The Somewhat False Equivalency of Bill Maher & Rush Limbaugh
Just as Rush Limbaugh has his many detractors, he has his many supporters, and almost in a chorus, those supporters have spent the last couple of days arguing that the other side says horrible things about women, too, but never seem to face this kind of tidal wave of public criticism.
Their case in chief: Bill Maher.
The argument is not entirely without merit. Maher is one of a class of political pundits whose various hang-ups about women frequently leak into their commentary. It’s not that hard to talk about the many flaws of Sarah Palin without employing the word “cunt.” Or to debate the merits of Michele Bachmann without calling her a “bimbo.” Maher’s never been able to make that leap. (Remember, this is the guy who opined back in 1993 that “though claiming to be feminists, don’t many women – when it suits them, when it’s convenient – retreat back to their pre-feminist role of manipulating men through helpless, deferential behavior?”) And while it’s incorrect to claim that Maher is never criticized for his more outrageous comments by the feminist movement in general, it’s accurate to say that high-profile Democratic and progressive women have been somewhat reluctant to call him on those statements.
At the end of the day, though, it’s comparing a rotten crab-apple to a rotund, mealy orange.
Rush Limbaugh is on hundreds of radio stations across the country and, thanks to the government, around the world, three hours a day, five days a week. Bill Maher has weekly one-hour show on a paid cable station for between 20 and 30 weeks a year.
Maher hasn’t been around as long as Rush, doesn’t have the cultural reach, and doesn’t hold himself up as the Grand Poohbah of an entire political movement – all of which makes him a much smaller target.
Just as a functional matter, his place on HBO, with no sponsors to contact and no recourse other than to cancel their service, limits that type of action the public can take to hold him to task for offensive comments (a fact Maher was quick to point out in his most recent episode of “Real Time.”)
It completely wrong to say that the “elite liberal media” has given Maher complete cover over the years. Keep in mind that the main reason Maher is on HBO is because of public pressure after comments he made on his ABC show, Politically Incorrect. On the September 17, 2001 broadcast, talking with Dinesh D’Souza, he said: “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not cowardly.”
Sponsors pulled their support and affiliates began dropping him. Maher went on an apology tour that allowed him regain his footing and stay on the air through the end of the season. ABC dropped him in 2002, ostensibly because low ratings, but more likely due to the controversy and subsequent difficulty in finding sponsors.
One of the people who spoke in Maher’s defense that fall was Rush Limbaugh. “In a way, he was right,” Limbaugh said on his show in response to a comment over how Maher was likely to be fired after the controversy. “To get canned over this – it’s strange. What is the title of the show? It’s called ‘Politically Incorrect.’”
Yesterday, Maher sort of repaid the favor, posting on Twitter: "Hate to defend #RushLimbaugh but he apologized, liberals looking bad not accepting. Also hate intimidation by sponsor pullout."
In fewer than 140 characters, Maher summed up the problem of on-air controversy and the solution: you can’t really “apologize” for basing a good part of your lucrative career on casually denigrating an entire gender, gender bashings is not so much a “liberal” issue as a “human” issue….and contacting sponsors to say this is not the type of attitude that should be rewarded or funded is pretty much all the general public can do voice their displeasure.