In February of 2017, Bill Maher, the “politically incorrect” satirist and stand-up comic, welcomed Milo Yiannopoulos onto his popular HBO show Real Time. Maher’s decision to provide a millions-strong cable platform to the alt-right troll prompted journalist Jeremy Scahill, another guest scheduled to appear that week, to drop out.
“Milo Yiannopoulos is many bridges too far,” wrote Scahill, who co-founded The Intercept. “There is no value in ‘debating’ him. Appearing on Real Time will provide Yiannopoulos with a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign. It will be exploited by Yiannopoulos in an attempt to legitimize his hateful agenda.”
And exploited it was. Maher treated Yiannopoulos with kid gloves, complimenting his brand of “humor,” siding with the Iron Cross-wearing man formerly known as “Milo Wagner” against the liberal college kids protesting his campus talks, and later, during the “Overtime” segment, agreeing with him on the trans bathroom issue, with the host describing it as “weirdos peeing.” (Thank goodness for Larry Wilmore.)
After The Reagan Battalion posted a video of Yiannopoulos defending hebephilia, which led to him being dropped as Trump’s opening act at CPAC, Maher attempted to spin it as his doing—despite the fact that he mollycoddled the troll on his program, and that the racist performance artist was ultimately foiled by a conservative outfit in response to the CPAC gig.
“By the end of the weekend, by dinnertime Monday, he’s dropped as a speaker at CPAC. Then he’s dropped by Breitbart, and his book deal falls through. As I say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. You’re welcome,” boasted Maher.
Far from exposing alt-right and far-right trolls, Maher rarely pushes back against their ludicrous claims and occasionally agrees, thereby legitimizing their pernicious views in the eyes of his more gullible viewers. Yiannopoulos was followed by Ben Shapiro, who found common ground with the comedian on campus liberals (naturally); Steve Bannon, who spouted a whole mess of uncontested nonsense about team Trump; and most recently, The Federalist publisher Ben Domenech, whose idiotic takes on impeachment (“you can impeach [Trump] because you don’t like his hair”) went unchallenged. This is purely a matter of spectacle—a more urbane version of one of those zany Jerry Springer episodes pitting a Klansman against a civil-rights leader.
Which brings us to Friday night. The latest edition of Real Time featured the “edgy” funnyman jousting with Dennis Prager, the right-wing propagandist behind PragerU (a conservative, fact-averse YouTube-video factory posing as a university whose greatest hits include an anti-immigrant manifesto by Japanese internment-defender Michelle Malkin; a spiel about how police actually don’t discriminate against black men; and a whole lot of “War on Christmas” content), and Dr. Jay N. Gordon, one of the leaders of the anti-vaxx movement who once defended not administering the measles vaccine to his patients by calling it “a benign childhood illness.”
First up was Dr. Gordon, and lo and behold, Maher not only declined to challenge the controversial pediatrician’s anti-vaxx views, but agreed with them.
“You know, to call you this crazy person—really, what you’re just saying is slower [vaccinations], maybe less numbers, and also take into account individuals,” said Maher, in response to Dr. Gordon’s comments that vaccines may cause autism. “People are different. Family history, stuff like that. I don’t think this is crazy. The autism issue, they certainly have studied it a million times… and yet, there’s all these parents who say, I had a normal child, got the vaccine… this story keeps coming up. It seems to be more realistic to me, if we’re just going to be realistic about it.”
“Maybe is my whole point with this. We just don’t know so much,” Maher added, calling vaccines “the beginning of the debate” and saying that he’s “concerned about what happens down the road.” (Virtually the entire medical community is in agreement that vaccines don’t cause autism.)
Next came Dennis Prager, who joined USC journalism professor Christina Bellantoni and former Obama undersecretary Richard Stengel for the panel portion of the show.
“The Russia collusion thing didn’t turn out to be anything,” offered Prager in a stunning denial of reality. No pushback from Maher. Russia “didn’t undermine our democracy” during the 2016 election,” offered Prager in a stunning denial of reality. Minimal pushback from Maher. There was some silly back-and-forth sniping about whether or not Trump is a fascist, whether or not he was guilty of a quid pro quo with Ukraine, Hillary Clinton’s email server (because of course), and the two closed things by suggesting that the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh may have been false.
It was theater of the most absurd kind, and far from providing any sort of clarity, only further muddies the water. Who is this noise for, anyway?