The Democrats’ Bill Maher Problem

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on March 18, 2012 – 11:42 AM

On February 23, comedian Bill Maher announced that he was giving a one million dollar donation to President Obama’s Super PAC.

Conservatives immediately cried foul, pointing to Maher’s history of making incendiary – and often misogynistic – comments on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher and during his stand-up act.

Among other comments, Maher has referred to Sarah Palin as a “cunt,” called Michele Bachmann a “dumb twat,” and asked whether the real name of Bristol Palin’s book should be retitled, “Whoops, There’s a Dick in Me.”

ShePAC, a political action committee that supports conservative women running for office, compiled a few of his more incendiary comments:

Six days after Maher gave his gift, conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh created an even bigger stir when he attacked Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke by labeling her a “slut.”

As liberals protested Limbaugh’s ugly comments, conservatives asked why the left wasn’t similarly outraged that President Obama’s fundraisers accepted a check from Maher, whose comments also disparaged women.

Bill Burton, the head of Obama’s Priorities USA Action SuperPAC, tried to explain why Mahers’ comments were different:

“The notion that there is an equivalence between what a comedian has said over the course of his career and what the de facto leader of the Republican Party said to sexually degrade a woman who led in a political debate of our time, is crazy.”


David Axelrod, President Obama’s campaign senior strategist, took the same approach:

“Words Maher has used in his stand up act are a little bit different than — not excusable in any way — but different than a guy with 23 million radio listeners using his broadcast platform to malign a young woman for speaking her mind in the most inappropriate, grotesque ways."


Both men are trying to dismiss Mahers’ comments as somehow different than Limbaugh’s. And I agree with their assertions that comedians should have more license to push the rhetorical envelope than others in public life, and that Limbaugh’s vicious, days-long attack on Ms. Fluke was more egregious than name calling by a comedian. But the standards of politics, not stand-up comedy, started to apply the moment the President’s SuperPAC accepted Maher’s high-profile, seven-figure gift. 

By accepting Maher’s donation, top Obama officials are now forced to spend valuable time parsing the differences between the appropriate and inappropriate uses of misogynistic language, having to explain to voters why calling Sarah Palin a “c*nt” is different than calling Sandra Fluke a “slut.” As a result, the Obama Administration – and more broadly, the Democratic Party – is ceding the moral high ground it temporarily claimed after Limbaugh made his incendiary comments.

It’s fair to ask whether President Obama’s SuperPAC should have accepted the gift from one of the left’s biggest lightning rods in the first place. But Obama’s fundraising arm also got a bit unlucky. It accepted Maher’s gift before Limbaugh made his comments, and it’s easy to imagine they would have rejected the gift in the wake of the Limbaugh scandal. 

Now they face a critical choice: return the gift and reoccupy the high ground, or keep the gift and continue to endure charges of acting hypocritically. They should return the gift and take the issue off the table.

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Comments (78)

  1. By The Democrats’ Bill Maher Problem | Hotspyer – Breaking News from around the web:

    […] Brad Phillips: “By accepting Maher’s donation, top Obama officials are now forced to spend valuable time parsing the differences between the appropriate and inappropriate uses of misogynistic language, having to explain to voters why calling Sarah Palin a ‘c*nt’ is different than calling Sandra Fluke a ‘slut.’ As a result, the Obama Administration – and more broadly, the Democratic Party – is ceding the moral high ground it temporarily claimed after Limbaugh made his incendiary comments.” […]

  2. By Calvin Dodge:

    So if Rush referred to himself as a “comedian” (many Lefties dismiss him as an “entertainer”) then he could use the sorts of words Bill Maher does?

  3. By Brad Phillips:


    That’s a very fair question, and it points out precisely why this is such murky ground for President Obama’s SuperPAC. No exterior commission grants licenses declaring who is and isn’t a “comedian” – that role is decided by the entertainers themselves and their audiences.

    When a comic who uses ugly words suddenly decides to play a more serious role in the public square, their earlier words might create an unhelpful distraction for the candidate(s) they support. Whether that should be the case or not is for other people to decide. But in today’s political culture, it’s not hard to predict that the 24/7 news media will run with these stories, often for days or weeks.

    Thanks for reading,

  4. By James McDonald:

    What a spurious comparison.

    Palin took a holier-than-thou position as part of her effort to impose her values on other people.

    Fluke on the other hand was petitioning Congress not to have other people impose their values on other women she knew.

    You might as well say that George Carlin and the KKK both described others with vulgar language, so how could you condemn one without condemning the other.

  5. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi James,

    Regardless of whether or not the comparison is spurious, the heads of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and his SuperPAC have both been forced to respond to the content of Mahers’ jokes as a result of accepting his donation. So while you might find the analogy unfair, it has nevertheless become a very real (and somewhat predictable) distraction for the campaign.

    As for your comment about Sarah Palin, I hope you’re not arguing that her “holier-than-thou” position entitled others to call her a “c*nt?” Did it entitle others, including Maher, to debate, criticize, and joke about her? Sure. But even the National Organization of Women criticized his use of misogynistic language.

    Thanks for reading,

  6. By Joplin:

    So if we could find a conservative *comedian* who would be willing to use those words, it’d be okay to call Michelle Obama a c*nt, and refer to her daughters as knocked up by famous athletes, right? Right?

  7. By Joplin:

    James McDonald, it wasn’t a congressional hearing. It was staged by the dems.

  8. By Alex David:

    “They should return the gift and take the issue off the table”.

    Silly Rabbit!

    Welcome to the dems god of “moral relativism”.

  9. By June:

    The democrats have no leg to stand on whatsoever. Allowing them the false premise that Rush is the de facto head of the republican party is absurd. If that was the case….I can assure you that McCain would NEVER have won the nomination in 2008. Why don’t you think for yourself instead of swallowing their bullshit premise.

    There is absolutely NO difference whatsoever between Maher & Rush. They are both political pundit talking heads. Rush’s medium is radio & Maher’s is TV. That’s it.

  10. By Hening:

    Limbaugh stated that he lowered himself for a day to the level where the American Left lives all the time. That ended the debate. Please, keep the 1M…..

  11. By Andy:

    What a cop out. He’s a comedian so it’s different? The reason why Rush apologized is because he realized he was acting like the left in poking fun of Fluk. And yes, he was making fun of her. He never called her a whore. He asked his audience what you would call a woman who demands to be paid for sex. He never called her a cunt like the left has no problem doing. The whole issue is made up to buy Obama votes. Are women really stupid enough to fall for this? Do women now want the government making the choice of whether or not they get birth control? Isn’t that what Fluk is arguing for? If I’m paying for it doesn’t that give me control over her body? What is this world coming to that some people are so irresponsible as to give up control of their body for a freebie?

  12. By Frank DiSalle:

    Misogyny in pursuit of liberal goals is no vice; misogyny in pursuit of conservative goals is no virtue.
    That is the issue here …
    You may substitute any moral defect, sin, crime, or personal shortcoming for “misogyny” , and the formula will still work.
    Because the Media allows it …
    Even you, Mr Phillips, think that this should “go away” by asking Bill Maher to take his million dollars back …
    If you hammer a screw into a beautiful coffee table, you don’t “undo the damage” by removing the screw and apologizing. You have to REPAIR THE TABLE !!

  13. By Forgetful Man:

    If I was an advisor, I’d ask what we could do to change the narrative and appeal to the uncommitted voter. I might suggest that we’d make our money back by taking a position that seeme ethically “obvious” to the uncommitted.

    The head of the PAC should call his senior team together with their spouses and key women’s advocacy groups that support Obama. Quickly. Talk it through. Take their advice and reference them. The general points then become: We listened to public concerns. Then we asked ourselves, our spouses, and women leaders we respect and trust. Together we agreed to do X.

    I suggest that would display a host of positive attributes that could be used to change the narrative and appeal to uncommitted voters.

  14. By vietvet68:

    Demorats are allowed to say whatever they want with immunity.

  15. By pjean:

    There is no gray area in civility. One is either civil or they are not. Doesn’t matter what your profession is or who you are speaking about. Wrong is wrong is wrong.

    Until we figure that out in this country and live in truth and intellectual honesty, we will not restore this country and teach our children right from wrong.

  16. By Brad Phillips:

    pjean –

    I agree with you, and I don’t believe that a comedian who calls women politicians “c*nts” and “twats” is acting with the civility he should.

    The fact that this blog’s comments section is lighting up over this story is a sign that Bill Mahers’ donation has given the right an opportunity to counter-attack on the Rush Limbaugh story. So the question for Bill Burton is this: was that worth one million dollars?

    In response to Frank, I’d argue that in this case, returning the gift would make the story go away. The political media are bored with the primary season (the end result seems clear, even if the delegate count makes the remaining contests somewhat interesting), so they’re focusing on the Maher story this week. But these stories tend to have a short half-life, and getting it off the table is smart politics.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment,

  17. By tinkerthinker:

    Oh well, you could have said all of that in one sentence…..the left are hypocrites.

  18. By Russell:

    Think about it folks. Limbaugh realized he had made less than gentlemanly comments about Fluke. He apologized without being asked. Bill Maher, on the other hand, finds humor in misogynistic remarks, like televised hip-hop. There is no comparison at all. Thus the vast difference in audiences.

  19. By Brad Phillips:


    You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Mr. Limbaugh made sustained attacks over three days against Ms. Fluke, and apologized only after advertisers started fleeing his program.

    To recap, Mr. Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke, a 30-year-old woman, a “slut” and a “prostitute” on the first day.

    The next day, he doubled down on his remarks, saying that Fluke is “having so much sex, it’s amazing she can still walk,” and continued by saying: “If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

    He continued his attack on the third day, saying: “She’s having sex so frequently that she can’t afford all the birth-control pills that she needs. That’s what she’s saying…Well, did you ever think about maybe backing off the amount of sex that you have?”

    You’re entitled to enjoy Mr. Limbaugh’s program. But to suggest he apologized without being asked ignores, well, the facts.

  20. By Brian:

    James McDonald,

    Actually, Fluke is engaged in a political campaign to impose her values on other people. Or at least one value, sex. No one cares that she has sex, and no one is stopping her from obtaining contraception. But Fluke picks out an institution that objects to contraception, the Catholic church, and lobbies for the government to compel that institution to pay for her contraception.

    That’s a twisted authoritarian impulse on her part, which is intrinsic to the political Left.

    The Left – in this instance Fluke and her backers – are the aggressors in the culture wars. Religious institutions are not interfering with Fluke. They just want to be left alone.

  21. By Wake up america:

    So if we all put clown noses on we can call women what ever we want? Dems always play by a different game. Namely, hypocrisy!

  22. By bflat879:

    I don’t know how you believe Obama has a problem. Hypocrisy has never been a problem for Democrats. Bill Clinton sexually harrassed an intern in the White House and the political party that wrote the law and said executives had undo power over employees and should be prosecuted for doing the same thing, gave him a pass. It’s only a problem is you’re actually questioned about it and then the follow-up questions keep coming and coming and coming, like they do with Conservatives.

  23. By Brad Phillips:

    bflat –

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that hypocrisy in Washington knows no party lines.

    Consider Republicans such as Mark Foley, Larry Craig, Jon Ensign, David Vitter, and Ted Haggard; or Democrats such as Gary Hart, Jon Edwards, Anthony Weiner, and Jesse Jackson. As I say, hypocrisy isn’t a Democratic or Republican thing, just a human thing.

    As for your assertion that the press won’t cover Democratic scandals, that doesn’t seem quite right. I was working at ABC News during the Lewinsky scandal, and we covered the story – ad naseum – every day for more than nine months. And last year’s Weiner scandal? That also got round-the-clock coverage on all of the cable nets.

    Best wishes,

  24. By lauraD:

    Mr. Phillips, you failed to mention that Bill Maher used the line about Sarah Palin in his act – he has admitted that he used the line many, many times because it got laughs. You also skim over the many nasty comments he has made about Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol. So, you can go on and on about Rush’s comments about one person who thrust herself into the public spotlight to tell the world the Catholic Church should go against it’s morals and pay for birth control, or you can have an honest assessment of the true nature of Bill Maher’s filthy attacks against many women, not just Sarah Palin. Let’s face it – you and your liberal friends have stepped in it big time with this one. The hypocrisy is so stupendous it boggles the mind.

  25. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Laura,

    I have to admit that your comment confuses me.

    I specifically wrote: “Conservatives immediately cried foul, pointing to Maher’s history of making incendiary – and often misogynistic – comments on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher and during his stand-up act. Among other comments, Maher has referred to Sarah Palin as a “cunt,” called Michele Bachmann a “dumb twat,” and asked whether the real name of Bristol Palin’s book should be retitled, “Whoops, There’s a Dick in Me.”

    By writing “among other comments,” I made clear – in the story’s second paragraph – that the list of three examples was in no way comprehensive. That said, I welcome you to document other offensive comments made by Bill Maher here in the comments section. If you take me up on that offer, I’d only ask you to provide a link to the stories in which Maher was quoted.

    Best wishes,

  26. By Not an Artist:

    Brad, Brad, Brad. What kind of world do you live in? Seriously, are you really this naive? While I fully agree with your reasoning, it’s simple-minded to believe Obama is going to return the donation from Maher. The only pressure group powerful enough to force him to return the donation is the main stream media. Surely, you don’t believe the MSM is going to keep the story in the media long enough to force Obama to concede and return the money.

    If you believe that, please contact me at my email address – I have some swamp land I need to sell.

  27. By mere citizen:

    To use the coverage that ABC gave to the Clonton/intern story simply assists the point of conservatives. To shore up your argument you cite a news source that had it been an impartial news source than the 9mo. Worth of reporting would simply be taken as doing its job, not held up as an example of liberals being righteous. Next regardless of whether ABC, liberals that they are, reported the story, the vast majority of liberals continue to give Clinton a pass, buy into it was only sex and not about lying and that it was part and parcel of ongoing predatory behavior towards women that he repeatedly lied about. The whole story gets played as a story about sex that we should have simply dismissed because its those pesky conservatives coming into your bedroom again. In fact it never should have been a story presented that way, but ABC did do its liberal part of framing the story so that it was Clinton who became the victim.
    If liberals held themselves to the standards they want to hold others to than that would have not happened, and Clinton would have been forced to answer for his behavior like any other high powered, sexually predative man would have been. The issue is as long as you hold the right politics than how you behave will be justified or minimized. The other issue is that liberals are quite willing to stomp on the constitution, and useful idiots defend it, as long as it fits their political beliefs.
    There is absolutely no ability to use critical thinking skills to reason that remaining within the law of the constitution protects both conservatives from liberals and liberals from conservatives. If you do not want the other side to use the power of the government to force you to live outside the bounds of your conscience than you too must restrain yourself. To not understand that means the lessons of the Reformation, the resulting religious wars, and finally the culmination of the Constitution. The founders were deeply impacted by the Enlightenment, but also profoundly by the wars of religion. It’s at our peril if we ignore that.

  28. By Brad Phillips:

    Mere Citizen –

    You’re right that many conservatives didn’t like ABC News’ coverage of the Lewinsky scandal. But Bill Clinton didn’t exactly like it either. I thought you might be interested in this rather fascinating exchange between Bill Clinton and the late Peter Jennings:

    Best wishes,

  29. By Logic101:

    When you have to have the money pried out of your hands, regaining the “high ground”is out of the question.

  30. By Brad Phillips:


    Although I agree with you in principle, your comment implies that Americans are following this Bill Maher story closely. While a few are, most aren’t – and I suspect the story will barely be remembered by the time most voters show up to their polling places this November.

    Best wishes,

  31. By John R:

    “And I agree with their assertions that comedians should have more license to push the rhetorical envelope than others in public life”

    Wait. Why do comedians get more latitude? They have “freer” speech? I have to call BS on that….anidea that allows them to act as rhetorical terrorists for e left.

    Run out on stage, perpetrate unspeakable acts against in the name of the left and then run back under the cover of celebrity or “funny man” over and over again.

    Stop giving ground to liberals.

  32. By Brad Phillips:


    If I start throwing the f-bomb around in meetings with prospective clients, I’m unlikely to gain their business. If a comedian does so in the context of a stand-up act, it’s considered rather ordinary and completely expected. That’s an example of pushing the rhetorical envelope, and yes, I believe that comedians have more license to do that than many others in public life, such as politicians.

    That’s not a left-right thing. It’s a context thing.

    Best wishes,

  33. By unclesmrgol:

    In the moment a comedian decides to enter the political realm — either by running for office, or supporting a candidate for office as Mr. Maher just did — all of his “act” becomes overtly political.

    Every nuance of his comedy must be interpreted through the lens of his politics. Anyone who tells us otherwise is tooting very smelly toots.

  34. By NWBill:

    First of all, the Obama SuperPAC isn’t going to give back a million NEEDED dollars just to placate the Republicans, or reclaim any “moral high ground.” The Democrats don’t see this as “reclaiming the moral ground,” because morality isn’t important to them – they see politics as WAR, which means ALL’S FAIR. The problem here isn’t the concept of whether Bill Maher can (or should) hide behind the “comedian” banner in defense of his free speech; it’s the fact that, as Michelle Malkin says, Maher is being COWARDLY in doing so. If he were a real man about it, he would say what he really thinks – period. And that’s why he and Jon Steward are cowards – when the heat gets too hot, they go and run under the “comedian” banner. Well, Stewart is the only one who remotely resembles a comedian, and even he realizes the empty nature of that claim.

    Their big problem – which the Democrats are starting to realize – is that voters DO care about things like morality, and what you use to refer to women in public … and they are scrambling to recover from this hit before it really becomes bigger than something they can easily understand. It’s a bad thing when you lose your Emperor’s clothes on an issue, and you have to convince the people who see through you that you meant to go around properly dressed the same as them in the first place.

    Voters now are starting to see Democrats as people who are more than comfortable fooling them into believing they are comfortable in their clothes – when they’d just as soon go au naturel’

  35. By KT:

    I believe that this controversy is something of a watershed moment which goes beyond the Limbaugh/Maher comparison. Most people recognize the clown nose on/clown nose off political activism of other “comedians” like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. But there may now be a difference in how people perceive the “clown nose on” parts of their routines.

    There have been questions about Michelle Obama’s plans to appear on David Letterman’s show, particularly due to his vile joke about Sarah Palin’s daughter being knocked up by Alex Rodriguez during a the seventh inning of a ball game. (It was 14-year-old Willow, though Letterman claims he thought it was Bristol at the ball game). This becomes problematic because of the President’s rhetoric about how his daughters should not have to worry about degrading language even if they are in the public eye. If Limbaugh’s advertisers are targeted by Media Matters, why shouldn’t Letterman’s be similarly targeted by this allegedly non-partisan, non-profit organization?

    And it’s not just President Obama who has a new problem. It says a lot about the media’s bias that Louis CK was chosen to entertain at the Congressional Correspondent’s dinner after using language far worse than Maher’s to dehumanize Sarah Palin. It is absolutely impossible to imagine that a comedian who had used similar language to describe Nancy Pelosi would have been considered to entertain at this dinner. Greta Van Susteren seems to have triggered his withdrawal by merely announcing that she would not attend the dinner if he was scheduled to entertain. Something has changed.

    As Richard Fernandez wrote on March 9, “The easy tolerance that once characterized social interaction has become more and more brittle. In time it may break down. What does it mean?

    Who knows? But maybe we’re about to find out.”

  36. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you for leaving your well-argued comment on the blog.

    Best wishes,

  37. By Omar:

    James McDonald said,

    “Fluke on the other hand was petitioning Congress not to have other people impose their values on other women she knew.”

    The last time I checked, there was no first amendment right to have one’s birth control paid for by government and business subsidized insurance mandates.

    There IS, however, a first amendment right to be free from government coercion in fundamental matters of religious belief and conscience – and the Catholic church’s theological opposition to birth control (and particularly abortifacients) is both fundamental and well known.

    So who is forcing their values on whom?

    It seems to me the over reach is occurring on the part of the government (and Fluke), not the other way around.

  38. By mere citizen:

    Mr. Phillips, you very deliberately misconstued what I wrote. I did not write that many conservatives did not like what ABC was presenting, I wrote you were using ABC and its coverage as an example of liberals covering the story, and not always to Clintons advantage. My point was that by doing so you simply confirm to conservatives that ABC and other main stream media outlets are what we perceive them to be. You used them as an example of liberals taking on Clinton, I didn’t.

    My other point was to note that by and large liberals gave Clinton a pass because it was just sex, how could anyone get all worked up over that? Yet the issue was not just sex, though the President wanted it to be, and the water carriers obliged him. The fact that Mr. Jennings made Clinton angry shows to me more than anything else that Clinton simply felt quite put upon by having to live up to some sort of standard, the article notes that regardless his supporters didn’t really care about what perception Clinton was putting out there with Jennings. In other words what was most important to the run of the mill liberal was Clinton’s correct politics, not whether he has consistently attempted to cover up behavior that would have landed nearly anyone else in court and without a job. And all this from people who wrote the stinking laws and the feminists who supported the laws about this type of behavior. Why is Foley a hypocrite but Clinton and his supporters not? Why is it ok for Maher to be a misogynist fool? He is not just a comedian, he is a liberal with a platform who uses what passes for liberal humor to make his liberal points. He is just a comedian like Rush is just an entertainer.

    In this day and age being foul mouthed is not even edgy or pushing the envelope, it is the norm. What is edgy is to not behave like a barbarian with a mouth so filthy you wonder how they eat with it. Having a bit of class makes one edgy today. Mahers behavior is no longer shocking, it is simply disgusting. The fact that the President and his wife are ok it and with those who are no different from Maher says much about their lack of class. Of course that is not the only thing that shows up their ability to be hypocritical fools, its just the one that is being discussed right now.

    The loss of standards of behavior has been a disaster for this country, especially for it’s young people and the babies they are having that they can’t take care of, and in the case of the young men who are fathering those babies, who simply can’t be bothered to take care of them. When you absolve a “comedian” of any behavioral restraints you are quite frankly, part of the problem. Simply because something is permissible, does not mean it should be acceptable.

    The really edgy folks are those who recognize that.

  39. By John:

    Only a depraved and degenerate group would excuse the vile filth that comes from a comedian like Maher.

  40. By sodakhic:

    Boy Joplin nailed it. If Michelle Obama was called a cunt, whore, twat, slut, bimbo, redneck and her daughters were being considered as “knocked up” prospects oh my God there would be a media avanlanche the likes we’ve never seen before. In fact there might be a hanging on the spot.The lame stream media had no intention of covering the Clinton escapades, the Edwards escapades, the Weiner escapades, until the stories broke from other sources and they had to do their duty, very reluctantly. Double, double, double standard.ABC,NBC, CBS were in every stall next to Larry Craig, tapping their feet.

  41. By mixplix:

    It boils down to “I am right and you are wrong, Period” What ever excuse the left uses is golden, however, they see nothing wrong with this at all and is probably the core reason that facts mean absolutely nothing at all to a lefty.

  42. By Brian:

    The comment by KT – “Most people recognize the clown nose on/clown nose off political activism of other “comedians” like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.” – is right on. These are drearily predictable & reliable partisan hacks, and their routines are in-kind contributions to the Democratic Party. The fact that they manage to gather together a live laugh-track of clueless New York tourists & community college drop-outs does not change the analysis.

  43. By Jack von Bauer:

    Actually the repulsive and unfunny MAHER (and his ilk) is gift that will keep on giving for the Republicans. But only because, as the prosecutor says, the defendant opened the door to this line of questioning.

    I hope Bilge Maher donates another million dollars in his losing campaign to support the Democrats WAR ON (that Palin) WOMAN. Let him donate ten million.

    Anything to stop Obama having to talk about his record on the very unpopular Obamacare. Yeah, well there is more chance of Liberace being found to have been secretly straight.

    And Rush Limbaugh will still be on the air, long after Obama has retired to the golf circuit.

  44. By magoo22:

    1. They are both entertainers
    2. Rush is NOT the defacto head of the Republic Party, but is one that believes in conservative values and often calls out so called republicans when they cave in on those values
    3. Rush was criticizing Fluke’s justification she needed 3K for Contraceptives, implying herself and not the bigger cause of other feminine issues such as Endemetriosus, Ovarian cysts, etc…..which ARE already covered under insurance. So he was commenting on a supposed behavior that Ms. Fluke portrayed in her own words before congress. What in Palin’s and Bachman’s behavior suggest they deserved to be labeled by Maher? Nothing.
    4. Fluke went to Georgetown, as an activist for this exact cause
    5. Why and how did she get congress as an audience….Doesnt congress have more important issues to address?

  45. By Meemsie:

    I’ve been waiting for someone to point out to Mr. Maher that, while he would not use the “N-word”, his vulgar and degrading choice of words for Ms Palin, Ms Bachman and others offends a far larger segment of the population and one that spans all races. I guess females are still fair game.

    Thanks, feminists, for standing up for women.

  46. By kdizzydaze:

    “Palin took a holier-than-thou position as part of her effort to impose her values on other people.

    Fluke on the other hand was petitioning Congress not to have other people impose their values on other women she knew.”

    James – please tell me this is sarcasm. Because if it isn’t, there are several glaring mistakes and flat out lies.
    First, Sarah Palin was not imposing any of her values on anyone. As a matter of fact, she was being dragged through the mud for having any values (typical of the left to do that)
    Second, holier than thou? I do not recall her ever bringing religion into any conversation or saying everybody needed to go to church (where in the he!! do you get this??)
    Third, Sandra Fluke did no speak before congress – that go shut down so Pelosi created a dog and pony show for Fluke.
    Fourth, Georgetown and any other religious institution is not prohibiting Fluke or any femlae from getting contraception, they just are saying they won’t pay for it. Oh, and just so you know, part of Georgetown’s insurance plan does cover contraception in case of real health issues (which debunks the entire reason Fluke was even “testifying”)
    Man all you libs are just blind robots. So very sad

  47. By Karl Magnus:

    Well said, KT …
    As the “rules” change continually, it becomes more difficult to keep up with what is acceptable and what crosses the line. Some of us see a bright line, others see none. Of course, anything uttered by a Conservative will be construed to be “misogynistic”, while preening smartasses like Maher insist upon pushing the limits.
    This business is similar to the Jerry Falwell suit against Larry Flynt: Flynt, dba Hustler Magazine, published a ‘cartoon’ that suggested the Rev. Falwell had sex with his mother. One man’s “satire” and “parody” is another man’s cue to defend the womenfolk and morés. The Supremes sided with Flynt.
    This societal change has occurred via Baby Steps that will continue until we, as a culture, are supposed to be inured to it.
    Baby Steps, Baby Steps …
    IF “The Court of Public Opinion” ruled the day, Maher and his ilk would be shunned – or mocked in stocks in the public square.

  48. By Drbaldy:


    As a conservative, I admit, I was embarrassed by Rush Limbaugh’s comments. There is no place in society for these types of degrading comments (towards anyone). I appreciate the fact, even more, I applaud your principled stance. Unfortunately I rarely hear of a liberal who will speak out on this issue.

    Both sides of the political spectrum have intolerant and inflexible individuals who do not take time to listen. There are several points I feel are germaine to this issue:

    1. Where was the outcry from the MSM/liberals when Palin and others where called the most vile names? Good people should stand for what’s right. Including speaking out against those in their own party who are involed in uncivilized behavior (right and left).

    2. To say there is a difference between Rush and Maher is a no sequitur. Both said inappropriate things.

    3. Miss Fluke’s representation as an innocent student is far from the truth once you see her ties to a radical organization.(Still does not give Rush permission to degrade her).

    4. Rush is not the “head” of the Republican party. It is intellectually dishonest to use this as a line of rationale.

    Again, thank for speaking out on the side of rationality and civility.

    Brent Baldwin

  49. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you for your comment, and thank you for contributing your views in the spirit of civilized debate. I try to call these situations as I see them, regardless of partisanship or personal ideology. It’s gratifying when the occasional reader recognizes that effort.

    Thanks again,

  50. By Stigall Show Log 3.19.12 « CBS Philly:

    […] Critics are calling on a Super PAC supporting President Obama to return campaign donations given by Bill Maher. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Share this No comments […]

  51. By lauraD:

  52. By Line:

    Limbaugh was trying to make a point by being outrageous in order to expose Fluke’s outrageous demands which are ‘Even though I am a strong, liberated woman, I need others to pay for my intimacy because I can’t find $9 in my budget to pay for this most important activity.’

  53. By Brad Phillips:


    I don’t contest there’s an argument to be made about whether private insurance companies should be required to provide free contraceptive care. If you don’t agree that they should, it’s fine to make that point. But that point got lost the moment Rush Limbaugh called Ms. Fluke a “slut,” compared her to a prostitute, and said her parents should be ashamed of her.

    I always like to think of these situations thusly: If the names were reversed and Bill Maher defended his actions by saying he was “making a point by being outrageous,” would you accept his use of the c-word against Sarah Palin?

    Both sides, regardless of political persuasion, should be better than this.

    Best wishes,

  54. By Pundit Pete:

    “Reoccupy the high ground” – that was a joke, right?

  55. By ghoti:

    Thanks for the article.
    There’s one angle of this story that I’ve yet to hear anyone mention yet and it’s in regards to the relevance of the statements in question. I think everyone agrees that all of the adjectives used by both Limbaugh and Maher are pejoratives and shouldn’t be used to describe anyone. That being said, Maher used his misogynistic terms when nothing about sex had been mentioned at all. All of the women to whom Maher referred are family women with whom he disagrees politically. Rush’s comments, on the other hand, were a direct response to a 30 year old woman who testified in a National Forum about the fact that she was having so much sex that she couldn’t even afford it. We should excuse neither host for their statements but if we are going to excuse one, doesn’t it stand to reason that we would excuse the statements that were at least relevant to the situation?

  56. By Brad Phillips:


    No, no, no.

    You’re repeating a baseless smear. Can you please point me to the place in Ms. Fluke’s testimony in which she says she’s having “so much sex she can’t afford it?” I’ll make your task easier for you. Here’s a transcript of her testimony:

    This is a fact-based blog. If you want to post fiction, please find a different website on which to do it.


  57. By Pundit Pete:

    Is that like “reoccupy Zuccotti Park”?
    That noted place for clean, civil discourse and behavior.

    Yes, the Dems certainly hold the high ground in so many ways, especially in civil, clean discourse.

    Keep it up. Americans are developing a pretty low threshold for hypocrisy.

  58. By Mark:

    Brad, I already commented, but have a follow-up. Lets take Fluke, Palin, and all other women who have been called these names out of the equation. Lets put in women you love and care about. Your mother, wife, daughter, whoever…. be honest now – would you feel any differently if Rush Limbaugh called them a slut, or worse a “c***”, then if Maher, or some other “comedian” called them that? Would you honestly laugh it off if the comedian said it, but be outraged if it were Limbaugh? If you are honest, I don’t think you’d see any difference and would be furious with either – so why should it be different when it is a woman we don’t personally know?

  59. By Brad Phillips:


    I generally agree with the heart of your comment.

    Compared to others in the public eye, comedians and satirists have generally had more leash than others, such as politicians, business executives, or journalists. I think that’s appropriate, but that’s not to say their leash should be endless. Perhaps this situation will change public views about what is and is not acceptable on the stage.

    For example, Michael Richards’ infamous “stand-up routine” in which he called African-American audience members the n-word was rightly perceived as going way too far. So, too, with Tracy Morgan’s “I’d stab my son if he was gay” routine. Will misogynistic language meet the same fate? It hasn’t fully…yet. But standards change, and this one may well be on the way.

    Thank you,

  60. By James:


    Excellent thought provoking piece.

    And the majority of your posters seem to be bringing their A game to the debate as well. Congrats on a great blog post.

    KT nailed the correct analysis I think. The “clown nose on clown nose off” schtick perpetrated by Maher, Jon Stewart and Colbert seems to be wearing thin with most Americans.

    There was a time when ABC, CBS, NBC, NYT, LATimes and the Washington Post controlled the narrative. Those days are gone. Those entities can now be drug kicking and screaming to cover a narrative they never would have covered in the past by new media. Examples in include:

    Drudge forcing the old media to cover the Lewinsky scandal. Compare that to the old media covering for JFK while he engaged in similarly despicable conduct throughout his presidency.

    The Enquirer forcing the old media to cover John Edwards affair. Compare that to the old medias decades long effort to cover for Ted Kennedy who left Mary Jo to drowned while he sobered up and later made a “sandwich” of a waitress with another colleague.

    Finally, Brietbart’s efforts forced the old media to cover Anthony Weiner’s stupid tweet when they would have preferred to sweep it under the rug.

    I highlighted scandals involving Democrats because the old media typically covers for them while leaping on stories involving Republicans with both feet. There is a double standard but the bottom line is the way the narrative is shaped, launched and driven is changing. The advent of the internet give citizens, who are interested in doing so, a tool to explore issues in depth and to gather facts with unprecedented ease.

    The Obama administration leveraged social media and knowledge of the internet in ways the GOP couldn’t fathom in 2008. Grassroots activists on the right now understand the power of those tools and I suspect we will see those tools leveraged to expose double standard bearers in unprecedented ways in the coming years.

  61. By mark81150:

    I’m one of those pesky conservatives who lives in what the left sneeringly refers to as flyover country. I’ve listened to Rush off and on over the years, and enjoy his show greatly.. I was saddened he let his standards slip for a couple of days, but he did apologise, more than once.. and the democrats showed the grace of a goat in return.. openly giggling about “FINALLY” we can drive him off the airwaves..

    Why?…. why is the knee jerk liberal response to Rush a campaign prepackaged and on the shelf, ready to use, to silence him? Liberals always demand silence from critics, from FOX news to every common conservative blogger, they censor, defame, smear and attempt to bankrupt you. They go after your spouse, your kids, your health and appearrence. They attack your relationship status, implying you’re eith a closet gay, or that you want to “ban homosexuality”.. there is nothing people like Axelrod have not accused us of,.. even the president and Pelosi have openly comparted us to Nazi’s and hostage taking terrorists.


    “During a press conference moments ago, President Obama explained his decision to concede to Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts to those who make more than $250,000 by comparing congressional GOP to hostage-takers: “It’s tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed…The hostage was the American people.”

    Last week, Democratic senator Bob Menendez said that negotiating with Republicans on tax cuts is “almost” like negotiating with “terrorists.” At the time, the harsh analogy–long favored by left-wing bloggers–seemed like it may have been an unbecoming slip-of-the tongue for the Democratic senator, but President Obama’s remarks indicate that comparing Republicans to hostage-takers is now an official Democratic talking point.


    I’ve been a conservative since I was 12 years old, and watched the McGovern Nixon election year..

    I’ve seen the steady decline of civility from both the leftwing, democrats liberals,.. now progressives, steadily getting more and more dishonest and vile in their attempt to discredit an entire movement which is more than twice the size of the progressives..

    U.S. Political Ideology Stable With Conservatives Leading

    Most Republicans are conservative, but one in five is “very conservative”

    by Lydia Saad

    PRINCETON, NJ — Americans’ political ideology at the midyear point of 2011 looks similar to 2009 and 2010, with 41% self-identifying as conservative, 36% as moderate, and 21% as liberal.

    As it became clear that progressives would never number signifigantly, the only way they can get elected, is to smear the right as crazy, unreasonable, a campaign they still continue, even more openly now than before.

    “war on women”?… really?….

    I have a daughter, and the one lesson I make sure she gets, is, if you follow dad’s footsteps into conservatism sweetheart, be ready, because they’ll call you every vile sexist pig rash name in the book, you’ll be crazy, disturbed, self hating, a tool, dumb, a bimbo.. every female body part, and to top it all off…

    the media will defend your accuser.. like when I was a child, and rapists blamed the victim.. exactly the same. The MSM will not care what you’ve accomplished or what your views are, they’ll try to drive you into silence just for being bold enough to say what you believe.. The left, is a thing of intolerant hate, and while you can tolerate them existing, they will never tolerate you doing the same. Since Vietnam, I’ve seen every GOP politician and figure slandered in the worst kind of demagogury, all of ur presidents are stupid or crazy, or both, every one of them. Theirs are portrayed as smarter than anyone else, more ethical, more moral, GOP scandals are media driven for weeks, the democrat ones,… dropped at the first oppurtunity, then lost in a memory hole. Fast and furious would be an hour a night, every night till the AG resigned, or prosecutions begun, if Obama were a republican,… as it is, good luck finding a democrat who has even heard of it from watching the regular networks. A criminal lapse on the medias part..

    The Rush Maher controversy shouldn’t even be one.. using female trashing language, we’re told is a universal wrong, except, when a liberal does it. Maher is doing what liberal comics love to do, pander to the lowest of lowbrow humore that feeds leftist stereotypes. They know danmn well what Maher says is hateful, they know they’d lynch a republican for saying that of Michelle Obama, but they don’t care how savagely hypocritical that is. Then we see Maher BUY his indulgence from the Obama administration,.. who will never now criticise Maher for anything.

    What Maher’s gift to the democrats has done, is prove to us that everything we’ve thought they were capable of, is true. That half this country, against the liberal fringe 20% will never be treated fairly or be given the benefit of the doubt. Civility is a bad joke, another democrat promise that is a one way street. They whine about our tone, blame us, and our leaders for lunatics shooting sprees, with media complience, then feel free to giggle like children when Palin is called a c*nt over and over and over..

    This is why the country is so polarized, so savagely divided.

    There is no concept of fairness by the media, no balance.. a conservative or republican is always guilty, till proven not, but we’ll keep saying they did it anyway..

    a liberal is always,.. “eye role”… “can’t you wingnuts give it a break,… ha ha,.. it was just a joke… teehee..”

    I haven’t been laughing for years.. especially since in 08 when my daughter was 9, she was harangued in class by her teacher for having her dad’s veteran ballcap, with a Palin button on it. She wasn’t harrassed because she brought it up in class, but because he did. She was ridiculed and made fun of by a 50 year old putz, because she dared to like a female politican who wasn’t leftwing.. his class was plastered with Obama posters.. when I complained about his behavior and bad attitude.. the principle sneered at me, saying I just hated the teacher for being gay..

    This,… is what dealing with the left is like in America today..

    Everything is political, the right is always dumb and crazy,.. even our children get ridiculed, because the teacher hates her dad’s politics..

    long rant I know.. but this has been building among millions of us for years. We’re sick of the demagoguing, the attacks, the abuse, and the media ignoring what is openly obvious. We know the media is almost universally leftist,.. but we expect a more professional attitude to at least attempt to be fair.. and frankly, with Obama headed towards defeat, we expect it to get worse, noty better.. making us even more motivated to throw the b*&stards out.

    Thanks for being open to opinions, that’s not common anymore, so thank you.

  62. By mark81150:

    I’m sorry for the typo’s… I’m disabled, on 7 meds for a spine injury, and my vision blurs a bit sometimes.

    I’ll do better next time.

  63. By KT:

    Brad, I think you’re right about the electorate’s short memory. Here are two themes which may take a while to move into the general cultural consciousness:

    The Left has treated women badly for a very long time:

    Stanley Fish’s “Might makes Right” (for the Left) piece in the NYT has caused a stir in some circles, but the themes he brings up probably won’t be reflected in the general population soon:

  64. By KT:

    Another idea which may not received a lot of play in the media: Top Daily Show producer agrees that political comedy is “inherently leftist”, which may be why the Left wants the language of comedians judged by different standards than others in public life. There are a few excellent satirists on the Right, but they generally don’t hit big time media outlets.

  65. By Brad Phillips:

    Fair points all, KT.

    I continue to believe that comedians should have a bit more leash – it would be horribly boring to go to a stand-up show and hear a comedian constrained to the language of the average county council meeting. The real debate comes into play when trying to define exactly how much more leash – and that’s something society will likely dictate over time.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments,

  66. By Joplin:

    mark81150, great post. If that’s what you write while on 7 meds, I’d really like to read your thoughts while totally un-foggy!

  67. By John R:

    A comedian doesnt exist in near the same sphere of public life that you point out as a comparison between your client dealings and a stage performance.

    There is a quite a gap there.

    The continuation if the quote points out Rush’s name calling as more egregious.
    His relationship to a comedian (who just happens to have Axelrod scheduled as a guest on his comedy show….’oh, lulz, folks! Those Senior Campaign Strategists are real cards!’) is much closer than your own. Standing, Rush is an entertainer.

    I would say your context is, well, out of context.
    The apples to apples is Mahr-Rush, not Mahr-you.

    It is a left-right thing. The slides and the right is called egregious. Mahr says Bristol Pailin effed so hard a baby fell out? Yet, somehow, not really egregious because he is a comedian.
    We both know there are many other examples to point out the treatments in popular media.

    All that is to say, latitude should be more objective to the comment not subjectively applied to
    the speaker’s role. That inversion in play , Mahr-Rush, leads to quelling the overall freedom of the right to free speech by creating disparate pools of separate rules for differing groups in the same game.

  68. By MARY JANE:

    Why not give the cool mill to charity?… everyone wins (except Maher)

    BTW – regardless of who makes the comments…

    where is the funny part?

  69. By Brad Phillips:

    Mary Jane,

    Good point. Part of me wonders whether the SuperPAC knew this could be controversial, but took the risk that accepting the gift would help inform other people about the very existence of the SuperPAC. If they give the money back now, it wouldn’t hurt so much – because of Maher’s gift, many other wealthy donors now know it’s out there.


  70. By Michael Weiser:

    Here’s the real unfairness: Limbaugh broadcasts on terrestrial radio and therefore must broadcast in “the public interest” for his stations to maintain their licenses. Maher’s show was driven off of terrestrial TV when people protested him saying the 9/11 terrorists were “brave”. Howard Stern was driven off terrestrial radio after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl silliness.

    Limbaugh should go to satellite radio or cable TV, or Maher and Stern should be allowed to broadcast uncensored on terrestrial radio and TV.

  71. By Brad Phillips:


    Interesting point. You’re exactly right that the standards are different…would be interesting to see if the Limbaugh story would have had as many legs if he was on pay cable.


  72. By Lynn Ratcliffe:

    This “double standard” is why I left the Democrat party in 1992.

    Either these comments are ALWAYS wrong or they are ALWAYS right. There is NO in-between.

    As a woman, I am outraged by BOTH parties making nasty comments about women ANYTIME.

  73. By Line:

    Brad, perhaps I didn’t make my point about Limbaugh being intentionally outrageous clear. He, at least, was addressing the political issue at hand…the entitlement attitude of the supposedly liberated woman who would like us to cry crocodile tears for her. He was pointing out the absurdity of it. Maher on the other hand, doesn’t address political points. He is just gratuitously filthy, even drawing children in to his vile rants. You can disagree with the way Rush did it and it may have been counterproductive but I think if you place the whole of these two mens comments side by side, you will see that Maher lives in the gutter and Rush only slipped off the sidewalk for a second. It’s very hard to take the left’s pious outrage seriously. It is all contrived.

  74. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Line,

    I appreciate your clarification. You make a fair point about Bill Maher’s cracks being largely unrelated to the specific criticism he’s making. But I still don’t agree with your conclusion that Rush slipped off the sidewalk “for a second.” His history of calling homeless people “human debris,” playing songs like “Barack The Magic Negro,” and mocking Michael J. Fox’s tremors makes him more than a little gratuitous; I’d consider it gutter-level.

    That said, I’d agree that no one side of the political aisle has the market cornered on living in the gutter or conveying false piety. Both sides, at various times, are guilty.

    Thanks for reading and writing,

  75. By Jack Sorrell:

    Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher are both media commentators who attempt to push buttons for reactions from their respective target audiences. If indeed Maher was only joking when he called Palin the “C word”, then there is no difference in Limbaugh referring to Fluke as a “slut”. If anybody was unable to understand that Limbaugh was using sarcasm (a form of humor)to make his point about funding contraception for an admittedly sexually active woman with taxpayer money, then that person has completely missed the point and their argument becomes null and void. The hypocrisy enters into the picture when President Obama pleads for “civility” and publicly denounces Limbaugh’s comments but then acquiesces to Maher’s even ruder comments, accepting money from him and allowing Maher to continue with his vile and demeaning brand of “humor” because people like Maher, Colbert and Stewart speak to a large segment of President Obama’s voting constituents. Axelrod’s cliche about Limbaugh being the “defacto leader of the Republican party” is absurd, since he is really just an entertainer that has a large following, much like Maher, Colbert and Stewart. Lame-o…cop-out… hypocritical…and completely typical of the leftist mindset where leftist “humorists” can dish-it-out but leftist pundits can’t-take-it when similar comments are made about their own. If the Obama administration does not denounce Maher and give back the money, then they are sanctioning Maher’s comments and making a mockery of President Obama’s own words regarding civility.

  76. By Mr. Shaw:

    Maher and Rush are both deplorable human beings. Both were using dirty language and insulting these women for cheap laughs. Regardless of how you feel about the views of these women, it’s never a good feeling to be called any of these things on television or radio. Both of these scumbags were in the wrong. I don’t particularly like democrat or republican, so i could care less about any of this.

  77. By not a writer:

    Humor, in general is affective because there are variable levels of separation between the “joke” and the “object” of that joke. That is what gives people the permission to laugh. The great comedians , ironically, are the most empathic. No reasonable person actually believes (Mr. Maher) a comic harbors potent disdain or guttural hatred for those in their act. Mr Limbaugh on the other hand is in no way caricaturizing or bantering. You can feel the deep hatred when Rush Limbaugh talks. Earlier comics like Don Rickles would help those who might have difficulty with suspension of disbelief by giving a general apology at the end of his act. You could feel the tension melt away . Later comedians give more credit to their audiences and do net feel the need to spoon feed. Apparently, based on the comments here, there are those readers who still need an explanation.



    Some TOPICS just should be left off the TABLE – PERSONAL ATTACKS and FAITH BELIEFS seems to be two such TOPICS!

    Left-Wing-Nuts including Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and Tina Faye and Right-Wing-Nuts like Rush Limbaugh, are all Guilty of making Personal Attacks and Mocking certain People, certain Groups and certain Faiths!

    This type of HUMOR must STOP, and it must STOP now, or more such TERRORISTS ATTACKS are likely to occur!


    NAAWP STANCE: If you what to tell JOKES and create SATIRE please continue to do so, but PERSONAL ATTACKS and FAITH BELIEFS should be left off the TABLE, because they are not FUNY and quite OFFENSIVE to a lot of FOLKS!






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