What Bill Maher doesn’t get about college students


Talk show host Bill Maher has a thorn in his side, and it’s college kids.

His statements last Friday on Real Time with Bill Maher seemed to ally himself with conservative commentator Ann Coulter in her recent efforts to speak at the University of California, Berkeley. But they also spoke to Maher’s broader annoyance with university students across the country.

“They invite someone to speak who’s not exactly what liberals want to hear, and they want to shutter it,” he complained to that evening’s guest, conservative commentator S.E. Cupp.

Though Maher does not himself proclaim to be politically liberal, it is noteworthy that his efforts to reach out to extremely conservative personalities such as Coulter largely separate him from other political talk show hosts who use their air time to promote mostly liberal views.

In February, Maher rose to some notoriety for hosting far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos on Real Time after the infamous far-right personality was prevented from speaking at Berkeley for his own safety, due to campus protests that turned physically destructive. And yet, Maher’s preference to attack students’ voices and favor lectures from Yiannopoulos and Coulter demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding on his part, of what free speech entails and the media’s responsibility to handle it productively.

It goes without saying that free speech is paramount to American democracy. But it is difficult to understand how that translates into Maher’s hosting a hateful person on his show and imploring college students to listen to prejudiced speakers on campus. And moreover, it is curious that for someone as adamant about free speech as Maher claims to be, he is also just as fixated on not speaking: specifically, the silence he demands from college students who may have something to say about the nature of certain speakers on their campus.

Of course, it is important to note that Yiannopoulos was prevented from speaking at Berkeley because protests made the environment physically unsafe — and destructive action should never be tolerated, no matter how reviled the subject of a protest. But for those students who protested peacefully, who exercised their free speech respectfully, it was offensive and obnoxious for Maher to render their voices useless by extending an invitation to Yiannopoulos to come on his show, in a quiet studio unreachable by dissenting opinion.

What Maher and critics like him — who all, incidentally, tend to be of his age — don’t seem to understand is that students have every right to speak as the adults they are protesting. Evidently, Maher does not seem to grasp the motivation of peaceful student protesters — that students speak out not just because they disagree with Yiannopoulos and Coulter but also because they are worried what will come of those who listen to them. Will someone agree? Will someone change their minds on previously held values? Will someone begin to believe them?

It’s where Maher’s statement about Yiannopoulos — that “nothing could serve the liberal cause better than having him exposed” — begins to crumble, because if everyone knows Yiannopoulos is an idiot, why then must the media take him seriously? American students are right to be worried: Give a man a microphone, and there will always be those who walk away swayed by him.

Most tellingly, if Maher purports that exposure alone will rip the rug from under Yiannopoulos’ feet and the feet of speakers like him, then it is incomprehensible why when Yiannopoulos made the statement about actress Leslie Jones: “I said that she looked like a dude, which she does.”

Maher then replied: “Right.”

Yiannopoulos has an ugly history of trolling Jones, harassing her so vehemently that he drove her from Twitter. But for Maher to utter even a single syllable that agreed with the vitriol of his bitter guest? It is this statement that most firmly draws back the curtain on Maher’s costume of free speech warrior, that proves he called Yiannopoulos onto his show not to challenge or prove him wrong, but instead to make a point in the most highfalutin, overhanded way.

Even if it meant giving this man a platform through which he could reach millions.

Yes, Yiannopoulos made a fool of himself on Maher’s show, but this is not a revelation — no matter how much Maher would like to pat himself on the back for it. Yiannopoulos is a known provocateur and bigot, and the media has given him enough attention in the span of his short-lived, vocal career. It is true that in the past few months, the American public has witnessed Yiannopoulos’ downfall (due to recent statements from him that seemed to condone pedophilia), but it had nothing to do with Maher.

If Maher must insist on putting spotlights on controversial people, he need only look to fellow talk show host Trevor Noah of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show for how to do it right: specifically, an episode where Noah grilled conservative Tomi Lahren, formerly of TheBlaze, on her extreme views against issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Lahren has, in the past month, stepped away from conservative pundit-dom for her pro-choice views on abortion — which resulted in her being fired from TheBlaze, leading her to promptly sue for wrongful termination. But that’s beside the point. What is the point is that her and Noah’s conversation on The Daily Show proves a shining example for how to handle controversial, conservative guests whose viewpoints may disagree with those of the majority of the show’s audience: engage them, challenge them and use words — not silence — to prove them wrong. That is the point of free speech, not to give the likes of Yiannopoulos a platform to talk unabated and then shush the people who take offense by his rhetoric.

Perhaps because he himself was once almost kept from speaking on the UC Berkeley campus, Maher seems to take a particular issue with that school, the same college where protests prevented Yiannopoulos from speaking and which now also shut out Coulter. On last Friday’s episode of Real Time, Maher condescended to his audience that “Berkeley, you know, used to be the cradle of free speech, and now it’s just the cradle for f-cking babies.”

Crybabies, snowflakes, whiners … where have students heard that one before?  Perhaps most gravely of all, Maher’s criticism reflects the pushback many students felt in the days after Trump’s election, when white and conservative voters told them not to overreact to the prospect of a Trump presidency.

But the fact remains: Only a very specific demographic of the population can point at the diverse, colorful, sprawling American student body and tell them they are exaggerating about today’s whirlwind political climate. And the very act of accusing someone of overreacting to current events is so rich in unrealized privilege that it makes Maher seem naive. His penchant for jumping so quickly to criticize America’s youth aligns itself exactly with the sensitivity and narrow-mindedness he claims to oppose in students.

Maher’s move to congratulate himself as a free speech, anti-political correctness advocate, when what he’s actually advocating for is student silence, is not something young people should easily forgive nor forget. Maher displays not a penchant for free speech but instead a deep and imbedded contempt for American youth and their rights to express themselves. It has always been so easy to make fun of young people and what they say and believe in, but from someone as acerbic as Maher — it is disheartening to see and not worth young people’s time to watch.

  • swazzyswess

    “American students are right to be worried: Give a man a microphone, and there will always be those who walk away swayed by him.”

    I’m as liberal as anyone and can’t stand Coulter, but this argument is disturbing to me. You’re literally arguing people can’t be trusted to hear information and arrive at their own conclusions, and that they need others to filter out what information even reaches their ears.

    I’m not expecting a response from the author, but is your real concern that the “opposing” side will make a better argument than you, so might as well prevent them from ever having that chance?

  • Matthew Burke

    OMG. “But for those students who protested peacefully, who exercised their free speech respectfully, it was offensive and obnoxious for Maher to render their voices useless by extending an invitation to Yiannopoulos to come on his show, in a quiet studio unreachable by dissenting opinion.”

    Wow. At least people like the author are not headed for true positions of power. Otherwise, we’d be doomed for sure.

  • Mr. Hand

    No one is forcing any students to listen to people like Milo Yiannopoulos on campuses but a case could be made that various students groups, including at USC, attempt to force students not listen to him at an on campus event. This demonstrates that these groups have a far more demeaning perspective of college students these days than Maher does; they believe the students of today are so gullible, weak minded and lacking any discernment or basic intelligence that they must be protected by someone else from hearing certain free speech lest they end up believing and adhering to the message of that speech.

  • sgrice1

    Nobody is saying students cannot protest. The issue is that these protesting student are shutting down speakers who were invited to speak by other students who want to hear them.

    School administrators have both encouraged and allowed this to take place. And everybody knows that it is coming from only one side of the political aisle.

    • GlennB

      These events are being paid for by media manipulators. These are not innocent people trying to speak freely. His whole shtick is to start crap, it has nothing to do with expressing any intelligence. He is a click bait yellow journalism marder. You know this though.

      • sgrice1

        It doesn’t matter who pays for it, the fact is that speakers are invited by students and student organizations all the time. Shutting down one of these invited speakers because you don’t like their opinion is a violation of the first amendment (at least at a public university).

        “These are not innocent people trying to speak freely”

        Who exactly is the objective arbiter that decides if that is true or not?

        • Arafat

          Why, silly wabbit, the left gets to decide because (and you can find this out by asking them) they are all-knowing and we are know-nothings who are blessed to have the left guide us through life. {Sarc/off}

          What an arrogant, hypocritical and blind people the left is.

        • Thekatman

          Shutting down a contrary opinion is a violation of the 1st Amendment no matter the school private or public.

      • Arafat

        I don’t know this and I also don’t know what a marder is?

  • Luke Bauman

    The author of this article shows his hypocracy by making his hatred of Milo and Ann Coultet very obvious when he calls their speech hateful. I have listened to many of Milos speaches and find nothing hateful. And when Toni Lahren quotes people alinged with the BLM she is right in pointing out THEIR hatred – the BLM movement promotes violence and hate. The author seems to argue that Ann Coulter and Milo should not be allowed to speak because the students don’t agree with them yet they were asked to speak by student groups at the college. The author then goes to say the students should have a right to speak out against what Milo and Coulter think. Will guess what you’ve already have liberal speakers come and speak at your college. Where are the conservative voices? Some of your students want to have someone come and speak about their beliefs to speak out against the liberal guest speakers you’ve already had on campus. This article is a joke. These people may be right wing and maybe you don’t agree with them but they were invited by a student organization to come and speak they were given permission originally by the college to come and speak they should be allowed to speak. If you don’t like them that is fine if you want to protest them stand peacefully outside and protest them. But the threats of violence the throwing of objects the breaking of windows creating walls of bodies to block people from getting in or forcing your way in through security is not the way to handle this. Bill Maher Milo yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter are all exactly right and the writer of this article is a prime example of what is wrong with our society today especially amongst a large percentage of the younger generation.

  • ken brown

    Oh you poor ” Crybabies, snowflakes, whiners ” you have know idea what the real world is like and when you do go out into it you will long for your safe space.

  • Lunderful

    So any/all speech should be freely expressed in public settings as long as it isn’t “hateful”? Who makes that judgment? It looks like another ruse to stifle free speech. Only you could interpret Maher’s statements as an attempt to silence students. Your tortured and twisted reasoning is an embarrassment to your generation. That said, it is your right to express absurdities. Time for a safe space. Your triggers are killing me.

  • JT4SC

    Someone needs a safe space.

  • Thekatman

    What is happening at Kal is akin to fascism by the students, if in fact they are the ones causing the unsafe atmosphere that is killing free speech on that campus. However, Antifa is not s student movement though there may be student members in the rank and file, but it is organized and funded by anarchists. If you are aligned with this movement then you are a fascist, a hater of American values. Antifa is the modern day version of the KKK. If you have to wear masks and cover your face to hide our identity when exercising your actions then you are the enemy, the haters, the creeps of society.

    Shutting down Milo, Ann or others who have a different option of yours is what dictators do, not Americans.

    • satriale_1

      “Antifa is the modern day version of the KKK” You fundamentally misunderstand both of these groups. While I disagree with Antifa tactics and think there is a hypocritical element to their use of violence, it doesn’t do the conversation any good for you to conflate the two groups.

      • Thekatman

        Both groups are supported and funde by the Democrats.
        Both groups hide their faces behind a mask and numbers.
        Both groups are haters of any contrary position or mm perspective.

        Though I could agree with you, we both would be wrong, but then… I digress.

        • satriale_1

          “Both groups are supported and funde (sic) by the Democrats.”

          This is 100% false. The KKK had ties to the Democrats in both the 1800’s and 1900’s, but there is no credible evidence for your statement. The Anarchists (Antifa) are despised by both Democrats and Republicans, and the feelings are mutual. Anarchy has a rich intellectual lineage and has always been an anti-fascist philosophy (see the Spanish Civil War).

          Your statements are right out of the Breitbart and Infowars media stream. They consistently lie and warp partial facts to create propaganda. If you want to read independent and honest news I suggest that you check out Democracy Now!

          • Thekatman

            The KKK has been around since the days you mention, however, it is still around and Dixiecrats are still inbolved. Hillary Clinton’s mentor was Sen Robert Byrd, a grand wizard in his day.

            Antifa is not despised by the Dems as they promote and fund their activities. Yes, Antifa has been around a very long time, but mostly in Europe and have not raised their ugliness in the US until last year. They are anti-Trump. They are pro Democrat, and since the Dems have not made any officially statements about Antifa, they are guilty by association and silence. If in fact, the New American Socialist Party USA (Dems) do nto want to be affiliated with this terrible alt-left group, then they should be making public statements stating so. You hear nothing from Schumer, Pelosi, or even their lord and savior Barack Obama.

            Thanks for the tip on the Democracy Now pub. I’ll check it out as I’m open to other thoughts and positions…… but remain a conservatarian.

          • satriale_1

            Byrd has publicly apologized for his racist past and I don’t think we can fault Clinton (despite her numerous faults) for Byrd’s past anyways.

            Some Dems have come out to condemn the blac bloc violence.

            “Berkeley has a proud history of dissent and students were fully within their rights to protest peacefully. However, I am disappointed by the unacceptable acts of violence last night which were counterproductive and dangerous,”
            – Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland)

            But you are right to point the finger at Pelosi, who seems to have only said,
            “If there is an infiltration of the crowd by those that are less than peaceful, that should be addressed,”.
            It seems to me that that Dem constituents are getting fed up with Pelosi and she’ll be on her way out soon.

            All of this being said, your point about being guilty by association seems like a fallacy of logic (possibly, affirming the consequent). I also think it’s wrong to say that Anarchists are pro-Democrat, though I would cede that they prefer Democrats to Republicans.

            The Democratic party is certainly not the “New American Socialist Party”. Democratic market socialists, like myself, find the majority of Democrats nearly identical to Republicans on a large number of economic issues. It’s easy to make blanket assumptions about both parties (sure, I do it too), but they each have increasingly diverse views within the parties. It’s really a shame that we have to lump everyone into one of two parties.

            I recommended Democracy Now because even though I consider them to be a progressive news source, they seem to have a very diverse audience and I think there is a hunger for their reporting across the political spectrum.

            Cheers