Bill Maher and Me (with Comment from Steve)

As Scott wrote here, TV comedian Bill Maher decided to try to flip one Congressional district from the GOP to the Democrats this year. And, as Scott put it, of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, Maher chose our district–Minnesota’s Second–to try to unseat a Republican incumbent. That incumbent, of course, is our friend John Kline, who, before Maher’s money entered the picture, appeared to be cruising toward easy re-election.

Last week I got a phone call from a producer for the Bill Maher Show. Bill is coming to Minnesota on October 7, she told me, and intends to do a public event at an as-yet-unknown venue. (I assume the event will be in the Second District, perhaps on a college campus.) Bill will head up a panel that includes two conservatives, one old and one young, and two demographically-similar liberals. The producer told me that they have already lined up my old friend Ana Marie Cox as the senior liberal, and they very much wanted me to participate as the senior conservative. The event will not be televised live, but it will be filmed. The producer told me that Maher will use clips from the program on his television show and will post them on YouTube.

I had misgivings–the last thing I want to do is act as a foil for the likes of Bill Maher–but she argued persuasively that it would be helpful for me to take part, and that we conservatives would get an even break. I said I would think about it overnight and call her back in the morning.

I decided to participate in the event and do my best to support John’s candidacy, but on one condition: that I be given a copy of the video promptly after the event so that I, too, can post clips on Power Line and on YouTube. After all, if you have an hour or two of video to work with, and you want a 15 second clip that will make you look good or the other guy look dumb, you will surely find it. If I had a copy of the video, not only could I post useful footage, but I could also–to some degree–keep Maher honest. I also intended to promote the event and try to get Power Line readers and others to attend so that the crowd reaction would be balanced.

The next morning, I called the producer and conveyed that offer. It got a rather icy reaction. The producer said that giving me a copy of the video could be a problem; she would look into it and get back to me by the end of the day. The day came and went with no call from her, as did the day after. Finally, at 5:19 on Friday, I received this email:

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I found this episode revealing. Guys like Bill Maher are essentially bullies. They interact with conservatives for one purpose only: to make them look bad, and serve as foils for their leftism. The last thing they want is a real debate on a level playing field. The mere threat of being kept honest by not being the only possessor and editor of the video is enough to send them scurrying in a “different direction.”

Coincidentally, while this was going on I read (via an InstaPundit link) Megan McArdle’s Don’t Ever Appear On “The Daily Show.”

[H]ere’s a guide for people who do not share [The Daily Show’s] politics but are considering going on it anyway:

1. Don’t.

2. If you must, bring two tape recorders, a video camera and a witness. Announce at the beginning that you are going to record this and reserve the right to release the entire recording to the public. When they tell you that they will not do the interview under those conditions, prepare to leave. There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don’t want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool. …

4. Seriously, don’t go on “The Daily Show.” They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose. There is a reason that you have never seen a video clip of someone who “beat” Jon Stewart — or Bill O’Reilly, or any other host of a show that pits professional interviewers against ordinary subjects.

Based on my experience with Bill Maher, I would say that is good advice.

STEVE adds: Good for John for demanding a complete tape of the event. Too bad they didn’t accede: I wanted John to hammer Maher on why he campaigns for the very same people who are always the first to condemn as politically incorrect his own recent comments on Islam.  More to the point, what does Maher have to say about Minnesota’s “toleration” for radical Islamists in their midst?  Could have been an uncomfortable moment.

My one and only interaction with Maher’s show came a long time ago, when he was still on ABC, and was similar to John’s experience.  A producer called wondering whether I’d be willing to go on paired up with Julia Butterfly Hill, the goofy woman who spent two years living in a redwood tree in northern California to prevent it from being logged by its private owner.  It made her a big celebrity, of course.  Lifetime even made a TV movie about her.

What, the producer asked, would I say about her?  I erred and told the truth: “I think I’d point out that there are several hundred highly trained wildlife biologists camped out in the trees of the central American rainforest right now, trying to catalogue species and figure out ways of protecting truly endangered species and habitat, rather than redwoods that are not in any peril.  But for some reason, no one ever invites them on TV talk shows, or makes gauzy feature films about them.”

After a long pause, the producer said: “We’ll get back to you.”

I never heard another thing.  Clearly I was going to embarrass them by not conforming to a particular stereotype they wanted for their “show.”  Clearly I made a mistake.  I should have mumbled some pablum, and then gone on the show and smacked them around for their superficiality.

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