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Profile: Bill Maher
Bill Maher was a participant or observer in the following events:
Bill Maher. [Source: HBO publicity photo]White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer warns, “There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” [Associated Press, 9/26/2001] Fleischer was responding to comments made by Bill Maher, the host of the discussion/comedy show Politically Incorrect. Maher said the hijackers were not cowards but that it was cowardly for the US to launch cruise missiles on targets thousands of miles away. [New York Times, 9/28/2001] Many advertisers and affiliate stations pull their support of the show in response. [Washington Post, 9/29/2001] ABC cancels Maher’s show at the end of its season because of the controversy. [Toronto Star, 6/26/2002] Several journalists are fired around the same time for criticizing Bush. Fleischer’s comments and the general chill on free speech are widely criticized by major newspapers (for instance, [New York Times, 9/29/2001; Washington Post, 9/29/2001; Dallas Morning News, 10/4/2001] ).
Glenn Beck. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times profiles Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, describing him as a “rising star” and “one of the most powerful media voices for the nation’s conservative anger.” Beck’s show typically draws about 2.3 million viewers, putting him third among all cable news hosts behind fellow Fox conservatives Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Beck describes himself as identifying with Howard Beale, the mad “television prophet” of the 1976 film Network, and particularly Beale’s most famous line, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” [New York Times, 3/29/2009] (Media pundit Eric Boehlert calls Beck’s attempt to associate himself with Beale “nonsense,” and observes: “Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants… targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television.… Beale’s attacks were not political or partisan. Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.”) [Media Matters, 4/7/2009]
Apocalyptic Rhetoric - Though he insists he believes every word he says on his TV show as well as on his daily radio broadcast, Beck also calls himself a “rodeo clown” and an “entertainer” who reminds his listeners, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.” (Beck is a former morning show disc jockey who regularly performs stand-up comedy in shows around the country.) The Times writes that Beck “is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.” He regularly preaches against liberal politicians, hosts segments entitled “Constitution Under Attack” and “Economic Apocalypse,” and sometimes bursts into tears. [New York Times, 3/29/2009] Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will note in a later article that Beck regularly terms President Obama a Marxist, a socialist, and/or a fascist. [Media Matters, 4/7/2009] In a recent week-long segment titled “War Games,” Beck advocated for armed citizen militias to overthrow the government (see February 20, 2009), though he later denied such advocacy. America is “on the road to socialism,” he tells his viewers, and claims, “God and religion are under attack in the US.” He recently accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of setting up “concentration camps” for citizen dissenters, presumably conservatives. He has accused the Obama administration of trying to “indoctrinate… your child into community service through the federal government” [Media Matters, 3/27/2009] , says America is about to go through “depression and revolution” [Media Matters, 2/13/2009] , and, three days after the Times article is published, compares the administration’s actions to those in “the early days of Adolf Hitler.” [Media Matters, 4/1/2009] He will accuse the government of being what he calls “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.” [Media Matters, 3/31/2009]
Voice of the 'Disenfranchised' - Phil Griffin, the president of Fox News cable rival MSNBC, says of Beck: “That’s good dramatic television. That’s who Glenn Beck is.” Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says: “There are absolutely historical precedents for what is happening with Beck. There was a lot of radio evangelism during the Depression. People were frustrated and frightened. There are a lot of scary parallels now.” Conservative writer David Frum calls Beck’s success “a product of the collapse of conservatism as an organized political force, and the rise of conservatism as an alienated cultural sensibility.” Beck’s shows are “for people who feel they belong to an embattled minority that is disenfranchised and cut off,” Frum adds. Fox News senior vice president Joel Cheatwood says Beck’s audience is “somewhat disenfranchised,” and adds, “[I]t’s a huge audience.” Author and media professor Jeffrey Jones says that Beck engages in “inciting rhetoric. People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something.” Beck denies inciting attacks on the government or any other citizens, saying that those “who are spreading the garbage that I’m stirring up a revolution haven’t watched the show.” Fellow talk show host Bill Maher recently accused Beck of producing “the same kind of talking” that led Timothy McVeigh to bomb a federal building in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995); Beck responded by saying in part: “Let me be clear. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the ‘truth’ behind 9/11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those we don’t seem to recognize anymore, who kill in the name of Allah.” [New York Times, 3/29/2009] (The Times does not publish Beck’s next line: “There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth.”) [Media Matters, 4/7/2009] He describes himself as having to “be… the guy I don’t want to be—the guy saying things that are sometimes pretty scary, but nobody else is willing to say them.” Currently Beck is the voice of the “We Surround Them” movement (see March 3, 2009) and is part of the “Tea Party” or “teabaggers” civil protest project (see April 8, 2009). [New York Times, 3/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, David Frum, Eric Boehlert, Tom Rosenstiel, Bill Maher, New York Times, Jeffrey Jones, Phil Griffin, Fox News, Media Matters, Joel Cheatwood
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Comedian Bill Maher, a liberal-libertarian who hosts the political talk show Real Time on HBO, gives a performance in Dallas that includes a number of profanities and a crude sexual epithet aimed at former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). After insulting opponents of gay marriage and calling Democrats “p_ssies” for not actively supporting a repeal of the ban on gays in the military, he calls Palin a “c_nt,” and adds, “[T]here’s just no other word for her.” The next night, on his show, he says Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are two “bimbos” suitable for the old television show Gilligan’s Island. “Michele Bachmann this week threw her hat into the ring, kind of. We think she’s going to be running for president for those who find Sarah Palin too intellectual,” Maher says. “If Bachmann and Palin get in, that’s two bimbos. And then there’s Mitt Romney (R-MA), a millionaire. And Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a professor. We just need a ‘Skipper’ and a ‘Buddy,’ and we’ve got ‘Gilligan’s Island.’” [Dallas Voice, 3/28/2011; CityPages, 3/28/2011] Maher will refuse to apologize. Almost a year later, he will reference the rhetoric and say he has no need to apologize because he has no sponsors to placate: “I sometimes called Sarah Palin a bad name.… I don’t have sponsors, I’m on HBO.” [Mediaite, 3/3/2012]
The Republican presidential primaries are being largely controlled, at least from a financial standpoint, by a very few extraordinarily wealthy individuals, according to research provided by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich and the news organization ProPublica. In January 2012, the campaign of frontrunner Rick Santorum (R-PA) was almost entirely funded by billionaires William Dore and multi-millionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012), who between them supplied over three-quarters of the $2.1 million donated to Santorum’s “super PAC” “Red White and Blue Fund.” Dore is the president of a Louisiana energy corporation and Friess is a fund manager in Wyoming. Of the $11 million raised by the super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich (R-GA), $10 million came from Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam. Adelson runs a casino ownership group in Las Vegas. Most of the rest of Gingrich’s funding came from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provided $1.7 million of the $2.4 million raised in January by the super PAC for Ron Paul (R-TX). As for Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a multi-millionaire, his super PAC “Restore Our Future” raised $6.6 million in January. Almost all of it came from 40 donors, including hedge fund billionaires Bruce Kovner, Julian Robertson (the largest donor at $1.25 million), and David Tepper, hotel owners J.W. Marriott and Richard Marriott, and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman. The lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see 1984 and After, May 16, 2008, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, February 27, 2009, March 13, 2009 and After, April 2009 and After, April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, June 26, 2009, Late July, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 19, 2009, August 24, 2010, September 2010, September 12, 2010 and August 17, 2011) has contributed over $1.4 million to various Republican candidates. Reich writes, “Whoever emerges as the GOP standard-bearer will be deeply indebted to a handful of people, each of whom will expect a good return on their investment.” Reich goes on to cite American Crossroads’s “super PAC” Crossroads GPS, founded by Republican political consultant Karl Rove, and its lineup of corporate moguls contributing hundreds of millions of dollars. The lineup of Crossroads supporters includes Charles and David Koch (see 1940 and After, 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, 1997, Late 2004, Late 2004, October 2008, August 5, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 2010, August 17, 2011, April 2010 and After and October 4, 2011), and Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corporation, who has contributed $10 million to the organization. Reich says there is no legal way to know exactly how much the Kochs and their fellows have contributed: “The public will never know who or what corporation gave what because, under IRS regulations, such nonprofit ‘social welfare organizations’ aren’t required to disclose the names of those who contributed to them.” The previous limit of $5,000 per year per individual was erased by the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, a decision Reich calls “grotesque.” Reich writes: “In a sense, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, and Romney are the fronts. Dore et al. are the real investors.… Now, the limits are gone. And this comes precisely at a time when an almost unprecedented share of the nation’s income and wealth is accumulating at the top. Never before in the history of our Republic have so few spent so much to influence the votes of so many.” [The Atlantic, 2/2/2012; Salon, 2/21/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] President Obama’s super PAC, “Priorities USA Action,” has received $2 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and another $1 million from the Service Employees International Union’s Committee on Political Education (SEIU COPE). However, Priorities USA has raised relatively paltry sums in comparison to the monies raised by the Republican super PACs, according to a Reuters report. Obama and his re-election campaign had originally distanced themselves from the super PAC operating in their name, in part because they disapprove of the Citizens United decision and the influence of super PACs in electoral politics. Since the Obama campaign officially endorsed the organization, donations have risen. Obama campaign advisor David Axelrod says that Obama “believes that this is an unhealthy development in our political process, but it is a reality of the rules as they stand. This was not a quick decision, but he also feels a responsibility to win this election. There’s a lot hanging on this beyond him.” By the end of January, Priorities USA had raised $4.2 million. In contrast, Romney’s “Restore Our Future” had raised $36.8 million by the end of last month. [Reuters, 2/2012; ProPublica, 2/21/2012] Partly in response to reports of billionaires’ influence on the 2012 elections, comedian Bill Maher will announce his donation of $1 million to the Obama super PAC. Maher will tell an audience that an Obama victory over any of the Republican contenders is “worth a million dollars” and will describe the donation as “the wisest investment I think I could make.” [Los Angeles Times, 2/24/2012] Friess is often described in the press as a “billionaire,” but both Friess and Forbes magazine say that appellation is inaccurate. [Forbes, 2/8/2012]
Entity Tags: Republican Party, Richard Marriott, Rick Santorum, Peter Thiel, Robert Reich, William Dore, Service Employees International Union Committee on Political Education, Newt Gingrich, Willard Mitt Romney, Sheldon Adelson, Ron Paul, Miriam Adelson, ProPublica (.org), Karl C. Rove, Charles Koch, American Crossroads, David Axelrod, American Crossroads GPS, Meg Whitman, Bill Maher, Barack Obama, David Koch, David Tepper, Foster Friess, Julian Robertson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Bruce Kovner, J. W. (“Bill”) Marriott, FreedomWorks, Harold Simmons
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2012 Elections
Columnist and author David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, says that conservatives’ complaints that talk show host Rush Limbaugh is not being treated fairly over the Sandra Fluke controversy (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, March 2, 2012, March 5, 2012, and March 3, 2012) are specious. Frum says that conservatives note that while Limbaugh may have said some unacceptable things about Fluke, liberals and Democrats have also said unacceptable things. Frum says that the conflation is irrelevant. He writes: “Even by the rough standards of cable/talk radio/digital talk, Limbaugh’s verbal abuse of Sandra Fluke set a new kind of low. I can’t recall anything as brutal, ugly, and deliberate ever being said by such a prominent person and so emphatically repeated. This was not a case of a bad ‘word choice.’ It was a brutally sexualized accusation, against a specific person, prolonged over three days.” Frum notes that several media figures putatively on the left, including late-night hosts David Letterman and Bill Maher, and liberal MSNBC host Ed Schultz, have said unacceptable things themselves, with conservatives complaining that they faced no consequences. Frum notes that such complaints are not true. Schultz called a female talk show host a “slut” and not only apologized, but was suspended from MSNBC (see May 24-25, 2011). Letterman, after insulting former Govenor Sarah Palin’s daughter, “delivered an abject seven-minute apology” on the air. (Frum notes that Palin refused to accept the apology and insinuated that Letterman was a pedophile.) Maher used a crude sexual epithet against Palin, and to date has refused to apologize for it (see March 27-28, 2011). However, Frum notes, neither Letterman, Schultz, nor Maher has anywhere near the political influence that Limbaugh has. “Letterman is not a political figure at all; and while Maher and Schultz strongly identify as liberals, neither qualifies as anything like a powerbroker in the Democratic Party.… A word of criticism from Limbaugh… will reduce almost any member of the Republican caucus to abject groveling.… I can’t recall anything as brutal, ugly, and deliberate ever being said by such a prominent person and so emphatically repeated. Among TV and radio talkers and entertainers, there is none who commands anything like the deference that Limbaugh commands from Republicans: not Rachel Maddow, not Jon Stewart, not Michael Moore, not Keith Olbermann at his zenith. Democratic politicians may wish for favorable comment from their talkers, but they are not terrified of negative comment from them in the way that Republican politicians live in fear of a negative word from Limbaugh” (see January 28-29, 2009). Frum asks why conservatives are responding to Limbaugh’s tirade against Fluke by finding old instances of liberal misconduct and throwing them into the discussion. “[W]hy the impulse to counter one outrageous stunt by rummaging through the archives in search of some supposedly offsetting outrageous stunt? Why not respond to an indecent act on its own terms, and then—if there’s another indecency later—react to that too, and on its own terms? Instead, public life is reduced to a revenge drama. Each offense is condoned by reference to some previous offense by some undefined ‘them’ who supposedly once did something even worse, or anyway nearly as bad, at some point in the past.” However, he concludes, Limbaugh’s latest transgression “is so ‘piggish,’ to borrow a word from Peggy Noonan (see March 4, 2012), as to overwhelm the revenge drama.… It is the bottom of the barrel of shock talk. And the good news is that from the bottom of the barrel, there is nowhere to go but up.” [CNN, 3/5/2012]
HBO talk show host Bill Maher, a libertarian-liberal, posts a “tweet” on Twitter defending conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for his tirade against female law student Sandra Fluke (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, March 2, 2012, and March 5, 2012). Maher writes: “Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized (see March 3, 2012 and March 5, 2012), liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout” (see March 2, 2012 and After). Think Progress reporter Judd Legum notes that Maher has his own history of demeaning women, including using a crude sexual epithet to describe former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and calling Palin and Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) “bimbos” (see March 27-28, 2011). Maher has refused to apologize for his own rhetoric, saying, “I don’t have sponsors, I’m on HBO.” [Think Progress, 3/7/2012]
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds a fundraiser for ShePAC, a super PAC focused on helping Republican women win elections. She holds a private briefing for Republican women serving in Congress and a larger briefing for PAC members, and gives a speech to a general reception. General attendance at the reception costs $1,000 a plate and up. In an email, ShePAC writes: “Though the population of the United states is 51 percent female, Republican women hold only 5.5 percent of our Congressional seats. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is joining our efforts to change that percentage by helping us support Republican women.” The organization began operations in February, and garnered national attention by attacking comedian Bill Maher, who publicly donated $1 million to the super PAC supporting President Obama. Rice recently appeared at a retreat for presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) in Park City, Utah. The retreat was attended by, among others, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Governor Bobby Jindal (R-LA), and former Governor Jeb Bush (R-FL). [CNN, 6/25/2012; The Hill, 6/25/2012]
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