I was watching, and I cried.
Just a few days before the 2008 election—ya know, when we were about to elect a super-normal, boring, capable president—John Legend was one of Bill Maher’s guests. I don’t believe Maher had ever shown a musical performance before; at the time I was a self-deputized Real Time reporter and huge fan of Legend so I watched and listened with glee.
What followed was a peak experience in television and art that I’ll never forget.
Let’s get this on the record: Bill Maher was way out front on gay rights, climate change and pot legalization, among other issues. I was a loyal Real Time viewer and was even smuggled in to the Studio City audience just before the election by my Los Angeles pal Frank Garrity.
That was then.
Cut to today and we have a vastly different show, a vastly different presenter—with bookers who ring up the fringiest of fringe assholes to prove HBO & Maher & producers are non-partisan. I’m guessing that’s the reason? Milo Yiannopoulos, Steve Bannon and Dinesh D’Souza have all been booked unironically on Real Time for
balance conservative ideals ratings and so Maher can occasionally say “those fucking liberals, amirite?”
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For me trouble started in 2015 when Maher bizarrely squared off against Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim kid who brought a clock to school and, after the device beeped and a teacher got scared, was promptly arrested. From Indy100:
The school phoned the police. Ahmed was hauled out of the classroom by a teacher and a police officer and interrogated by five officers in total, all the while insisting that he hadn’t bought a bomb to school.
Does that sound reasonable or pragmatic to you? Would this have happened to a white student? Shouldn’t we encourage our nation’s children of any ethnicity to excel at science rather than throwing them in the slammer for creating gadgets?
“Tell me if a lot of kids his age haven’t blown up a lot of shit around the world,” was Maher’s thought, directly implying Ahmed’s Muslim faith was the reason school administrators reacted that way. Despite protests from sensible panelists like Jorje Ramos, Maher stuck to his guns and proceeded to mispronounce my twitter pal Dean Obeidallah’s name when quoting his piece in The Daily Beast. Dean wrote an excellent rebuttal to the whole thing:
Where Ramos and many others (including me) disagree with Maher is in his defense of profiling an entire community because a few have committed bad acts in the past.
Maher got into a semi-famous row with Ben Affleck on the subject, too, and you can catch up on that here.
— Will Opens AG* Barr's Lying Liar Rehab Clinic (@bywillpollock) September 18, 2016
(Writer’s note: I’ve advocated on twitter that Real Time should have Dean and Stephanie Miller on but as of this writing they’ve never been invited, and Stephanie even lives/works in Los Angeles. I don’t see the point anymore to be honest.)
Maher is rightly disenchanted with organized religion but calls out Muslims and Islam more than any. I mean, even though violence in America is carried out more by far-right American loons than Muslims by 2-1. But hey, stats and science are queer amirite?
Domestic terrorism incidents by type. pic.twitter.com/fcORx3tcH8
— Jon Murad (@voxcustodes) October 3, 2017
The following year, during our delightful and not-at-all-illegitimate election of 2016, Maher conducted what we’ll charitably call fluffy interviews with Bernie Sanders. I wrote about it extensively in my Real Time Recap series. Maher is hard-hitting with many folks on the panel and for sit-down interviews but *never* Sanders. Why?
CRANKY YANK ‘REAL TIME’ RECAP NO. 4: LET THE COLONEL SPEAK
“You’re more popular than Stormy Daniels’ lawyer” he quipped in their most recent chitchat, where Real Time instantly morphs from hard-hitting HBO news hour to People Magazine TV.
Bernie went on to say in that interview, unchallenged: “Trump didn’t win the 2016 election; the Democratic party lost.” Bill went on to ask Bernie “what’s the Democratic message?” without noting that Bernie is not, in fact, a Democrat—and has been hostile toward the party ever since he was “cheated” out of the Dem nomination in ’16.
“I know many of you are suffering from Clinton fatigue—so ask your doctor if Bernie Sanders is right for you”—Bill Maher, May 2016
I’m not embedding Real Time video in this post because I’ll not give this now-toxic show more oxygen. When you add in visits from Ben Shapiro, Michael Moore, Cornel West and so many other nutjobs from Horseshoe Theory‘s opposite ends—it’s this quip to Steve Bannon that means I’m out for good (emphasis mine):
“I’m gonna say to you what I always say to conservatives when they come here—thank you. I appreciate you and it says volumes about why republicans are in power. Hillary Clinton never came here; maybe she’d be president now if she’d been a little more confident.”
In hindsight Hillary Clinton’s choosing not to appear on Real Time looks like a stroke of genius in an otherwise supremely tragic election cycle.
Steve Bannon is not a conservative, he’s a flame-throwing charlatan billionaire-funded fuck-up who stumbled onto a plum adviser job serving an equally phony “populist” business person
For the cheap seats: Cheri Jacobus, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, Richard Painter, Jennifer Rubin and others are conservatives, principled ones, writing with passionate conservative thought. Steve Bannon is not a conservative, he’s a flame-throwing charlatan billionaire-funded fuck-up who stumbled onto a plum adviser job serving an equally phony “populist” business person who, I’m becoming more and more sure, will be exposed as willing conspirator with Russia in stealing the 2016 election.
But hey, kudos on the radical hate-mongering wingnuts you’re able to book, Bill. Mazel tov. Just know from now on I won’t be watching. What a difference 10 years makes: I was inspired once but now I’m fully disgusted, and done. 🔴
Will Pollock is a perpetually crabby New York City escapee based in Midtown Atlanta. He’s a freelance multimedia journalist, media analyst and author of two books (the award-wining Pizza for Good & Leaving Triscuit), with more on the way.
In 2001, Will earned his Masters from The Medill School of Journalism, graduating with highest honors from the magazine sequence. As permanent member of Journalism’s National Honors Society, he’s been active in monitoring, writing and blogging about media and journalism ever since he graduated.
Obsessed with good storytelling and journalistic excellence, Will uses snark, humor and reason to distill dumb shit and make it fun. He is a seeker/maker of non-consensus news, and cures his crankies by finding the nut in every story.
As for-profit media continues to fail us, it’s more important than ever to find reliable sources. Authentic storytelling exists—you just have to look for it. On this blog you’ll get ideas, not ideology. Sass with class. Reporting with rapport. Evidence with a touch of evil. You get the idea.
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