Milo, Maher, and Muck

I have never watched Bill Maher’s show in my life. I’ve seen clips of it, and of him guesting on other people’s shows, and there’s been little there to attract my interest. He seems a clever man—clever enough to make a living in a difficult way—but every single thing I’ve ever heard from him, or attributed to him, about things I know about (namely, religion and philosophy) have struck me as no better than I’d expect from a smart-aleck college sophomore (let the reader understand), rather than an adult who purports to be a serious contributor to public conversation.

David Frum, on the other hand, is indeed a serious contributor to public conversation. So when David (we’ve met a couple of times and corresponded over the years) tweeted the clip below as a sort of guilty pleasure, I was intrigued. Why in the world would David Frum take time to watch Bill Maher interviewing, of all people, Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right journalist? Perhaps just a guilty pleasure…

Still, what happened, surprisingly, is that Mr Yiannopoulos, also a clever man with some repellent ideas and a preposterous persona, somehow manages to look like the voice of calm reason. How? By asserting ideas and data and expecting his fellow panelists to respond with their own ideas and data. Yet what transpired to make him look relatively sane?

Two of the three other panelists took him on. (The third kept smilingly dodging the issues, and was mostly a non-factor.) One panelist was Larry Wilmore, identified as a “producer/comedian/writer” and best known for appearing regularly on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” before briefly hosting his own program. The other was not identified in the clip, but described himself as an “old spy” with a book to plug.

In the few minutes of this clip, so much that is wrong in our public discourse today was exposed to the harsh light of a TV studio. Five adults, all nicely attired (although I do think Mr Yiannopolous might have overdone the pearls slightly), are conducting a conversation about grown-up matters. They clearly have different views and they feel strongly about them.

Mr Yiannopolous, as opposed to the other guests, makes his living largely as a provocateur. He can be expected to outrage. Yet in the clip, at least, he makes a series of points in a relatively calm and measured way. And how is he treated by these other two?

First, with strong opposing statements.

Then, with sarcasm and ad hominem remarks.

And when those seem not immediately to win the day and reduce their foe to tears? They f-bomb him.

Less than three minutes elapse between Mr Wilmore’s first rejoinder and his sputtering filth. Three minutes is all that Mr Wilmore will grant for reasonable discussion, however highly charged, before he reaches for the last resort of every drunk in every bar quarrel.

His colleague does little better, flinging a similar slur moments later.

Mr Yiannopoulos made the news just a little while ago as his invited talk at the University of California—Berkeley was cancelled as violent anarchists hijacked a protest of his speech. Yes, Berkeley: Home of the Free Speech Movement of yesteryear.

It is not just the political right who are shouting down their opponents. Nor is it just campus kiddies who are behaving like furious little snowflakes. It is people of every stripe and every age nowadays who make clear that they will not countenance views they dislike…for more than three minutes.

Donald Trump is not the primary problem here, although he has exacerbated it gravely. He is merely the most successful recent exploiter of it. We are the problem: every time we shut down dissent, every time we try to legislate the righteousness we prefer, every time we boo instead of listen and threaten instead of rebut.

The problem is not on the left or the right. The problem, as Christian theology has been saying for quite some time now, is in the human heart.

And, as Christian theology has been saying for equally as long, we need to rediscover and stoutly practice some rugged, old-fashioned virtues, such as humility, forbearance, respect, forgiveness, and love, or we will not survive the social disintegration that is everywhere at hand.

36 Responses to “Milo, Maher, and Muck”

  1. WoundedEgo

    Maher is a brilliant and gracious man (not to mention funny) who does more to educate and motivate the public than ABC and CNN together. He, Jon Stewart, Colbert, TYT, Robert Reich, and a many other amazing journalists, etc. are national treasures. But yes, sometimes the guests talk over each other.

    • Steve Wilkinson

      Actually, I was thinking John was being charitable to Maher.

      Like John, I don’t follow the program. But, similarly, whenever he’s addressing some topic I know anything about (and I run across a clip of it), he’s not just wrong, but mocking the opposition for not agreeing with his wrongness.

      His popularity rests on the ignorance of his audience, IMO. (Or, I’m just catching all the instances of his idiocy, somehow.)

      And, I suppose that leads to why I don’t watch him, or The View, or Jerry Springer, or most of the MSM anymore. Aside from rapid decay of brain cells, I’d actually be getting misinformed.

  2. JaredK

    I don’t agree with cursing in a debate, but the stone was cast moments before where Milo said “you need to start inviting higher IQ guests or this is going to be a disaster.”

    I found it refreshing not to gloss over the ad-homenims and bring it to the forefront for what the discussion really was, a bunch of insults thrown at each other where neither side respected each other.

    But ultimately, you’re right that we need more respect for each other or we won’t become a better society.

  3. Spencer Capier

    I don’t think you have this one right. Yiannopolous says some pretty hateful things about transgendered people. We can argue about what transgendered is really but to accuse them of sex offences above the regular population is a dangerous claim. Hey, Catholic priests in Australia are in the running by this metric. Yiannopolous is responsible for some pretty hateful comments and he’s pretty messed up. This may not show up on this show (Maher is what you say) and Wilmore loses it, but Milo is a shit disturber and not worth the time.

    • John

      Do you want to have another go at this, Spence? I have no idea what you’re trying to say here.

      • Spencer Capier

        Sure, sorry if I’m incoherent. Yiannopolous is a troll and Wilmore is out of patience with trolls that are in large part responsible for a Trump win. I don’t agree with Wilmore’s resort to profanity but I can understand it. Why give airtime to people like this? I bet David From reads the Tablet: “Simultaneously vacuous and sinister, equal parts nihilist and narcissist, Yiannopoulos is the model Trump advocate. And as Trump comes under increasing scrutiny, Yiannopoulos, who writes for, has gone to great lengths defending the worst elements of his campaign”

        • John

          Thanks for the clarification. It’s not the use of profanity I object to in this, Spencer. Sometimes an Anglo-Saxon term can be “le mot juste.” It’s the (quick) resort to “label and dismiss,” the verbal violence of “I’m done with you and I wish you the worst sort of ill as I withdraw.” If Wilmore doesn’t want to engage Yiannopoulos, then he shouldn’t have gone on the show. If he is on the show, then he should behave himself properly, and f-bombing someone out of (understandable) exasperation is exactly what we DON’T need more of nowadays. (I’ve been on lots of radio and TV shows in which I felt equally exasperated, but I cannot see granting myself license–even on a show like Maher’s–to simply despair of reasonable discourse and allow myself the awful satisfaction of telling someone, effectively, to drop dead.)

          • WoundedEgo

            It takes experience with trolls like Milo not to fall into their trap and become exasperated. The subtle suggestion of this discussion is that “Libtards are idiots”. But this event was cherry picked. Stick with Maher and you’ll definitely learn stuff. He himself is frequently disappointed with the manners of his guests but it isn’t Maher’s practice to shout down his guests like you see on Faux News (Hannity, O’Really, etc.) where they won’t let their guests speak because they are required by the boss to make sure the “investigative reporting” always goes one way – the way the owners want.

            • gc

              Maher is disappointed in his guests’ manners? He’s the one who created the f-bomb culture on his show. He’s practically the recognized founder of the f-bomb retort.

  4. Donnie Gossett

    It seems Mr. Stackhouse has TOTALLY missed the point. This clip is called “Overtime”. Just as in a sports match, this is additional time following an hour long show that also involved the participants. So Mr. Stackhouse’s claim that their patience only lasts for 3 minutes is completely wrong. Overtime did not start until the hour long show was complete so if we were going to identify a “time limit” on the patience of some of the participants it would need to be 63 minutes, not 3 minutes. The purpose of “Overtime” is to permit the panel to address questions sent in by viewers and then aired on youtube and via video clips, not as part of the show presented on the HBO network. This has been the format for the program now running 15 years. Milo had already made many outrageous statements to which the other guests objected by articulating their disagreement. As a faithful viewer to this program including the Overtime portion, this is the first time in 15 years I have witnessed such strong objection on the program. These objections would not be representative of what has taken place on Real time for the past 15 years.

    • John

      Hmm. What, indeed, IS the point, Brother Gossett? Is it that 63 minutes is enough time to justify what Wilmore did? We should engage in reasonable conversation for an hour, but after that, we can just explode?

      As for what happens on other shows, well, I’m not critiquing Maher’s show. So that cannot be the point.

      No, I’m focusing tightly on an instance in which two mature and experienced communicators allowed themselves the indulgence of blasting their interlocutor out of exasperation (however understandable) rather than persist in the tough, and yet much more productive, work of maintaining civil and issue-focused conversation. If they can’t keep it together for three minutes, or even sixty-three, then they should do something else, don’t you think?

      • Donnie Gossett

        Realtime with Bill Maher is NOT a pure news show or a pure discussion show. Rather it is blend of entertainment as Mr. Maher is a professional comedian whose comedy focuses on politics and social issues. Mr. Wilmore is also an entertainer who sometimes comments on political issues. Malcolm Nance ( is an intelligence expert formerly with Naval Intelligence and the NSA (as explained on the show) and Jack Kingston is a former 10-term congressman who is a frequent commentator on CNN. A well-known reporter named Jeremy Scahill was scheduled to be on the program but canceled to avoid being on the same panel as Mr. Yiannopolous, thus stirring some controversy this week. Your friend, David Frum, is also a frequent guest on Realtime. So the point is that a 63-minute discussion involves much more than a 3-minute discussion and that this show is intended to provide entertainment concerning news events. Using profanity in discussions is “normal” for Realtime and HBO and most guests on Realtime engage in it. I suspect that from your perspective, using profanity does not blend with civil discourse but to the viewers of Realtime — especially in contrast to other programs that blend politics and humor but are on public airwaves where profane language is not permitted, HBO provides the opportunity where profanity is not censored and can exist with intelligent dialogue and serious discussion. I doubt this is shocking or alienating to the regular viewers of Realtime. It seems like your perspective would be analogous to jumping into the last 5 minutes of the last episode of “Game of Thrones” with no prior knowledge of all that has happened and expecting to understand the series or make an observation that it is symptomatic of a greater problem.

          • John

            Still missing the point. Comedy, even shock comedy, is one thing. Witty repartee is another thing. But boiling over in frustrated refusal to seriously countenance another person’s arguments and striking out in stupid gutterspeak–Does anyone seriously imagine that Mr Wilmore is merely trying to be funny?–is the point. It doesn’t matter what came before–3 minutes or 63. It doesn’t matter if profanity is customary on the show. The clip speaks for itself–and one doesn’t need a great big “Game of Thrones” backstory. It’s obvious what’s going on, and what’s going on is ugly and not what we need more of. If you like the show, and you evidently do with a passion, that’s your business. But defending it by saying this kind of thing happens a lot on the show isn’t much of a defense….

            • WoundedEgo

              John, your point about degrading discourse is sound and on Realtime it is always disappointing when it goes amok. I think what we who have found real substance on the show are concerned about is any suggestion that the show does not provide substance because of the squabble in the clip. My concern is that people think they know Maher and his show simply from the clip and the very important well be poisoned. Maher, Stewart, Colbert, Meyers… I love them warts and all and think that without them it would be very dark indeed. This is a time of great crisis in this country and these guys and gals are helping many, many people get perspective. Spicer, Trump… all of them are constantly speaking dangerous lies and it isn’t the Churches that are going to set the record straight, nor is that the MSM’s strong suit. These clowns do the fact checking and serve it up with a laugh. Awesome.

            • Donnie Gossett

              The point I am seeking to make is that within your value system using profanity is “sputtering filth”. That is probably because of your background and the cultural context where your worldview originates. I am suggesting there is another cultural context, no less valid than yours but different where using “f-bombs” is accepted and not considered filth, where civility is judged on an issues loyalty to truth rather than considering certain words “filth” and other words as “acceptable”. I suggest that Realtime is targeted to a worldview that is unlikely to perceive “f-bombs” as distant from civility as you do. When you posted a link to a Realtime Overtime clip then you entered into this world which is so apparently foreign and alienating to you. Upon reading your initial post, I took your primary point was this clip was an example of how quickly some discussion is unravelling. But I doubt the millions of viewers who have a much informed context than you have, do not perceive the dialogue as unravelled, or at least, as unravelled as you perceive it to be.

            • Tim Callaway

              Really, John? For someone who starts out a blog with “I have never watched Bill Maher’s show in my life,” I find your dogmatism with those who watch it regularly quite curious at best, particularly in what some might construe – notwithstanding your description of Milo’s views as “repellent” – as supportive of a guy who given his rhetoric at CPAC apparently now has even Breitbart reconsidering their ties with him. I think you’ve made a very poor choice of someone to try and build your “let’s at all times have a calm, reasonable discussion” stance on. Methinks Jesus had some pretty strong language in response to the abhorrent spin of the Pharisees on the attendant matters of the day?

              • John

                Tim, I’m finding it hard to engage your several comments here because, to be frank, I don’t think you’re reading my post very well. And then you’re insulting me, repeatedly. So that is an unhappy combination that discourages me from taking you seriously. Still:

                I am not attacking Maher’s show; I am not quarrelling with just any use of profanity; I am certainly not defending Mr Yiannopoulos. Can we all get that much clear?

                I am saying (again) that in the clip Mr Yiannopoulos is not merely baiting his interlocutors but–given the quick-draw nature of the encounter, to be sure (which nature was not lost on me, pace Brother Gossett’s insistence that I don’t understand the genre)–actually raising debatable points in a debatable way. His opponents, alas, merely swat away his assertions and then resort to damning him. That is what I’m condemning. It is precisely our willingness to seriously engage those with whom we sharply disagree, and even find repellent, that is the measure of our commitment to civic discourse.

                And as for Jesus’ encounter with his enemies, yes, let’s look hard at what he does. What he doesn’t do, I think we’ll find, is merely curse them.

                • Tim Callaway

                  John, I read your post over several times precisely to be sure I was somewhat sure what you are saying before i posted anything at all. However, given your repeated insistence that you are both clear and right and that the rest of us are either entirely missing your point about the importance/necessity of respectful dialogue or insulting you, I’ll simply reassert that, IMHO, this was not one of your better efforts and leave it at that.

                • Tim Callaway

                  So, John, if you’re “finding it hard to engage your several comments here because, to be frank, I don’t think you’re reading my post very well…”, perhaps you’ll respond to this as an indication of who reads/hears/sees what “very well.” In your piece you state: “The other was not identified in the clip” when, in fact, at c. 4:00-4.05 in the clip, Malcolm Nance IS INDEED IDENTIFIED as a U.S. Counterterrorism Intelligence Officer. So is it possible, John, is it possible that perhaps other aspects of your post – albeit not so easily exposed – are suspect as well?

  5. gc

    Good post, thanks John. I recently watched the documentary Best of Enemies, featuring a series of debates between William F. Buckley, Jr. and Gore Vidal during the Republican and Democratic national conventions in 1968. It’s reminded me of just how far the intellectual quality of televised discourse has fallen since those days. No wonder Trump’s president when the only argument against him that seems to make it on TV is “eff off”.

      • gc

        I’m sure you’re right that this isn’t the norm for the show, but don’t you think the fact that Maher compares Milo (a bright but hollow “troll”) to Christopher Hitchens (master rhetorician and savant of political journalism) is somewhat revealing in terms of Maher’s own level of sophistication? If Milo is the new Hitchens — and Maher’s show is the new Firing Line — there truly is no hope for western civilization.

        • WoundedEgo

          If you think Maher lacks sophistication I don’t think you’ve watched his show enough. And for those who are concerned, f-bombs don’t indicate anything about knowledge. Maher is always the smartest guy in the room and will give an honest, informed and insightful analysis.

          Some prefer the “safe” coverage by the traditional pundits and Faux News but you’ll never hear much actual insight from them because they are controlled by corporations.

          • gc

            I hope you’re not suggesting I prefer partisan echo chambers like Bill O’Reilly’s show to Maher! My point is that there simply aren’t any shows like Buckley’s Firing Line anymore (at least on TV), and the trend would suggest that we’ll only keep moving further and further away from the high level of political discourse (in terms of both rhetorical skill and intellectual substance) reflected in the Buckley-Vidal debates. As far as I’m concerned, this is just the media aspect of a general cultural regression into “idiocracy,” reflected at the political level in the election of Trump. But you are right that there is some hope in alternative media. TYT (who I see you mentioned above) pretty much reflects the death of Reason, as far as I’m concerned, but there are others, such as David Pakman, who aren’t bad.

            • WoundedEgo

              Shows from yesteryear where older white guys academically chat about issues are not viable for most young people today, which is why they are not on the air. For the last 15 years Bill Maher has been educating and inspiring young voters to seize the day and pay attention to red skies at evening. And he’s popular with all ages. And those who catch fire on his shows then turn to others like Chomsky and Rose for a closer look.

              And talking about “A Closer Look”, a relative newcomer that I find also effective is Seth Meyers.

              Colbert doesn’t have the same edge that he had on the Colbert Report but is still a very useful voice.

              This generation doesn’t naturally gravitate to C-SPAN.

  6. Tim Callaway

    Not buying your dispassionate Canadian schtick on this one, John. Give a listen to Milo’s pro-pedophilia CPAC 2017 comments. Didn’t someone once suggest that there are certain perspectives/behaviors so abhorrent that it’s millstone time?

    • WoundedEgo

      I hope you know that millstone time is later because right now it’s a crime!

      Also, not just playing the devil’s advocate here… What do the Bible and Biology say is the godly age of consent? I personally think that 18 is too high.

      • Tim Callaway

        good question, WE … have often wondered what kind of ride news of The Blessed Virgin “young girl/woman’s” pregnancy would receive today from assorted Western pundits…

  7. Jeff

    Not a fan of Maher, although he’s had some good moments. Definitely NOT a fan of the mindless nonsense Wilmore spews out while hiding under the “But I’m just a comedian!” shtick. It was old and tired when Stewart and Colbert did it. But Wilmore wasn’t and isn’t funny.

    Anyhow, while I’m no fan of Milo I do feel you’re erring by labeling him as “alt-right”. Alt-right is Richard Spencer. Alt-right is Vox Day. Milo himself disavows the alt-right label and describes himself as an extreme libertarian.
    I mean, for pity’s sake, the guy has a black boyfriend. 😉


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