Bill Maher’s decision to have Milo Yiannopoulos on his program was not without controversy.
When the political satirist announced he was hosting the hateful Breitbart editor on his HBO show Real Time, scheduled panelist Jeremy Scahill, an accomplished journalist who’s reported in war zones and is one of the co-founders of The Intercept, chose to back out of his appearance. Scahill released a note on Twitter explaining how he felt lending Yiannopoulos the popular platform would “legitimize his hateful agenda,” and potentially “be used to incite violence against immigrants, transgender people, and others at a time when the Trump administration is already seeking to formalize a war against some of the most vulnerable people in our society.” Maher, meanwhile, defended the decision, writing, “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.”
Well, Yiannopoulos came on Real Time and, far from being exposed, was handled with kid gloves by Maher.
But first, a little context. Milo Yiannopoulos (birth name: Milo Hanrahan) is a 32-year-old British provocateur and college dropout. Online, he flirted with neo-Nazism, going by the handle “Milo Andreas Wagner,” donning a Nazi iron cross necklace and posing with Hitler tomes, before making a name for himself as a contrarian voice in the #Gamergate controversy and popular voice of the “alt-right”—the trendy moniker for white nationalism. Yiannapoulos is also a wealth of contradictions. He is openly gay, yet appears to despise gay people; tan and camp, yet just a few years ago was unkempt and far less theatrical. In opposition of gay marriage, he once wrote, “[Gay people] see themselves as faulty, so they exaggerate their imperfections in the company of others they see as similarly defective. Ironically, it’s precisely that profound feeling of being somehow broken that means a gay man’s sexuality often comes to be the defining characteristic of his personality. Who wouldn’t want to protect a child from a path that leads to such destructive self-loathing?”Yiannapoulos is also transphobic, singling out and harassing individual trans students during his controversial college speaking gigs; helped launch a racist online harassment campaign against Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones that got him booted from Twitter; and is an avowed misogynist, penning piece after trolltastic piece for Breitbart—a website which former exec Steve Bannon characterized as “a platform for the alt-right”—mocking feminism, including the piece: ‘Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.’ His campus speaking gigs have provoked protests, most recently by an outside anarchist group at UC Berkeley that turned violent.
Which brings us to his appearance on Real Time. The self-proclaimed troll, who is currently promoting a book, came on during the pre-panel interview portion where he was greeted with open arms by Maher, who proclaimed, “I’m gonna start with an open mind. Look, I think you’re colossally wrong on a number of things, but if I banned everyone from my show who I thought was colossally wrong I would be talking to myself.”
Maher then tried to address Yiannopoulos’s “contradictions,” including that he is gay yet regularly speaks out against the LGBT community and has said he doesn’t hire gay people. “Oh, no! You can’t trust them to show up to work on time. Too much drugs, too much sex, they’re always making excuses,” said Yiannopoulos, to a chorus of boos from the crowd. He then turned to the audience and quipped: “I’m just kidding. You’re easy. You’re very easy. Very easily triggered. It’s pathetic.”
Maher had nothing. Instead of pressing Yiannopoulos on his vile treatment of the LGBT community, or his bizarre claim that the “radical gay editorials that are saying interesting things about gays are now being published by Breitbart,” the HBO host instead segued to a topic they both seem to agree on: free speech. “We have both been disbarred at Berkeley,” said Maher, addressing how Yiannopoulos apparently “makes liberals crazy—for that part of liberalism that has gone off the deep-end.”
“You’re literally the only good [liberal],” replied a toadying Yiannopoulos. “Your side has gone insane. The Democrats are the party of Lena Dunham. These people are mental, hideous people. The more that America sees of Lena Dunham, the fewer votes the Democrat Party’s ever going to get.”“Let’s not pick on fellow HBO stars,” said Maher.Yiannopoulos then singled out Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman as “people who used to be funny before they contracted feminism,” before Maher, instead of pressing his guest, decided to change the subject again.
“Let’s talk about your humor,” said an extraordinarily accommodating Maher, “because I think a lot of people do miss your humor. And I’m a guy who always defends jokes, right up to the point where they pointlessly hurt people.” “No, I hurt people for a reason,” replied Yiannopoulos. “For sure. No, I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll.”
Again, no follow-up by Maher. No challenging of statements. Yiannopoulos, who can be rather cunning, played to his host’s vanity, complimenting Maher on his various stances (“You’re very good on Islam,” he said, “That’s true, thanks,” replied Maher), and constantly shifting the focus of their chat back to political correctness and freedom of speech, with the two in agreement that the left is wrong to “want to police humor.”
Towards the end of their discussion—which played more like a back-slapping session—Maher finally almost pressed Yiannopoulos, saying: “The one area where I’m a little concerned is where you go after people individually. Like I said, if it’s in the cause of a greater truth, if people are hurt as collateral damage, I’ll go there. But, like, I didn’t understand the Ghostbusters thing. First of all, who gives a fuck about Ghostbusters?” He was talking about Yiannopoulos siccing his online troll army on Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, who was subsequently sent a rash of racist memes and ultimately hacked, with her perpetrators posting stolen naked photos of Jones on her personal website.
Maher, once again, refused to challenge Yiannopoulos’s far-fetched claims that he merely “wrote a bad review of a movie” and “said she looked like a dude” and “said she’s barely literate.” Later on, Maher said to Yiannopoulos, “Some people would say you have incited [violence],” and when his guest responded with “Well, they would be idiots,” he was met with more silence.
Instead, Maher closed out the Real Time lovefest by calling both liberals and his guest names.
“Stop taking the bait, liberals!” exclaimed Maher. “The fact that they all freaked out about this little, impish, British fag? You fucking schoolgirls. You schoolgirls. Right?” When all was said and done, one thing was clear: the only one who took “the bait” tonight was Maher.