Less than a week ago, things were looking up for Milo Yiannopoulos. The Breitbart editor appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on Friday, increasing his reach considerably. And then news broke that he’d be speaking at CPAC. Suddenly an alt-right free speech activist on the fringe, who reveled in riling up liberals, was getting serious mainstream cred.
What a difference a few days make. Old videos resurfaced that featured Yiannopoulos condoning a hypothetical relationship between a 13-year-old who’s “sexually mature” and older men. The statements, even he later admitted, took a flip approach to pedophilia. Suddenly he was without his CPAC speaking gig, not to mention his book deal with Simon & Schuster. He also publicly resigned from Breitbart.
Maher has an interesting role in all of this. Before last week, Yiannopoulos wasn’t entirely unknown. After all, he had a book deal. But his appearance on Maher’s show — and the subsequent uproar — elevated his profile. So how does Maher feel about his role in Yiannopoulos’s public meltdown?
“As I say, sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said during an interview with the New York Times. “You’re welcome.”
In other words, Maher is taking credit for the turn of events. Not that this was his plan all along. He had no intention of turning Yiannopoulos into a pariah. That would be a little hypocritical.
“I’m somebody who, many times, people have tried to make go away,” he said. “They were successful that one time, for six months in 23 years, because that’s how long it was between the two shows.”
Maher used to host “Politically Incorrect,” first on Comedy Central, then on ABC. But in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, he stirred controversy when he agreed with his guest Dinesh D’Souza, who claimed the terrorists on the planes were “warriors.”
“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away,” Maher said at the time. “That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”
Advertisers pulled out and the show was subsequently canceled, and Maher moved to HBO to start “Real Time.”
Maher, a self-professed liberal, who other liberals see as a provocateur, makes a point of inviting guests who rankle the left, including Ann Coulter, Piers Morgan, Grover Norquist and Tomi Lahren. In the scheme of things, Maher clearly sees Yiannopoulos as relatively harmless.
“What I think people saw was an emotionally needy Ann Coulter wannabe, trying to make a buck off of the left’s propensity for outrage,” he said during the interview. He also compared his guest to “a bratty kid brother.” That would make liberals “his older teenager sisters who are having a sleepover and he puts a spider in their sleeping bag so he can watch them scream.”
Maher still stands by having Yiannopoulos on, not to mention the way he handled the segment, despite some liberal viewers claiming the host handled his panelist with kid gloves.
“It’s not my job to hold him accountable to everything he’s ever said or done,” Maher said. “We just had time to, sort of, start a discussion of the broad view of who he is. I don’t think he frankly knows what he’s going to say half the time, or knows what his philosophy is.”
Maher didn’t just take credit for taking down Yiannopoulos — not to mention discovering Arianna Huffington — he also singled himself out as the only person on television doing what he does.
“I think everybody else in TV — everybody else who does political commentary in a comedic way — they’re all in one box,” he said. “It’s so predictable, what they’re going to do, which is, never say anything that would make anything — that would make any liberal give the slightest bit of discomfort … I’m glad that we have enough credibility with both sides, that people who are Trump supporters will still do the show.”
Of course, “The Daily Show” beat Maher to the punch on booking Trump supporter Lahren.