One of the consequences brought about by the 2016 election and the early days of the Trump administration is a kind of renewed thoughtfulness around the idea of television guest appearances: who is and isn’t making the rounds, who should and shouldn’t be. In just the past few days of an increasingly mindful process, MSNBC’s Morning Joe show, in a decision powered by host Mika Brzezinski, announced it would no longer White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. “I won’t do it because I don’t believe in fake news or information that is not true,” said Brzezinski. “And that is every time I’ve ever seen her on television, something is askew or off or incorrect.”
It went the other way as well this week, with a guest taking himself out of a show appearance because of another guest in the lineup. Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill, who was originally scheduled to appear on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher today, cancelled Wednesday when he found out Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was also going to be a guest.
The decision, as he explained it in a note shared on Twitter, had to do with a desire to sit out of an episode he viewed as normalizing Yiannopoulos. “Milo Yiannopoulos is many bridges too far,” he wrote, adding that “there is no value in ‘debating’ him. Appearing on ‘Real Time’ will provide Yiannopoulos with a large, important platform to openly advocate his racist, anti-immigrant campaign. It will be exploited by Yiannopoulos in an attempt to legitimize his hateful agenda.”
Bill Maher responded to Scahill’s comment, telling EW in a statement, “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. 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.”
In an appearance yesterday on SiriusXM’s Stand Up with Pete Dominick show, Scahill expanded on his statement, saying that he was concerned about the possibility of Yiannopoulos using his platform to publicly out people, pointing out that Yiannopoulos had done exactly that during a talk at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, when he showed a photo of a transgender student from the university and used the student as a punchline.
Scahill addressed the issue of how this does or doesn’t tie into the First Amendment, which concerns government-initiated attempts to regulate speech.
“To me this isn’t a First Amendment issue,” said Scahill. “There are limitations to free speech. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Real Time has every right to book that guy on the show. I think that tactically it’s stupid to do. But, it’s their right and Milo has the right to say his words, but he doesn’t have a right to be on Real Time. That’s the choice of that show whether they want to give him that platform. And his followers don’t seem to really have a firm grasp of the First Amendment or concepts of free speech. The First Amendment doesn’t say ‘Anyone who wants to go spew hate is allowed to go on Bill Maher’s show.’
Outside that issue, Scahill didn’t believe that the idea Maher expressed in his statement, of “exposing” Yiannopoulos, was workable. “On a tactical level, to willingly participate in any platform where a hateful ideologue and a charlatan like this guy is going to be able to sort of advocate his agenda of hatred. I’m not going to participate in that. Bill can do anything he wants. I see 500 ways that Milo wins that situation and not a single path to victory for Bill Maher.”
And for Scahill personally, “I don’t think you debate people advocating what I believe are fascist ideas.”