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Getting It Right

April 24th, 2007

I still enjoy watching Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” but there is one aspect to it that makes it painful to watch sometimes: Maher’s lack of preparation. Let’s face it, he gets his kudos for being irreverent, not studied on the issues. And because he doesn’t seem to prepare much beyond his own immediate talking points, his conservative guests tend to get away with outrageous statements. And sometimes it’s not even the preparation which seems thin, but Maher’s apparent inability or unwillingness to challenge commonsense contradictions.

For example, on a recent show, one conservative guest discussed the Second Amendment as if it was a fact that it conferred an individual right, in the face of about a century of Supreme Court rulings to the contrary; Maher agreed with the statement instead of challenging it. Yes, Maher is Libertarian, but was arguing for gun controls, and even if he weren’t, at the very least one would want the facts of a case observed.

At another point, a right-wing guest got away with saying we should stay in Iraq because when we pulled out of Vietnam, there was massive bloodshed; Maher did not supply the obvious counter-analogy, which was that Vietnam also was not a war we would have won by staying in. Like Iraq, Vietnam would have just dragged on and festered for however many more years we stayed there, and the same bloodshed would have happened when we eventually left anyway. But Maher let this guy’s rather outrageous analogy just slip by.

A third issue that Maher let slide was “partial birth abortion,” where he was very poorly prepared or just poorly informed, and let the supremely politicized distortions about what “partial birth abortion” is and how it is applied to the issue fly right by–he even said that he had respect for them on the issue of abortion, as if he accepted this extreme wedge issue as representative of the issue as a whole.

Sometimes there will be a liberal guest on the show who will set the record straight instead, but the third guest who would otherwise have balanced the two heavy conservatives was a Democratic governor from a red state–in other words, a conservative Democrat who had something to lose by taking the liberal position on any of the issues mentioned. So he didn’t really act as a counter to them at all.

The thing is, the other guests shouldn’t have to do this. Maher brought up all the issues I listed above, and so he should have at least had a staff flunky do some basic research and give him some crib notes. But almost every time, Maher seems to come to the moderator’s table with little more than what he skimmed from the newspaper. For a person leading what is essentially a debate, Maher does not seem to prepare at all for that debate, and that can be frustrating sometimes. I very much enjoy the show, even when I disagree with Maher and/or his guests, but to have such complete fiction spouted and not challenged when even a half-assed attempt at preparation would have sufficed to stem that sort of thing….

It’s the kind of show where I can get worked up about a thing, and even pause the playback to debate the point as if I were there. Which is not good, really–there’s no point in me doing so, but it helps relieve the frustration. A pity, it’s otherwise a good show, but this flaw often makes me think twice about watching.

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