Comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO's panel show "Real Time," appeared in Thursday's New York Times, pleading for a cease-fire in the current culture wars over insensitivity: "Please Stop Apologizing."
It's quite a convenient argument for Maher, given that he's been under fire from conservatives lately for his vulgar and demeaning descriptions of Sarah Palin, delivered last year both on his HBO show and in his comedy act (and refused to apologize). Conservatives have argued there is a media double standard against conservative figures, noting that radio host Rush Limbaugh was excoriated for calling a Georgetown law student a "slut," but that Maher suffered no censure for his far more vile comments about Palin (you can read them in this Reality Check from Rich Noyes of the MRC).
What makes Maher's appearance in the Times galling is that the paper has yet to inform its own readers of Maher's previous comments, even though conservatives have spent weeks making them an issue. Not even a front-page Times story that included details of Maher's $1 million donation to a pro-Obama SuperPAC roused the Times to mentioning his attacks on Palin.
The only two mentions of the Maher-Palin controversy turned up by a nytimes.com search were in online columns from opinion writers, and Times academic blogger Stanley Fish actually defended the double standard. It goes without saying that the Times devoted saturation coverage to Limbaugh's comments about law student Sandra Fluke, for which he apologized.
Maher used Robert De Niro's joke about Michelle Obama at a presidential fundraiser (America is not “ready for a white first lady") as his springboard to argue against fake expressions of offense, and worked in a slam on Rush Limbaugh and his listeners as well. He did not mention Sarah Palin.
When did we get it in our heads that we have the right to never hear anything we don’t like? In the last year, we’ve been shocked and appalled by the unbelievable insensitivity of Nike shoes, the Fighting Sioux, Hank Williams Jr., Cee Lo Green, Ashton Kutcher, Tracy Morgan, Don Imus, Kirk Cameron, Gilbert Gottfried, the Super Bowl halftime show and the ESPN guys who used the wrong cliché for Jeremy Lin after everyone else used all the others. Who can keep up?
The answer to whenever another human being annoys you is not “make them go away forever.” We need to learn to coexist, and it’s actually pretty easy to do. For example, I find Rush Limbaugh obnoxious, but I’ve been able to coexist comfortably with him for 20 years by using this simple method: I never listen to his program. The only time I hear him is when I’m at a stoplight next to a pickup truck.