Bill Maher was correct to host Milo Yiannopoulos on his show. Jeremy Scahill, who dropped out of the show after learning of Milo’s appearance, remarked that Maher had given Milo a platform from which to “legitimize his hateful agenda.” First, exposure does not equal legitimation, and second, Yiannopoulos already has a platform: the internet (sans Twitter, of course). By hosting Yiannopoulos on his show and exposing him to an audience that will, undoubtedly, largely disagree with him, Maher can be seen as doing a service, in mounting an opposition against him.
At any rate, capitulation is not the answer. It is precisely because Yiannopoulos’ inflammatory rhetoric is so misguided and yet for many so convincing that it is all the more important to face him. It is not enough to brand everything Yiannopuolos says lying and propagandistic while shutting him out. We must prove that he is wrong to ultimately destroy his movement – and we cannot do that if we ignore him. It is as Christopher Hitchens argued: “freedom of expression must include the right to offend.” No doubt, Yiannopoulos offends many, but we must combat him through more speech, not enforced silence.
I cannot entirely defend Bill, though; namely, I have issues with how he actually conducted the interview. First, speaking of Hitch, Bill compared Yiannopoulos to a “young, gay, alive Christopher Hitchens.” Had Hitch not donated his body to medical research, I would guess him to be thrashing violently in his grave. While both Yiannopoulos and Hitchens exhibit disdain for disagreeable audiences (in one memorable episode, Hitch flipped off Maher’s crowd, twice), to compare Hitchens’ erudition and elocution to Yiannopoulos’ incendiary bombast is absurd.
And Maher pussyfooted around Yiannopoulos. Why waste time with a series of Joan Rivers’ quotations? Why end the interview just as Yiannopoulos was addressing his controversial support of Trump? Why so many interruptions? I wanted Maher to debate the man on his many contemptible views. Instead, I witnessed an unusually placid host conduct a limp interview. Maher failed in execution, not concept.
What I especially wanted Maher to ask Milo was how serious he really is. Milo blurs the line between performative and genuine; to what degree is his inflammatory rhetoric authentic, and to what degree is it sardonically crafted to provoke the easily offended? His brazen takedowns of whiny college-age urchins may demonstrate a flair for showmanship, but the arguments themselves are facile, and intellectually unsatisfying. Yiannopoulos appears content to prey upon the easiest target – that aforementioned subsection of the left wing – while disregarding nuance. Really, though, how serious can a man be whose Twitter handle was ‘Nero’ and who insists humans have no effect on climate change, religions are all crazy save Catholicism, Black Lives Matter is a hate group, and homosexuals shouldn’t adopt children? I have a sneaking suspicion that Yiannopoulos knows much of what he says is bullshit, but he says it anyway to aggravate the bait-takers. Regardless, he has a right to say it – just as we have a right to respond.