A few weeks ago, Real Time host Bill Maher invited Steve Bannon onto his show, after he was disinvited from the New Yorker Festival. The interview was criticized by the left, just as Bannon's recent appearance in The Economist's festival and his documentary with Errol Morris, American Dharma, has also been charged with failing to sufficiently challenge one of the architects of the new nationalism on the rise in Europe and America. The criticism is not just about Bannon's politics, but rather, whether or not people who hold xenophobic views should receive platforms with respectable outlets.
To learn more about this, I spoke to Real Time producer Scott Carter. Carter has worked with Maher for more than 25 years, going back to his ABC series, Politically Incorrect. He is also an accomplished writer whose play, The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, received an off-Broadway run last year at Manhattan's Cherry Lane Theater. During the course of our conversation (which has been edited and condensed for clarity), we discussed the interview itself, the rise of political correctness, and the problems facing the Democratic Party ahead of the midterms.
Jeremy Fassler: Whose idea was it to bring Steve Bannon on to the show?
Bannon had appeared on Real Time when he produced a documentary on Sarah Palin called The Undefeated, before many people knew about him. Any time somebody has been on, we generally keep in touch with them. This is the 16year of the show, so we have had over 2000 guests, and we try to keep tabs on different people and utilize them when it looks like their profile might be shifting, like KellyAnn Conway, who I first knew when she was a pollster for Republican Senator and who we had on the show in 2016 after Trump named her to his campaign.
When you decided to invite him, was there any pushback from your staff?
There was no second-guessing whether or not we should make this offer. The mandate of our show is to cast as wide of a net as possible for opinions, and then trust our viewers to be persuaded by the person who makes the strongest argument.
Who came up with the questions for him?
I work with whatever writers are assigned to the particular one-on-one guests at the beginning of the show, the people who book them will often have input, and Bill will have a couple of things that he wants to get to.
I think was a good interview, and I give Bill a lot of credit with being tough on Bannon. But is there a reason that before this crucial midterm, we should hear from people like him and not, for example, people working the grassroots and trying to help the Democrats?
Well, the goal of our show is not the goal that you are positing, which is to be more partisan, more tribal. What we want is to go to the truth, and if that truth leads us to indict liberals, so be it. If that truth indicts conservatives, so be it. Look, we’re not a political party. We have a consistent mandate, independent of whether or not there’s an impending election, and we’re obligated to be entertaining. Years ago, when Bill was hosting Politically Incorrect, we did focus groups that showed us that only 14% of people who were regular fans of the show said they agreed with Bill most of the time. A lot of people come to this not to see their tribe re-enforced, but to hear an issue that may not have had the time throughout the week or throughout that day to have read as much as we have. That attests to the fairness of our forum.
I think there’s a romantic notion where we think if we can trip up someone like Bannon in a debate, our side has “won” over him. Do you think approaching him, or anyone in that way is the wrong way to go into it? Is it better to hoist him on his own petard and let the viewer decide whether he’s right or wrong?
We believe in bringing people out, as though people are back in the forest and there’s a clearing. We want everybody to come into the clearing with their ideas, and we trust our viewers to make a correct assessment of who those people are.
Your audience isn’t entirely liberal, but the show tends to slant towards the liberal point of view... What can liberals take away from listening to Bill Maher engage Steve Bannon?
You can continue reading our in depth interview with Scott Carter in our Members Only digital magazine 'Banter M'. You'll find out how he started working with Maher, what the political climate was like in the 1990's, and how he feels Trump has capitalized on political correctness.
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