How Bill Maher Is Enlisting Social to Unseat an Incumbent Member of Congress

By Adam Flomenbaum 

placeholder-episode-default-1024Television has been an integral part of the U.S. political process since September, 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon faced off in the first nationally televised presidential debate; social TV has become a major player since the 2008 presidential election.

Two weeks ago on HBO’s “Real Time,” Bill Maher announced a new initiative to shake up the relationship between social and politics. As we reported, Maher plans to flip a congressional district in the upcoming mid-term elections by periodically going to specific congressional districts, talking about that congressman, and seeing if “we can’t get some change effected in America.”

On the show, Maher solicited viewers to submit nominations via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram using hashtag #flipadistrict. Bill will ultimately choose the district to pursue, but it will be based on viewer response.

The experiment caught our eye, and Lost Remote recently talked to “Real Time” EP Scott Carter about how the show conceived the idea, and how #flipadistrict will be incorporated into upcoming episodes.

Lost Remote: How did you conceive of the idea to flip a district?

Scott Carter: Flip A District is the brainchild of ‘Real Time’ writer Adam Felber. Bill loves that it gives him the chance to do something new and fun while also having an impact on the actual political process.

LR: ‘Real Time’ has always been known to push the boundaries of political discourse. Are there concerns that Flip a District might go too far? 

Carter: The prime directive of Flip A District will be: first, do no harm. We aim to be a balm in Gilead, not a fly in the ointment. We think that our involvement will help to counter-balance the excesses arising from the Citizens United decision.

LR: Why give people the opportunity to vote on which district to flip versus Bill choosing the district himself? 

Carter: There are 435 districts. Most have incumbents running for re-election. We think our fans can help us narrow down the field of villains, hucksters and boobs. But, in the end, the choice will be Bill’s.

LR: After scanning the thousands of responses coming in with the #flipadistrict hashtag via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, how will you go about selecting the district Bill ultimately goes after?

Carter: We would love most to find someone comically incompetent and corrupt who represents a district that is ripe for the flipping.

LR: What have you learned from the #flipadistrict responses thus far? 

Carter: It used to be that people hated Congress but loved their Congressperson. Now, it seems, they hate their own representative just as much.

LR: When Bill begins his visits to the chosen district, how often will segments about his activity there be incorporated into the weekly shows? 

Carter: We don’t yet know how many times Bill will visit the district, but we will report on the race each week. We hope to also educate viewers on exactly how American politics works at the micro level, something that is often invisible to the national media.

LR: After the district is chosen, will there be any further social media integrations that will guide Bill’s activity? 

Carter: Probably. The process will likely suggest ways for viewers and voters to get involved. Isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be all about?