Accuracy in Media

I don’t watch the Bill Maher show on HBO. I haven’t thought much about him since he had a show on ABC and implied that the 9/11 attackers were courageous for flying hijacked planes into buildings and killing 3,000 people. At the same time, Maher said that the U.S. was cowardly for attacking terrorist bases in Afghanistan by launching cruise missiles from ships at sea. He is supposed to be a comedian but also tries to come across as someone who makes serious and thoughtful points about political issues.

We had to take another look at Maher because after he lost his ABC show he was picked up by Time Warner’s HBO, where he recently declared that the U.S. was facing a military recruiting crisis because we had already picked enough “low-lying Lynndie England fruit,” a reference to the soldier on trial for abusing Iraqi prisoners, and were in need of “warm bodies” for the front lines.

It should be self-evident that we are a nation at war, and that our ability to win this war depends on having a military that can fight and win. When a media personality, even one as obscure as Maher, demeans our service personnel with unfair charges and dishonest stereotypes, he is giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Writing in the Orlando Sentinel, Charles M. Grist, an Army veteran of both Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom, said that Maher’s England comment “paints all soldiers with the same brush and minimizes the service of men and women who are giving their all for their country. England and her cohorts are getting exactly what they deserve for dishonoring their uniform and themselves. Thousands of our soldiers continue to serve with honor and integrity and are making a difference in the world.”

In response to the controversy, Maher issued a statement saying he has the “highest regard for the men and women serving this country.” That statement is known as damage control. But the damage has been done. Shouldn’t this finish off Maher’s career? 

Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) took an interest when he received a complaint from a mother of one of our soldiers. The congressman watched the show and was shocked and outraged.

Bachus issued a statement saying that Maher had “insulted and demeaned all members of the U.S. military.” He said that “To characterize the men and women currently serving and risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq as low- lying fruit is reprehensible.” Bachus sent a letter to the entire Board of Directors of Time Warner, asking that they stop distributing this “tasteless and hurtful programming.” The board includes Ted Turner, former husband of “Hanoi Jane” Fonda, who supported the communist enemy during the Vietnam War.

Maher is quickly developing a reputation as the Jane Fonda of the Iraq War. Except that Maher hasn’t yet traveled to Iraq to join the ranks of the terrorists. 

The official transcript of his May 13 program on the HBO website has him saying, “The people in America who are most in favor of the Iraq war must now go there and fight it. The Army missed its recruiting goal by 42% last month. More people joined the Michael Jackson Fan Club. ‘We’ve done picked all the low-lying Lynndie England fruit.’ And now we need warm bodies. We need warm bodies like Paula Abdul needs…warm bodies!”

The transcript shows the comment about Lynndie England in quotes within a quote, as if he’s mocking or quoting somebody. This is misleading. Those who saw the show say that they were delivered as Maher’s own words. He also suggested that supporters of the war go to Iraq to fight it. But the war is a national effort, supported by the Administration and Congress, and we rely on a volunteer military. Maher seems to be saying that the war is not worth fighting, and he is entitled to his personal opinion. But because he has a national cable television show, his words are given more attention and have more of an impact. The effect will be to undermine the war effort and make it harder to attract people to our military. After all, who wants to join a military that is mocked as sub-human? Maher’s comments alone probably don’t have much of an effect, but he has the financial sponsorship of a media conglomerate and his guests include prominent politicians. His opinion is considered to be fashionable, not treasonous.

Maher should take his own advice about getting personally involved in the war effort and place his own life on the line by going to Iraq to face some of the “low-lying fruit.” Perhaps he’s afraid of getting picked up with the terrorists and being sent to Abu Ghraib.   

Bachus was right when he said that Maher’s “supremely insensitive and offensive statement is an affront not only to service members but to their families, loved-ones and friends as well as anyone who respects the sacrifice made by the troops now serving under difficult and dangerous conditions. To make such callous remarks about men and women who daily risk their lives to protect the safety of every American is despicable.”

Bachus was also correct when he said that, “Because of the sacrifice of Americans in the past, Maher has the right to say what he wants no matter how contemptible. Nonetheless, all those who admire the courage and professionalism of our troops will be disgusted and repelled by this filth and distressed that such pollution is being sent into our living rooms.”

It’s true that Time Warner can put Maher on the air, but Americans who support our troops have the right to demand that his show be taken off the air. Bachus is to be commended for standing up to Maher and his influential corporate sponsors. More members of Congress should support the Bachus effort.

Bachus added, “Legitimate political comment is not only the right of all Americans, it is the basic principle underlying our democracy. However, common decency and the recognition of the pain such thoughtless and ill-advised comments would cause the families who have had loved-ones killed or injured should prevent the expression of these opinions in the name of entertainment. I have called on the Time Warner Board of Directors to please stop the distribution of this tasteless and hurtful programming. It is not funny. It is cruel.”

It goes beyond cruel to being suicidal because the end result is to discourage young people from joining the military. If the recruiting problem persists, then our nation will be forced to go to a draft. And you can bet Maher will be fighting that every step of the way. His comments suggest the temperament of someone who won’t be satisfied until America fails in Iraq and we lose the war on terror. Which raises the question: Why does Osama bin Laden need al-Jazeera when he has people like Bill Maher?   

At AIM we hear frequently from U.S. military personnel and veterans who are disgusted by the anti-military comments and attitude of the media. Les Lewellyn of Orlando, Florida, recently wrote in to tell us, “I have discovered the AIM report, and wanted to take this opportunity to tell you thank you for making this information available to everyone. I am a recently discharged United States military service member of 11 years that was appalled by a lot of the media’s coverage of events in the Persian Gulf in particular. Their biased journalism has been a horrible travesty, and spits in the face of my fellow service members who have risked, and lost their lives in Iraq and the war on terrorism. Thank you for all you do, and your efforts are truly appreciated.”

Sir: we thank you for all that you have done. And we are sick and tired of people like Bill Maher spitting in your face and belittling your effort. Let Maher go to al-Jazeera. He’ll be more at home there.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.