Journalist Jeremy Scahill, a frequent panelist on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” was booked to appear this Friday but canceled after he found out Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos would also be a guest. Yiannopoulos is known for his provocative stories with such headlines as “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.” He was also permanently banned from Twitter last year — a feat that takes some doing. Among his transgressions was targeting SNL comedian Leslie Jones, calling her “barely literate,” and rallying his hundreds of thousands of followers to direct racist, sexist missives to her. (She briefly quit Twitter over the abuse.)
Scahill, a founding editor of the Intercept, explained himself on Twitter. He took great pains to express his admiration for the producers and writers of the show. He even sang the praises — with a few big caveats — of host Maher. But he called Yiannopoulos’s appearance “many bridges too far.”
“He has ample venues to spew his hateful diatribes,” Scahill wrote. “Appearing on ‘Real Time’ will provide Yiannopoulos with a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign.”
Maher responded to Scahill’s criticism and doubled down on his decision to have the provocateur as a guest.
“Liberals will continue to lose elections as long as they follow the example of people like Mr. Scahill whose views veer into fantasy and away from bedrock liberal principles like equality of women, respect for minorities, separation of religion and state, and free speech,” Maher said in a statement, according to Entertainment Weekly. “If Mr. Yiannopoulos is indeed the monster Scahill claims — and he might be — nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed on Friday night.”
Maher also addressed Scahill’s criticism of his views on Islam. “My comments on Islam have never veered into vitriol,” Maher said.
Scahill isn’t the first person to take issue with the way Maher discusses Muslims. During one episode, Ben Affleck attacked the host and panelist Sam Harris for their “racist” comments about the religion. (Harris called Islam “the mother lode of bad ideas.”)
Maher, a champion of free speech, often builds his shows around guests with widely varying views to promote lively debate. Earlier this month, he hosted staunch Trump supporter Tomi Lahren alongside Republican strategist Rick Wilson and Missouri Democrat and Afghanistan veteran Jason Kander. Ann Coulter, another specialist in inflammatory rhetoric, has also been a frequent guest.
Yiannopoulos is no stranger to boycotts. Earlier this year he was scheduled to make an appearance at University of California, Berkeley, but violent protests broke out around the campus with demonstrators setting off fireworks and throwing bricks. University police ultimately canceled the event, which in turn prompted President Trump, in an early morning tweet, to threaten to pull the public university’s funding.
So far Yiannopoulos hasn’t weighed in on the controversy on Facebook — a social media account he’s still allowed to have.