up listener interest for his radio/podcast shows.”

The complaint also accuses Cumulus of failing to properly supervise Muller’s broadcasts, and it alleges Muller violated Illinois eavesdropping laws by airing “surreptitiously” recorded phone conversations between MacDonald and others.

Muller said Sunday he could not comment specifically on the lawsuit, but defended his actions to bring MacDonald's misconduct to light.

"For me this has always been about trying to help people and trying to expose a bad guy," Muller said. "For years I had endorsed [McDonald] and his church. When I found out the truth, I felt it was my duty to tell my listeners."

Marv Nyren, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Chicago, said the company has not been notified of the lawsuit and declined comment Sunday.

One of the attorneys representing MacDonald is Phillip J. Zisook of the Chicago law firm Schoenberg Finkel Newman & Rosenberg. In 1995 Zisook represented former Chicago Bear Keith Van Horne, who sued Muller for defamation.

After Muller and Van Horne had a confrontation outside the studios of Evergreen Media Corp. in 1994, the lawsuit alleged, Muller defamed Van Horne on the air, saying that Van Horne stalked, chased and threatened to kill him, and referring to Van Horne as "psychotic" and as "Charles Manson who works out."

In 2000 Van Horne agreed to a $1.6 million settlement, which was believed to be one of the largest settlements in a defamation suit against a radio personality. Muller denied any wrongdoing.

"This case had nothing to do with outrageous speech. It had everything to do with speech that is defamatory," Zisook said at the time.

In the latest Nielsen Audio survey, Muller's morning show on WLS tied for 15th place with a 2.8 percent share and cumulative weekly audience of 158,400.