Whether or not you agree with him politically, it's fair to say that no one has ever accused Bill Maher of being modest about his intellectual capabilities. On his best day, he's a blowhard. And when you get him talking about one of his pet subjects, he's somehow able to simultaneously pretend to listen to opposing point of views while also sneering and guffawing in a way that says "Hey, if that's what you Rubes want to believe, go ahead." Maher is a dumb guy's representation of an intellectual: a smug, self-congratulating asshat.
Okay, so I'm not a fan, which is why I don't usually write about "Real Time With Bill Maher." If I wanted to listen to someone who isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is, I'd spend more time tuning in to "Hannity." But today brings a story that I can't ignore, even if it's likely to raise my blood pressure to boiling tea kettle levels. So here goes.
Independent journalist and co-founder of The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill announced he had opted not to participate in this week's "Real Time" after the show booked Breitbart News senior editor and professional provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos as his main interview guest. I won't go through Milo's highlight reel, but he's one of this new wave of right-wing intellectual bullies who spew anti-immigrant and pro-white guy comments while pretending to be just someone innocently giving their opinion on the world. This is the guy who was at one point banned from Twitter for being responsibility for harassing actress Leslie Jones over her role on the "Ghostbusters" movie.
Yiannopoulos is a smart guy, and he's dangerous for a couple of reasons. First, he has enough media-savvy never to cross that line from being a racist smart-ass to a public safety menace. He wants society to change, but he doesn't have the stones to advocate for violence or direct action. He's the kind of rebel who leaves stacks of burning torches and open containers of gasoline in the middle of the street. Then when the neighborhood burns, he argues "Hey, I never said anyone should set fire to any buildings."
But he's also dangerous for another reason and this one is more directly connected to why it's a bad idea for Maher to have him on "Real Time." Yiannopoulos has a lot of experience dealing with hostile interviewers and if you've seen him in action, his savvy and slippery persona makes him difficult to pin down. This is especially a bad thing for Maher, because they both share an overall scorn for the intelligence and inner strength of liberals. Maher doesn't quite believe liberals are snowflakes, but I suspect he sees a snowstorm, Nancy Pelosi pops into his mind. It'll be easy for Yiannopoulos to hijack the interview and make it more about protests against his appearance than his past comments or behavior.
Not surprisingly, Maher thinks having Yiannopoulos on the show is just a peachy idea. He released a statement Thursday explaining the decision, striving hard to make the appearance sound more like an act of inclusion and intellectual freedom than the grubby ratings whoring it appears to be:
"My comments on Islam have never veered into vitriol. Liberals will continue to lose elections as long as they follow the example of people like Mr. Scahill whose views veer into fantasy and away from bedrock liberal principles like equality of women, respect for minorities, separation of religion and state and free speech. If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims – and he might be – nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night."
My God, Maher is an arrogant ass. Notice that last line, which essentially says "Hey, no sweat, I am so smart I can easily unmask this guy if I need to." I suppose we'll see.
I'm not one of these people that believes public appearances by Yiannopoulos should be protested. In fact, that's just the type of attention he craves. I don't actually think Yiannopoulos believes half of what he says. The casual nationalist racism is just another craven career path for him and given that's the case, I see no reason to go out of the way to help out.
Maher may indeed reveal the inner heart of Yiannopoulos on Friday's show. But to be honest, in a battle of wits between Bill Maher and Milo Yiannopoulos, there are no good choices for viewers.