March 24, 2023

MAHERED REPUTATION: Why the washed-up former liberal won’t help CNN

MAHERED REPUTATION: Why the washed-up former liberal won’t help CNN

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On Monday CNN announced that it will broadcast the Overtime segments of Bill Maher’s Real Time on Friday nights.

This is CNN’s first serious effort to bring in the “news entertainment” talent that network chief Chris Licht has been seeking since taking over. Here’s why the effort will fail.

To begin with, let’s face it: Maher just isn’t what he used to be.

He may still have the ability to deliver a good line every once in a while, but he undoubtedly lacks the fire he once had and his jokes have become largely predictable.

I hadn’t watched RT for a long time before suffering through a couple episodes to write this article, yet he was still doing the same canned act with the old, familiar set-ups (“And the other is Marjorie Taylor Greene!” Drum-roll, please!).

I was able to recite what he would say to my wife before he even said it.

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Freedom Fighter Bari Weiss inadvertently made clear how predictable Maher has become in the last episode when she told him that she was able to get ChatGPT to deliver a monologue very similar to what he would say.

She was trying to demonstrate how impressive the AI is, but the truth is it’s more about how dull and uninspiring Maher has become.

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But this is only part of what’s wrong with the old pot afficionado and why he won’t attract a large audience for CNN.

The bigger problem is that he’s an out-of-touch sell-out who has managed to both fail to attract a conservative audience and alienate liberals at the same time.

Now, I’ll lay down a sawbuck that, if shown this criticism, Maher will say I’m just part of the “woke” crowd that promotes “cancel culture.”

But I’m not suggesting that Maher be canceled; just that he’s boring and insignificant.

And not because his views differ than mine – we actually agree on some important issues: I too think that we have a poor educational system in this country and that too much money is wasted on college.

I don’t disagree that Democrats are bad at messaging or that we, as a society, have become too obsessed with our phones.

And he and I share a concern about climate change and worry about American gun culture.

And he’s still no fan of Donald Trump, which is certainly good.

But the bad outweighs the good at this point, and most of it centers around how Maher has made himself a tool of right-wing messaging.

Watching Real Time, you get the impression that the biggest threat to America is Twitter mobs who want to cancel everybody.

Somehow Maher doesn’t see the irony of saying on one hand that we shouldn’t be telling people what to say, then about five minutes later saying that we shouldn’t discuss racism in our schools, should avoid transgender issues, and shouldn’t be critical of people like him. In other words: telling us what to say.

Though he’ll poke fun at Republicans for being anti-fact, Maher will often engage in the counterfactual himself.

He’s promoted lies about GMOs and vaccines and misled his audience about government programs.

The story of Nina Jankowicz is a great example: She was appointed the Director of the Disinformation Governance Board at the DHS.

The board was created to stop disinformation from spreading during emergencies. Maher, believing bullshit from Fox “News,” led his audience into believing that Jankowicz wanted to be able to edit people’s tweets, even though she never said that and had no involvement with Twitter whatsoever.

Yet Jankowicz was forced to step down because of this lie.

“Don’t sit there in your white coat and tell me ‘Just do what we say,’” he said about Dr. Anthony Fauci a year ago, joining the right-wing chorus that has scapegoated the former director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Yet Maher has had no issue with promoting quack cures, whacko doctors, and dubious, anti-medical establishment critics, like Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

If you want us to trust you, Bill, maybe put a little more stock in the scientific method than in your gut.

Maher’s interviews, too, leave much to be desired.

He was never a great interviewer, and he’s only gotten worse. He’s made the mistake of having disreputable people on his show like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, and Bill Barr, claiming that it helps build a constructive dialogue.

It’s bullshit, of course: there’s no constructive dialogue and Maher rarely confronts his guests in any meaningful way.

To him, they’re “brave” for coming on his show.

He can’t seem to differentiate between good people he might have ideological differences with, and just plain bad people.

He acted like old buddies with Bill Barr and largely agreed with him about the danger posed by the supposed “woke mob,” telling the former attorney general, “[A] lot of what started out as woke-ism has turned into a kind of ugly authoritarianism…”

He then let Barr conflate Biden’s views with this supposedly authoritarian crowd, and allowed him to comfortably dodge any questions about the actual authoritarian he used to work for, Donald Trump.

He even told Barr that he’s one of the good Republicans, essentially, like Liz Cheney.

Ah, what? Bill Barr is good now?

It’s not just the liars and nutcases Maher gives a stage to, even; it’s also the inordinate amount of time he spends promoting GOP narratives.

Following the stylings of many a Fox host, he cherry-picks examples and tries to make it seem – or is really stupid enough to believe, perhaps – that those anecdotal incidents in a country of some 330 million represent a trend.

This way of thinking has apparently led Maher to feel that there’s more to worry about from Twitter critics than from Trump or DeSantis, who have literally openly advocated for governmental purges.

Trump is the biggest enemy of free speech in the country, suing reporters and media organizations he doesn’t like and threatening others.

Yet Biden is somehow just as bad? Really, Bill?

No wonder Maher cannot attract conservatives and has been abandoned by most liberals: he has no core and very little sense left.

People just don’t want to show up for him, which is why (it seems to me) he has to plant people in the audience (it’s become kind of obvious, Bill – maybe tell them not to whoop so much for guests like Barr).

Maher’s numbers truly aren’t very impressive, which makes Licht’s move even more of a head-scratcher.

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According to recent TV ratings, the Real Time host gets about 800,000 viewers for new episodes.

Shmucker Carlson, for comparison, gets approximately 2.75 million, and The Five on Fox gets over 3 million.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes gets around 1.4 million.

So who is Licht attracting with this move? Conservatives? Are they going to flock to Maher? Well, maybe he has a better shot with them at this point.

Follow Ross on Twitter by clicking on @RossRosenfeld. Unlike Bill Maher and Bari Weiss, he can take your criticisms.

Ross Rosenfeld

is a news analysis and opinion writer whose work has also appeared in the New York Daily News and Newsweek. He lives in New York.

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