Pretty much everyone I respect in media and politics recommended I not go on HBO‘s “Real Time With Bill Maher.” But on Friday night, I defied that wisdom and had the time of my life.
I sparred with Mr. Maher, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson and a MoveOn.org audience from hell that booed my sentences before they were completed. Unfortunately, my wife and in-laws, who watched from the green room, were not as enamored with the experience as I was.
Since the salad days of ABC’s “Politically Incorrect,” which minted countless right-wing pundits and best-selling authors, conservatives have rightly assessed the HBO version of the Maher show as R-rated and shockingly hostile to their worldview. So most opt out.
I totally see why. But I think that’s exactly the wrong strategy.
The problem with the withdrawal approach is that it cedes the popular culture debate to the other side. We figure talk radio, a certain cable news network and some independent Internet venues will allow for us to get our ideas out to the masses. Well, those few outlets are greatly outnumbered. They are also isolated and targeted for destruction by the activist left. The sitting president (using taxpayer money) is now leading the charge.
In my neighborhood at least, this strategy of avoiding engagement with the other side isn’t working out so well.
People who have never turned on Fox News or tuned into Rush Limbaugh have strong and defiant negative opinions about those outlets. When one tries to reason with them or call them out when acknowledging they watch and listen to neither, they become emboldened by their admitted ignorance. “Why would I listen to that racist, sexist, homophobic, fill-in-the-blank claim of cultural prejudice?”
This army of the emboldened and gleefully ill-informed is growing. Groupthink happens, and we must take it on head-on.
One must get a copy of John Ziegler’s “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted” to understand the extent to which the traditional media have become an organized enemy aimed at conservatism, its leaders and its institutions. It was the tag team of entertainment (Tina Fey) and news (Katie Couric) that worked to take Sarah Palin down.
We can’t win the political war until we take on the Hollywood and mainstream media battles.
By not going on “The View” and the Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert and Maher shows - or even David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, Jimmy Fallon, etc. - we are allowing them to define us into a very distorted and ugly caricature. Our most articulate voices, likable faces and best idea-makers need to go into hostile territory and plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of our ideological enemy and the apolitical masses who simply go with the media flow. (Our baby sitter has an Obama bumper sticker on her car, yet admits she knows nothing about politics.)
Upon walking off the stage after Friday’s show, I felt like I had gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and Roberto Duran. But when I got back to my dressing room, my BlackBerry was filling with messages from people I’ve never met, many of whom disagree with my politics but were compelled to praise my willingness to enter the lion’s den.
One that struck me in particular best illustrates why we must enter even the most unfriendly environments to explain our point of view:
“My political views would probably be best described as a liberal Democrat and I am writing to let you know that I was dismayed at your recent treatment on ‘Real Time with Bill Maher.’ I felt that you were given very little meaningful ability to speak; when you requested evidence to back up the claims that were being made, you received none and when you were requested not to interrupt by Prof. Dyson (and politely heeded his request) you were then constantly interrupted. As a side note, I have watched the show for several years and have never witnessed the audience applause to be so intrusive and so obstructive to meaningful debate. I suspect that you don’t care much about what occurred and likely anticipated it. I definitely care, not least because it has been my opinion that the ‘shouting down’ tactics and lack of respect for evidence have been characteristics of the right more than the left in US politics in recent years. Overall, I still believe that, but what occurred on the show has given me much pause for thought. Please continue to engage in sincere debate with ideological opponents and please continue to exercise a higher standard of manners.”
The next morning, the Starbucks barista recognized me and said he was a liberal. Go figure! Yet he also said my critique of Professor Dyson’s knee-jerk use of the race card struck a chord. He also complimented my on-air demeanor.
My trajectory from left to right began with a similar seed of doubt. Coincidentally, it was the race issue and how the media mistreated Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings. It’s no coincidence I made that a central argument on the show, too.
We must plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the groupthink liberals in our dumbed-down and activist media culture. Yes, “Real Time With Bill Maher” is a hostile work environment for conservatives. But so is Hollywood - writ large. When conservatives withdraw from media and the entertainment business because they are intimidated or don’t want to get down and dirty, we lose even more, valuable political ground.
Even though Mr. Dyson filibustered in a poetic jargon only a linguistics student could decipher, and Mr. Maher glared at me in his trademark smirk, and the audience booed my every utterance, I left knowing I won the rigged bout simply by showing up.
• Andrew Breitbart is the founder of the news Web site www.breitbart.com and is co-author of “Hollywood Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon — the Case Against Celebrity.”