- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 3, 2017

Comedian Bill Maher went from the hosting seat to the hot seat after using a racial epithet during Friday night’s episode of of his weekly HBO program, “Real Time with Bill Maher.” He has since apologized, after having provoked a firestorm of controversy and a statement of disavowal from a network executive.

Mr. Maher was conducting a live interview Friday evening with Republican Senator Ben Sasse when the late-night host used the N-word while discussing the lawmaker’s home state of Nebraska.

“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Mr. Maher quipped.

“You’re welcome,” Mr. Sasse responded. “We’d love to have you work in the fields with us.”

“Work in the fields?” Mr. Maher fired back. “Senator, I am a house [expletive].”

The exchange was aired live and uncensored by HBO during the 10 p.m. hour and instantly triggered an audibly mixed reactions from the show’s studio audience.

“No, it’s a joke,” Mr. Maher said moments later before moving the segment along.

Network officials apparently disagreed.

Bill Maher’s comment last night was completely inexcusable and tasteless” HBO’s executive vice president of corporate communications, Quentin Schaffer, said in a statement Saturday. “We are removing his deeply offensive comment from any subsequent airings of the show.”

Mr. Maher issued an apology of his own later Saturday afternoon, stating in part: “I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive, and I regret saying it and am very sorry.”

For his part, Mr. Sasse, who uncomfortably grinned and nodded in response to Mr. Maher’s comment, also spoke out on the matter via Twitter. 

“I’m a 1st Amendment absolutist. Comedians get latitude to cross hard line,” Mr. Sasse said through his official Twitter account Saturday morning. “But free speech comes with a responsibility to speak up when folks use that word. Me just cringing last night wasn’t good enough.”

“Here’s what I wish I’d been quick enough to say in the moment: ‘Hold up, why would you think it’s OK to use that word?” Mr. Sassse continued. “The history of the n-word is an attack on universal human dignity. It’s therefore an attack on the American Creed. Don’t use it.”

Indeed, Mr. Maher’s remark has prompted heated reactions from social media users across the political spectrum.

“But really, @BillMaher has got to go,” tweeted Deray McKesson, a Black Lives Matter organizer and former Democratic candidate in the 2016 mayoral race in Baltimore. “There are no explanations that make this acceptable,”

Bill Maher must be fired immediately for his racism and belittling the struggle of millions of black Americans,” agreed Jack Posobiec, a self-described author and filmmaker widely associated with the alt-right movement.

“Disagree with his politics, but Bill Maher has defended the right on free speech issues, we should defend him,” tweeted Paul Joseph Watson, a widely-followed Twitter user and editor-at-large for the far-right Infowars website.

A publicist for Mr. Maher did not immediately respond to a request for comment, the New York Times reported Saturday morning.

“Real Time” is currently in its fifteenth season on HBO. Mr. Maher, 61, was fired from him previous gig hosting “Politically Incorrect” on ABC following comments he made a week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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