Talk show host Bill Maher recently fell under friendly fire for having controversial alt-right poster child Milo Yiannopoulos on his HBO program, Real Time. There were those who wasted no time in roasting Maher for this choice, claiming that Maher gave Yiannopoulos a platform to propagate controversy and deliver the hate speech for which he is known. But the reality is: this exposure of Yiannopoulos to a large audience (many of whom were unfamiliar with who he was) could have played a role in the subsequent downfall of Milo.
And for that, Maher should be applauded.
Maher is no stranger to harsh judgment from the masses – his brash, outspoken, holier-than-thou, and sometimes offensive demeanor is just who he is. Maher thrives on controvery – and in that sense he and Milo are a little similar. Maher also has a reputation for keeping it real, though, and characterizes his invitation to Yiannopoulos as an attempt to, “shine a light on the alt-right star’s bigotry”. It is probably true that Maher played softball with his guest during their interview segment. Maher seemed more than willing during the interview to allow Yiannopoulos to bury himself – Maher merely handed him the shovel.
The issue here is Bill Maher is not the enemy of liberals all of a sudden. People have become so fixated on criticizing Maher that they have completely forgotten the obscene Yiannopoulos and the downright crazy things he stands for.
In the days after the interview, Yiannopoulos found the limit of free speech. He prides himself on saying and doing the most controversial things possible – testing his rights of free speech. But recently, after making some comments that condoned pedophilia, Yiannopoulos was forced to resign from his position at Breitbart… Breitbart! The white-nationalist alt-right conservative news website, famous for its support of the KKK, told Yiannopoulos that he’d gone too far and asked for his resignation. Not just that, but Yiannopoulos also lost a huge book deal because of these statements.
But no one seems willing to talk about this or any of Yiannopoulos’ transgressions. Instead, the ire of the people has been directed at Maher.
Television hosts like Maher are given a platform to espouse their own views on society, politics, and a host of other issues for a reason. It isn’t enough for them to be entertaining. They also have to be controversial in their presentation of issues and willing to take a little heat to get their message across. Most often, the best way to address societal ills is to shine a light on them. As Mayer himself said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
What happens in such cases is that some people perceive the journalist or host acts in the interest of creating shock value that will drive up ratings. A good comparison here is Piers Morgan. In the show he previously hosted on CNN, Morgan was known for being combative and for having guests who opposed his own philosophies. In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, Morgan took up the issue of gun control and turned his nightly show into a one-trick pony. He would argue, sometimes rather violently, with those who opposed any form of gun legislation.
The difference between Morgan and Maher is that Morgan always reflected a credibility problem. It was apparent that he seized upon the gun rights issue for ratings and nothing more. If he was so concerned about gun control in the United States, why didn’t he devote more shows to it prior to Sandy Hook?
Maher has been consistent on Real Time in arguing his case for liberal policies. As a rule, his panels typically include a majority of like-minded guests. When Maher invited Yiannopoulos to his show, regular viewers understood what was going on. Maher wasn’t selling out to achieve ratings. He was basically inviting Yiannopoulos into the lion’s den where he would be forced to defend himself or be torn apart.
Given what happened after the interview, it is clear that Maher’s mission was successfully accomplished. These are difficult times for many Americans. Liberals believe that they have a common enemy, and Bill Maher is not it. Maher is simply putting the enemy under a microscope and watching it squirm.