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CNN Larry King Live
Interview With 'Politically Incorrect' Host Bill Maher
Aired January 04, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, he's politically incorrect and proud of it. Bill Maher shoots from the lip for the hour. We'll take your calls.
Plus, it's a new year and REO Speedwagon is here to say roll with the changes. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always good to welcome Bill Maher to LARRY KING LIVE. A great pleasure to have him with us here in our studio in Los Angeles. And, of course, we'll be including your phone calls. It's been nearly four months since September 11. We're going to talk about the landscape since then, what happened around -- on September 17 and get into a lot of areas.
How -- how have you come through all this controversy about this September 17 show? By the way, for those of you who don't know, on that show a panelist agreed with -- you agreed with a panelist who said it was inaccurate to call the terrorists cowards because they're willing to die for a cause. And then you said we have been cowards lobbying cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away...
BILL MAHER, HOST, "POLITICALLY INCORRECT": Right.
KING: ... and all hell broke loose.
KING: What's it been like since?
MAHER: Well, I mean, the first couple of weeks was like nothing I've ever experienced, because it was like after so many years of reporting on people who were in that bright, intense media glare, the O.J.s and the Condits and -- oh, look at him getting the...
MAHER: ... oh, they turned the light on me. So it was -- it's something everybody should go through once just to -- just to -- I think you'll really understand a lot about this country and.
KING: When you were doing the show, when that happened, did you say to yourself, uh-oh, or not?
MAHER: No. What's interesting about that is that nobody said anything that night. We had at least a dozen media outlets at that station, at our station that night.
KING: Oh, visiting, you mean?
MAHER: Yeah, visiting. It was our first show back and nobody said anything. And nobody said anything the next day. It was all because of one guy in Houston who has been trying to get me off the air for years for lots of things I've said.
KING: A writer?
MAHER: No, a disk jockey.
KING: And what did he do? He made a hullabaloo over it?
MAHER: He made a hullabaloo. And, you know, there is a kind of terrorism that goes on in this country where people do that. Where you can -- one guy can incite so many people just by repeating something second, third-hand. The people who watched the show, the people who like what I do -- and I admit, it is a minority, it's a bit of a cult. But they...
KING: That's what it's intended for, right?
MAHER: Well, it is what I am. I can't help it.
KING: Yeah, it's you.
MAHER: And that's what the people who like it. I mean, I tell you, Larry, I do live in a parallel universe, to answer your question. If you were the kind of people who like what I do, which is raw and real, they have -- they have no problem with it. It was only when people heard about it most -- I'm not going to say nobody who was watching it didn't object, but it was the people who mostly heard about it second and third-hand. And then, of course, if somebody says, "Well, write e-mail," there's a way with computers nowadays that you push a button and 1,200 letters go out. You know, that kind of stuff that they use in politics.
So it looked like there was this big hullabaloo. And I'm not going to deny, there was a lot of people angry and there are still a lot of people angry. But, you know, I have to tell you, Larry, in the entire time since then, I go out a lot and I've been around the country doing stand-up. One person in that whole time has come up to me and said something negative. One guy came up to me the first week and he said, "Why don't you set up shop with the al Qaeda network?" And I said, "No, I'm sticking with ABC."
KING: But look what happened from it. Seventeen affiliates yanked the show; nine of them eventually put it back on the air.
KING: Several advertisers canceled...
MAHER: Oh, yeah.
KING: ... saying they'd never buy time again. But this is something -- which you did that night -- is something your show has always done, hasn't it?
MAHER: Exactly. That's what I'm saying. The people who like -- I'm sort of in an impossible situation. Do I do the show for the people who actually watch it -- I know it's a crazy concept -- who, as I say, like it raw, like it real, like an adult discussion? Or do I do it for the people who are going to hear about it third-hand and get offended by it?
Now I apologized to anyone who was offended, and I would reiterate that. I would -- I have no problem with apologies. I'm with John Lennon when he said -- remember that book "Love Story" that said, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." And he said, "Excuse me, love means having to say you're sorry every five minutes." I don't have to tell you, Larry.
KING: Give it up, Maher.
MAHER: OK. So I have no problem saying I'm sorry to people, I've hurt your feelings. And to some people it was too soon. I totally understand that. But to the bulk of my audience it wasn't. So, you know, like we were...
KING: So then the apology was to whom, for what?
MAHER: The apology was to anyone who, in a time of trauma, that I made worse. If you were...
KING: But you're not sorry you said it.
MAHER: I can't...
KING: You're sorry if it bothered someone.
MAHER: You know, Larry, there were so many people who came to my aid. Everyone from Rush Limbaugh -- was the first one -- to Bill Clinton and lots of people in-between. Drew Carey went on "The Tonight Show" just to say, you know, "Bill Maher wasn't exactly wrong." It's the first thing Rush Limbaugh said, was "I don't agree with this guy a lot, but you know what, Bill Maher was right." Lots of people said it because it really wasn't a liberal or conservative thing, it was just a true thing. You know, that people who are willing to die aren't strictly cowards.
Now I don't know why we have to be so simplistic in this country, where we only see things black and white. Because it is more complicated than that. And I certainly wasn't saying I'm with these guys. I mean, I have been as right-wing as I always have been.
KING: Militarily you are right-wing.
MAHER: Always have been. So, as I say, for the people who tried to get me, to try to portray this like I was saying anything about our military, that's never what I...
KING: How did you react when suddenly you say you see yourself in the fish bowl? Ari Fleischer...
KING: ... the spokesman for the president says, "It's a terrible thing to say. It's a reminder to all Americans they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks; it never is." He subsequently said, "I stand by what I said. It's always the right of an American to speak out, but everybody has to be thoughtful about what they say as our nation goes into a wartime footing."
First, how did you react when you saw you being referred to in a presidential press conference?
MAHER: It was so bizarre to, you know -- there's a "Variety" headline that I -- it was at your house, Peter Bart was there. Hey, Peter, where's my headline? I said I wanted it for Christmas. Remember I said there...
MAHER: ... there was a headline in "Variety," "When the White House Turns the Heat Up on Maher." I love that; I've got to have that hanging in my office. How else are you going to get that? But what I thought was, really, I kind of chuckled to myself because Ari Fleischer got in trouble -- for what? For just what I did, for maybe saying something off the cuff, that in these very sensitive...
KING: Or was he trying to ban speech, is what he got in trouble for?
MAHER: You know what, I give him the break that I should get, I think, which is, you know what, we're all speaking off the cuff.
KING: He had a right to say that?
MAHER: He had a right to say it, and it came out in a way that sounded a little creepy. Which is, I guess, what my detractors would say about what I said. But like how many people really think that what I said was so unforgivable that this guy should lose his job? I mean, that, as I say, is a form of terrorism in America, where you say something that hurts me a little bit, you have to disappear. That's not what this country should be about.
KING: How close did it come to that? How close did you come to losing that job?
MAHER: I don't know, but, you know, all the people who try to stir up controversy between me and ABC, some of them did a good job. I mean, made a few comments right after the incident when it was pretty raw that probably I shouldn't have said, because the network has been pretty darn good. I mean, there are a lot of networks that would have canned me because we still have trouble with advertisers. We still are missing some big stations, as you mentioned.
But, you know, to their credit, they are not the problem. I mean, I've told you this before. You know, there are some people there I like very much and there are some people who really stick by it. And with all the headaches, they could have easily said, you know what, we don't need headaches, we have enough headaches. Boy do they have headaches. So...
KING: Did they make a public statement supporting you or did they just let it go?
MAHER: No, but, you know, I never expected that. No, I mean, I kind of felt like the Clinton impeachment, you know? I was impeached, but I wasn't convicted.
KING: Good way to look at it, Bill. We'll be right back with more of Bill Maher. We'll be including your phone calls. Lots of things to talk about. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "POLITICALLY INCORRECT")
MAHER: Well, apparently, U.S. and Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan are very close to accepting the surrender of the last big contingent of Taliban fighters around the city of Baghran. A spokesman for the Northern Alliance said there's really nothing left to do except to cross the T's and gouge out the eyes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: So Osama bin Laden now, they say he's had plastic surgery. They say he sneaked across the border at Pakistan and plastic surgery, which, by the way, is the place to go for it.
LETTERMAN: It's exactly where you want to be. And he looks great; he looks fantastic now. A tourist came up to him earlier this week and said, "Could I have your autograph, Mr. Hasselhoff?"
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Humor is back. Good for it.
Op-ed piece today by Michael Kinsley in "The Washington Post." He's with "Slate," used to be with CNN. Headline, "Listening to our Inner Ashcrofts." Here's what Kinsley said today: "If your main concern is not to say anything offensive or subject to misinterpretation, a lot will go unsaid that is true or even possibly wise, or at least amusing. Bill Maher has been watching what he says lately, and the nation is poorer for it."
MAHER: Yeah, which is so wrong. I appreciate the main thrust of his article, but like so many people who don't watch my show, they don't feel that that's an impediment to comment upon it.
KING: You're saying he's not watching?
MAHER: He can't be, Larry.
MAHER: Because I just -- I am incapable, intrinsically, of watching what I'm saying. You know this.
KING: You dropped your monologue for a while, right?
MAHER: But that had nothing to do -- well, right after the thing everyone sort of changed format because we were all a little more somber. But, I mean, the controversial stuff in my show doesn't occur in the monologue, it occurs in the discussion. Monologue jokes are jokes. They're -- you know, you could mix mine with Dave's and Jay's and we all...
KING: Well why would he write this: "I've been watching what he says lately, and the nation is poorer for it"?
MAHER: Because it fits the theme of his article. Because he doesn't have an article with as much weight without saying that. Unless I'm chastised, he doesn't have a point to make. I like Michael Kinsley, but I'm sorry, Michael, you're wrong and you're not watching. I mean, I say things all the time.
KING: So you do not -- you can say -- you do not go on the air saying what you would -- that you didn't say prior to September 17? You don't go on the air saying, "I better watch this"?
MAHER: Oh, I did for a couple of weeks. Obviously, when I was in that glare. And, I mean, you are a little not yourself. I'm not going to say I'm, you know, I'm not the $6 million dollar man here, I'm flesh and blood. But, you know, it wasn't that long before we were back to what we have always done. And, like I say, that is just keeping it real. And that's why a lot of people are still mad at me.
But I think once I got through that initial conflagration that you talked about, and I guess they didn't think, "Well, if we fire him, then we have to fire Rush Limbaugh and Chris Matthews and all the other people who said, "Well, you know what, he wasn't exactly wrong." Then I think people just either don't watch, or they go, "Well, why should we go after this guy? Because we've already tried once, and obviously it's not going to work." But, you know, I could tell you ten other things that I said that are certainly as controversial.
KING: Can you understand how it did upset people, though?
MAHER: I certainly can and that's why I said I was sorry, because I don't want to -- I don't want to upset people. But, again, the people who would be upset by the kind of things I say really don't watch and really shouldn't watch. I mean, there are other choices there. There's 12 dating shows, by the way, opposite me. You could watch anyone of them. KING: Do you think we are more on guard, generally?
MAHER: Morons, did you say?
KING: More on guard.
MAHER: Larry King said we're morons. Get the thought police.
KING: The guy in Houston's going to quote that.
MAHER: Yeah, exactly. Of course we're more on guard, and some of that is justified. We are in a changed situation. But as the point of his article was, I think it's very good. He said at the end, "You know, my New Year's resolution is not to watch what I say." I think the point is that patriotism comes in many varieties, and we can't just say you have to be this way with patriotism. If you want to put a flag on your car, that's great. There's nothing wrong with a flag, but there's also nothing wrong with not having a flag. As I said, it's literally the least you can do.
KING: What is -- what is the thin line between when you can be humorous again? Letterman, Leno, yourself and others, they do bin Laden jokes.
KING: He's a man responsible -- I'll make the case here.
KING: Here's a man responsible for three million deaths, which he has admitted.
MAHER: Three million? Three thousand.
KING: Three thousand, which he has admitted.
KING: Innocent lives, he's admitted it on tape. Told how the whole scenario came about. What can be funny about him?
MAHER: But, Larry, if you -- if you go by that criteria, we wouldn't be joking about anything through the history of the world.
KING: I know, but you wouldn't be joking about Hitler during the time you discover the camps. You discover the Holocaust, you don't make a joke about Hitler that night. Bin Laden is now funny to people, correct?
MAHER: Well, that night, but it's not that night.
MAHER: And that's the point.
KING: But the question was, when is the time that he becomes funny?
MAHER: Well, the time became funny pretty soon thereafter. I mean, those guys went back to work a week after the event, like I did. And they made jokes and they are still making jokes, as well they should.
MAHER: You know, people have to put that part of it outside of their minds for a second when a guy is making jokes about it, because you have to laugh. It's a -- you know, if you...
KING: So like two months, that's a good time? One month is a good time? In other words, when is a good time?
MAHER: You know, Johnny Carson used to joke that you still couldn't make Lincoln jokes. He used to make a joke about Lincoln everywhere, Lincoln's birthday. He would do the joke about "four scored and seven came close and that took a shot at her in the balcony." You know, all the great Lincoln jokes: The stripper freed her slaves. Nothing.
And every year he would say, "Too early. Too soon, too soon." So, you know, it's really the -- they, the audience, are the ones who tell you when it's time. But, you know, audiences are different. Like I said, my audience, they like it -- they like it -- they don't want to wait.
KING: Have you become more -- Bill, when we first met and you'd come on my radio show at night, you were a comic. Are you now more -- no, no, no, you're still funny. Are you now more a social commentator?
MAHER: Not when I do stand-up. Well, maybe I am. I don't know, even when I was young when I did my stand-up act, it was about a lot, the news and what's going on in society. I'm not interested in little things. Like Jerry Seinfeld was the master brilliant at making something very -- that seems insignificant really significant. That was his genius.
KING: A deck of cards could be funny.
MAHER: Could be funny, or socks or, you know, cereal. I could care less about socks and cereal. I like the big picture; I like the big things. That's what I always commented on. I don't think I've changed. You know, I'm not there to change anybody's mind, I'm there to get a laugh, primarily. But the things that I'm interested in, I hope they do change people's minds because people's minds need some changing.
KING: Did Twain have trouble -- did Mark Twain have trouble in...
MAHER: Oh, are you kidding, Larry?
KING: Will Rogers? MAHER: Will Rogers? Both of them did the suspenders before you, by the way. I don't know, but I would guess, wouldn't you?
KING: I would guess that they had trouble. There were things Twain didn't have published until he died.
MAHER: Right. Certainly, Lenny Bruce.
KING: Lenny Bruce, arrested.
MAHER: Arrested and, you know, died in the toilet, which, you know, is a common celebrity way to go.
KING: So what is it? We like to laugh or we don't like to laugh or there's a line we draw or what?
MAHER: Well, I mean, this society, you're talking about a different society now. I mean, we are, I think, used to being pampered. We're used to being pandered, too. We're used to a society where we don't want any pain. If there's any pain, that's got to go. You've got to take a pill for it. You know, I read this article before the holidays about how to cope during the holidays. You know, where most people really don't have to cope that much. I mean, a lot of people in America act like the buildings fell on them.
You know, I have this special sympathy for the people in New York in Washington, the whole city. Because just like we had the riots out here in '92, when a huge tragedy hits your city, the whole city goes. And, of course, for the people directly involved. But, you know, to most Americans, they pretty much went right back to what they were doing, and it was just more a veneer of whatever else was going on. And they sort of...
KING: With added fear, though.
MAHER: Yeah, but they sort of -- also, there was a lot of justification for what they wanted to do anyway. You know, "We've got to shop, or they win." You know, we've got to keep bowling, Larry, or else they win.
KING: See, now that sounds funny now, and it didn't sound funny September 15, right?
MAHER: Well, it depends on who you're talking to. Like on the show that airs tonight -- we taped it yesterday -- we were talking about "TIME" man of the year. And I criticized them. I thought it should have been bin Laden, because the man of the year, by their own definition, is the person who for better or worse...
KING: ... was the man of the year.
MAHER: ... and Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I thought "TIME" split the bid on that one. Sorry, I know it's the same company here, but that's my opinion. And two of the guests argued; they said it's just too soon. They said, you know -- and, again, it's a matter of taste. For my audience it's not too soon. I think the truth is much more important than making us feel good at every turn.
KING: Back with more of Bill Maher and lots more to talk about on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TONIGHT SHOW")
JAY LENO, HOST: The Department of Transportation announced today it's going to ease the requirements for hiring airport security guards. Well, thank God the government is involved. Listen to this, this is true. Airport security guards will no longer have to have a high school diploma. Does this make sense? Even terrorists make their people go to school!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
WILL FERRELL, ACTOR (as President George W. Bush): I'd like to address my remarks tonight to Mr. Osama bin Laden. Buddy, you screwed up big time.
FERRELL: Guess what, amigo? I'm coming to get you. I'm not alone either. The American people are right behind me. You see, you made a big mistake. If you had any brains, you would have challenged me to a game of scrabble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Funny stuff.
MAHER: He's great.
KING: Great. We're back with Bill Maher. A close friend of Bill's and this program as well was the late Barbara Olson. We're going to repeat our tribute that we aired Christmas night tomorrow night on LARRY KING WEEKEND with a long interview with Ted Olson. But here is how Bill Maher handled it. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "POLITICALLY INCORRECT")
MAHER: For those of you who are just joining us, I wanted to mention that that chair is empty all week. We announce this each night for Barbara Olson, who was a favorite guest of ours, and a friend. And she was supposed to be here last Tuesday night. She was on one of the planes. So we leave that open in tribute and cherished memory for her.
(APPLAUSE) (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Did you give that a lot of thought, or was that spur?
MAHER: Yeah. We didn't have to discuss it a lot, you know. I mentioned it, everybody went, yeah, that's the right thing to do.
KING: We all liked her so much.
KING: We all didn't agree with her all the time.
KING: What was it about her?
MAHER: You know, that's the best thing about having done this show for all these years, is that it really taught me that I can be friends and like people who I don't agree with very much. And it is just so funny the way you can go at it with them, you know, during the body of the show, and the second it's over, you know, you got your arm around them and you're talking about...
KING: But there are many people who don't understand that. They think you have to hate them if you disagree with them.
MAHER: Yeah. Well, that's good, because, you know, it is like wrestling. You don't want to make it look like, you know, you're not really into it. But the truth is that you can disagree and also understand.
KING: Let's grab a call and we'll get a lot of other topics with Bill Maher. Leavenworth, Washington. Hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry and Bill. Thanks for taking a minute.
CALLER: Hey, I have a question and that is, Bill, do you feel you can speak as freely now and politically push the envelope, or since September 17 have you been reeled in a little more and a little more politically correct now?
KING: Fair question.
MAHER: But we just did that question.
KING: No, he said, do you have any hesitancy at all? I didn't go quite that...
MAHER: Oh, OK. Well, I mean, look, am I a complete Tourette's syndrome maniac who just spews whatever comes into my mind? No, but I never have been that. But no, I mean, I say things just as I see them. And they are usually -- or at least often -- at variance with the great, you know, mainstream viewpoint. But it's always been that way. I mean, the point of view of our show has always been, I would say, old school. You know? I mean, it's always been about personal responsibility and buck up. And that's one reason why I was always such a big military backer. To me, they were always the last line of defense to a society that had gone kind of soft.
KING: Always were on this show. Always were, always.
MAHER: Always was on my show, too.
KING: OK. Let's discuss some people. How is Ashcroft doing?
MAHER: Well, you know, I always thought he was a scary, creepy guy, but now that there are even scarier and creepier people in the world, I'm kind of glad he's on our side. You know, it's like, hey, we have a nut, too. You know? So.
KING: Do you worry about the Patriot Act? Do you worry about...
MAHER: I certainly worry about naming something the Patriot Act, because that's a form of intimidation that I think is not cricket. Who could vote against the Patriot Act, you know, really?
KING: I'm against patriots.
MAHER: You can legalize crack if you had Patriot Act on the top of it. But I'm not against the idea of laws have to change. People have to change. I'm for racial profiling. I talk about...
KING: You're kidding.
MAHER: I'm not kidding.
KING: So you would stop a black man driving a Porsche in Beverly Hills?
MAHER: Not a black -- no, no, no, no -- not a black man. I'm talking with a terrorist situation.
KING: Only with the terrorist situation.
MAHER: Well, yes. I mean, look, the fact -- it's true that 99.999 percent of all the Muslim Americans are good, loyal people who we don't want to hassle. But it's also true that all the terrorists, OK, are from Muslim, Arab countries, OK? When people make the analogy to Tim McVeigh, that is not an accurate analogy. Yes, that was a case of domestic terrorism from a white guy. OK? What was the pool of support that Tim McVeigh had in the world? It was a few hundred people at most. OK?
We're talking about a pool of support in the Muslim world that is wide and deep. It's not the majority, but it is millions, tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of people. So we are not talking about the same thing when you compare Tim McVeigh with Osama bin Laden. KING: How about, though, when it leads to you throw a Secret Service guy off an airplane who is going to Texas to protect the president? You throw him off because he's Muslim?
MAHER: OK. He was an Arab guy with a gun.
KING: With a permit.
MAHER: A permit?
KING: With I.D.
MAHER: All right, but aren't we in the "let's be safe than sorry" phase now? An Arab guy with a gun wants to get on a plane. He flashes a badge. Now, I have police kind of badges.
KING: You question him, he says, call my leaders. Call the Secret Service, they'll tell you who I am.
MAHER: Well, and shouldn't he be willing to undergo that?
KING: They wouldn't do it. Right? They threw him off the plane.
MAHER: They threw him off the plane to check him out. Do we want the message to go out to airlines now -- because this guy called a press conference yesterday and was kind of whining about it -- do we really want the message to go out to American Airlines who I think did the right thing, do we want the message to be, look, if an Arab guy with a gun waves some kind of a badge and you are not quite sure, you know, you could get sued. So wave him on and get up in the sky.
KING: So, under that concept, in 1941 you would have probably favored putting the Japanese into camps.
MAHER: What a ridiculous jump.
KING: Why? Japanese had just bombed the West Coast?
MAHER: You don't think there's a big difference between rounding people up and putting them in camps and asking them to step out of line and answer a few questions?
KING: Franklin Delano Roosevelt did that, liberal and conservative America did that, with little protest.
MAHER: And it was wrong. And it was wrong. And it's part of the problem here that people do not have perspective. They can't see the difference between rounding people up and putting them in camps and just saying, you know what, we've had a problem, and tolerance works two ways. I think America has been remarkably tolerant to the Muslim community. But they have to be tolerant of our suspicions, which are justified. It is just common sense.
KING: We're moving on now. Very well said. Mr. Cheney. He's here, he's not here. MAHER: Yeah.
KING: What do you make of this, our sometimes absent vice president?
MAHER: I think he had another heart attack.
KING: Come on, Bill.
MAHER: But that's just a safe bet.
MAHER: I'm kidding. What?
KING: You got to say you're kidding about something like that, because that's...
MAHER: Because what? We didn't make 1,000 jokes about Dick Cheney having heart attacks before? What? You mean, Dick Cheney and a heart attack isn't funny now because of Osama bin Laden? I mean, come on.
KING: All right. No. But to presume someone had a heart attack, it's...
MAHER: Because we never see him! He's due. I mean, my God, it's been three months. No, I don't know. He's in an underground bunker. He's, you know, he's harder to find than bin Laden.
KING: Why do you think we are separating them so much? Why do we think we are -- forget heart attacks. Why do you think he is being kept?
MAHER: It's just prudent, because he is number two -- or -- OK. Let's just pretend. No, he is. And you certainly wouldn't want something to happen to both of them at the same time.
And by the way, let me say that I think they have prosecuted the war overseas magnificently. I used that phrase "give war a chance" years ago about other matters, and I think they did it with -- to perfection. I mean, they got the job done in a place where everybody said, you know, Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires. I went on the air about two weeks after we, you know, the thing and said, you know what? It's not the graveyard of empires. It was the graveyard of Russia, which was a dying empire, and Britain when they had muskets. Our kick-ass Army could take care of this situation, but I didn't think they could do it this good, but they did.
KING: Like a slum dunk.
MAHER: Oh, perfect.
KING: Right back with more of Bill Maher, the host of "Politically Incorrect" on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. More of your phone calls too. REO Speedwagon is going to close things out tonight. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
DARRYLL HAMMOND, ACTOR (as Vice President Dick Cheney): Now, I know what you're thinking, you're probably worried because you heard things about me having a weak heart. Well, I got news for you -- check it out, suckers. I got me a bionic ticker! This thing regulates my heartbeat, gives me night vision and renders me completely invisible to radar.
HAMMOND: Check this out.
HAMMOND: I brew my own sanka!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "POLITICALLY INCORRECT")
MAHER: We Americans need to start thinking of ourselves as citizens of the world first, and of any particular country second. After all, Jesus himself was -- I don't know if you know this -- not an American.
MAHER: If you celebrate Christmas religiously, folks, you pray to a young man from the Middle East who today probably would get stopped at the airport.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Bill Maher. OK, you have discussed how well they're conducting the war. How well is Mr. Bush doing domestically?
MAHER: Well, there I have a lot more quibbles, and some of them are more than quibbles. Again, I don't know what Michael Kinsley has been watching at 12:05, but I've been pretty tough on the president with his domestic agenda. I think it's outrageous. And nobody said anything about the checks that he wants to pass out to corporations, that stimulus bill. Come on, I mean, that...
KING: He thinks it will stimulate the economy by giving the corporations a break, they will therefore not fire people.
MAHER: It would stimulate our economy the way when we gave money to Russia it stimulated their economy. When you give money to business people... KING: Corporate welfare.
MAHER: ... with no obligations to spend it on the greater good, that is not helping. I think I said something along the order of, you know, this looked to me like down payment on the next election, because we still have a campaign finance problem. And this is a perfect example of it.
But I think the other thing that he has failed to do, in my opinion, is take advantage of a situation where you could ask the American people to sacrifice in a real way, not just shop 'till they drop, you know, not just that kind of stuff. But we really do need to change our ways in a certain way. Jimmy Carter was a lot braver about confronting the energy crisis that we are facing now.
KING: And got walloped for it.
MAHER: Yeah, but that is what leadership is. So did Lyndon Johnson. I did a show one night when the Lyndon Johnson tapes came out about a month or two ago. And it showed a man who -- and he cared more about his own popularity than anybody -- was willing to stay in Vietnam, and he knew it was going to destroy him and his presidency, but he truly believed in the domino theory. He really believed...
KING: Yeah, he did.
MAHER: ... that if you let them on your front porch, they're going to be in your bedroom. Whatever it was, he could have been wrong, but he believed it, and he did it at the price of his popularity.
I don't see this president willing to do anything at the price of his popularity. This is a time to ask people -- and of course, you're not going to probably get it out of a guy who was elected with a lot of big oil money to say, you know what, Saudi Arabia, OK? They're the country who funds terrorism. They are the center of the Islamic world, although I've had Islamic people deny that, but that's just part and parcel of a lot of what they do, which is a case of denial -- and I don't mean the river. But there's a lot of denial that goes on in that country also.
You know, they're at beheadings in Mecca on Friday night. This a country that we have to do business with, because we're dependent on their product, and you cannot tick off the dealer.
KING: You drive a hybrid car?
MAHER: I do. See, there's an example of something that you could...
KING: You sacrifice?
MAHER: Well, yeah. And it's a good car. You don't have to sacrifice that much. But instead of putting a flag on your SUV, which is just going to put money in the pockets of the people who fund terrorism, change the car, not the flag. KING: Let's take a call. Mukilteo, Washington. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Mr. Maher, could you comment on the brouhaha the Red Cross had when they wanted to use some of the 9/11 moneys for, God forbid, other needy people? I'd like to hear your comment on that.
KING: God forbid.
MAHER: It sounds like you probably already heard my comments on that. Yeah, there's another one that, you know, again, I was against the grain there, but I defended the Red Cross. I couldn't understand how people were so upset at the Red Cross, while, as I say, the money was flying out in the stimulus bill, $250 million to go to Enron, you know, $1 million to General Motors. That's OK, but the Red Cross said that we want to put some of the money, because we had a little problem on September 11 that cost us, we want to put it, some for another rainy day, we have some other needs we need to take care of.
Now, maybe they didn't handle everything perfectly, but, you know, it wasn't like they were spending the money on a kick-ass Christmas party, Larry. It wasn't all about, ooh, strippers and hookers for the Red Cross! You know, they were doing what they do. But you know, as I say, we live in a kind of a self-absorbed society where people saw Julia Roberts on television saying, you know, this money goes right to the victims. So people were like, I want my money to go right down to ground zero. I want Julia Roberts to hand out cash to the people who I saw on TV. Well, you know, that's a little myopic. We have to think...
KING: Speaking of that, do you think if Enron were a Little Rock company and Clinton were president, that there would have been a bigger hullabaloo?
MAHER: You know, they made such a big deal about Whitewater, which was a bunch of, you know, you know what it was. It was nothing. And I mean, no one -- where is the outrage? Remember when Bob Dole had that saying in 1996? Where is the outrage for what this administration tried to get through, which was handing out checks to large corporations that did very well through the '80s and the '90s? They wanted to pass a retroactive tax back to 1986, which closed the loophole back then. They wanted to reopen that loophole and shove money in it to large corporations.
I just don't understand why people don't get more involved. And I think the reason is because they're like, hey, something scary happened, and let's just not pay attention. We've got Bush there, he's a good guy, he's going to take care of it. I don't want to look too closely, because if I look too closely, I might get upset and have to think and have to make sort of kind of a gray area decision. It's a lot easier just to go, hey, he's our boy, he's doing great, and that's all I want to hear.
But that isn't what being a patriot is. Being a patriot is paying attention, especially in these times.
KING: Homeland security. MAHER: Hate the term.
MAHER: I think I saw it in "Red Dawn" or some movie like that. It just sounds too, you know, I don't know. The Republicans are usually great at coming up with names. But homeland security is freaky, and they haven't done a good job.
Again, where the outrage? I mean, you showed that clip of Jay talking about the high school diplomas. Why doesn't anyone hold the administration responsible? Does anyone think it's a good idea that the people who are screening your bags don't need to have a high school diploma? I mean, it was bad enough when we thought it was people who were working at Burger King, now it's people who couldn't even get to work at Burger King.
I said a long time ago on the show, I think what we need is a Secret Service for the people. You know, how the Secret Service guards the president? They don't have to look at everybody, and they certainly don't look at everybody equal. They're trained. They're in suits, they're well paid. They look around the room, they know where the trouble is. And they do a magnificent job. They have a pretty good record.
KING: Yeah, but you got to pay all these people.
MAHER: You know what? Make the salary $100,000. You know, what it would cost us? $30 billion, $40 billion? We're a rich country. We could afford it. Get a cadre, get like the Israelis do, a force in there who are part detective, part psychiatrist, trained, smart, well paid, well respected, well dressed, and have them be looking over at the airport.
KING: They've extended the alert for another three months. We now are on a national alert, which seems to continue. Do you know what you do with that alert? I mean, what does the alert mean to you?
MAHER: I keep drinking, Larry. Because otherwise they win. I'm Irish, Larry. I did it before, and I'm going to do it again.
KING: OK. We'll be back with more of Bill Maher on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: How about this? He's a big drinker. He's like a drunk, this Osama bin Laden.
LETTERMAN: And his favorite bar is Thank Allah It's Friday. He's always in there.
(LAUGHTER) LETTERMAN: Oh, man. But insiders say, no, no, that's not true. Osama bin Laden quit drinking years ago. Quit drinking years ago, but it's funny now, ironically he's still getting bombed every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
FERRELL (as Bush): Make no mistake, we're coming for you, bin Laden. I'm going to make you my own personal Where's Waldo?
FERRELL: And unlike those frustrating Waldo books, I'm going to find you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You know what's really annoying to me? Because every time you're on, I get -- I did obviously this show for years just based in Washington, we go back to Washington three or four times a year. You're not on in Washington, the one place you should be on.
MAHER: That's the biggest station that still doesn't have it.
KING: It's Channel 7, big ABC affiliate.
MAHER: I know. I wish we were. I mean...
KING: What did they say to you? Why aren't you on in Washington?
MAHER: They don't talk to me. I mean, I don't know. I just wish that -- I mean, you know, I couldn't have done more. You know, I said I was sorry for hurting people.
KING: Were you on before?
KING: They took you off on September 17?
KING: And haven't put you back?
MAHER: No. I mean, you know, even if it was the worst thing in the world that I said, you know, how long, what punishment does fit the crime?
KING: Two more months! MAHER: And so many people I know live there, and they call me. I say, "call them." But you know -- but I like the station. They're nice people. I just wish I could be back on with them.
KING: Kaual, Hawaii, hello.
CALLER: Oh hi, Bill. Listen, America needs your show more than ever. More than anything. And I just want to find out, where can I find a list of all of the sponsors that are boycotting you so that I can boycott their products?
KING: A reverse boycott. Is there such a list?
MAHER: Just go down the aisle in the supermarket. No. I don't know. You know, I never get involved. When people said, you know, Sears pulled out of your show, I said, well, what, an opportunity for Penney's. You know, I never knew they sponsored it to begin with. And you know, I'm sorry they felt that way, but you know.
KING: What do you make of the Israeli situation, the Palestinian, is it ever going to solve that?
MAHER: This again, you know, I'm like the only guy on TV who defends Israel. The media is so biased.
KING: You think they're anti-Israel?
MAHER: Of course they are. They don't -- because they don't understand what happened in that area of the world throughout the last century. They're occupied. That's a term that's just used on all newscasts. That territory is not occupied, OK? The term "occupied" refers to a country that used to be a country. There was no Palestinian Arab country, ever.
KING: There was a Palestine, though.
MAHER: Palestine. Do you know that at the 1939 World's Fair, there was a Palestinian exhibit. It was Jewish. It was a Zionist exhibit. The term Palestinian only refers to people who live in that part of the world. They are both Arab and Jew. It is as much the Jews' homeland as the Arabs'.
KING: They are cousins, too.
MAHER: They are cousins. And that's true if you've ever been to the mall and bought something. But when that land was partitioned in 1947 and the U.N. said, OK, fellow, you are going to have to share it. The Jews said OK, and the Arabs said, no, we'd rather try to wipe you out.
And right now, we live in a situation where the Jews could wipe out the Arabs in two seconds if they wanted. They have the means. They don't. Do you think if the Arabs, you think if they had the atom bomb, that the state of Israel would last? How long would it last? One minute.
KING: But America should try to broker something here, right?
MAHER: They should. And it's not that Israel is blameless. They shouldn't be building settlements and lots of stuff. But basically, that situation is not presented in the American media.
KING: Why do you think the media would be anti-Israel?
MAHER: They're not anti-Israel, they just don't know what happened there. And it's a lot easier to take the side of the underdog. You know? I saw a report on the news just the other day, a Palestinian girl who said, you know, I can't get through the checkpoint, and I only have my books, and the Israeli soldiers are so mean. Well, yeah, but that's because a lot of your brothers are blowing up their pizza parlors. Sorry.
KING: So you think -- because for a long time, Israel and the media in the United States had a relationship like they were intertwined. Palestinians had almost no voice in America media in the '60s and '70s.
KING: It changed.
MAHER: It changed. It changed. And what I think people forget is that it is also the only democracy. It's not about a religious situation. It's a democracy, Israel, it's the only one in that part of the world, by the way. And we've never sent a soldier to defend Israel. We've sent our troops and our planes and our bombs to defend Muslims in Bosnia and in Somalia, and we certainly freed a country called Afghanistan recently.
KING: Couple of other quick things. Where is Al Gore, do you think?
MAHER: He's with Dick Cheney. I don't know, but I'll tell you this, when people say, boy, we dodged the bullet. We got Bush, and thank God because Gore -- now, I think as I said, Bush did a great job with the war overseas. It doesn't mean Al Gore wouldn't -- this idea that oh, my God, thank God we didn't get Al Gore because he would have appointed Pee Wee Herman secretary of defense, God knows what would have happened -- it's ridiculous. They both would have done pretty much the same thing. I think. Don't you think?
KING: Well, Sam Nunn would have been secretary of defense.
MAHER: They're, at the end of the day, patriotic Americans. They're politicians. They're a lot more alike than they are different. They exaggerate the differences during election times to fool us, and by the way, it worked.
KING: And finally, you still enjoy doing the stand-up, right? Going out to colleges, clubs, et cetera? MAHER: Concerts. You know, mostly theaters, because, you know, you get just the people who agree with me to begin with, that 14 percent that I talk about.
KING: But also, you need that for your own...
MAHER: Well, it makes me realize that I'm not working in a vacuum here. There are other people who think in a sort of alternative way.
KING: Thank you, William, as always.
MAHER: As always.
KING: Bill Maher, the host of "Politically Incorrect." Great pleasure having you with us.
We close on a musical note. And we've got REO Speedwagon tonight. Stay right there, don't go away.
KING: We've got a great finish for you tonight. Reo Speedwagon is here. Kevin Cronin is their lead vocals and rhythm guitar for this award-winning group. Their newest album is "Plus." You did that Volunteers for America.
KEVIN CRONIN, REO SPEEDWAGON: Yes, we did.
KING: Raised a lot of money.
CRONIN: We sure did, $500,000 for the Port Authority.
KING: Was that for want of a better term, weird to work after September 11?
CRONIN: Well, I tell you, we had a show on the 13th in Salt Lake City. No way to get there. Weren't sure if people would actually show up. And we got together and thought, let's go, let's go do it. And I tell you, the music takes on a whole different meaning. The songs that kind of were, that were written about one thing, all of a sudden after September 11, we sing songs like "Riding the Storm Out." It means a whole new thing to people now.
KING: And they're going to do a great one tonight. "Roll with the Changes." Go, REO Speedwagon.
CRONIN: Thanks, Larry.
(REO SPEEDWAGON PERFORMS "ROLL WITH CHANGES")
KING: We hope you enjoyed tonight's edition with Bill Maher and REO Speedwagon. Were they something? Tomorrow night John Walsh, we mentioned Barbara Olson -- the tribute Barbara Olson will be repeated on Sunday night. And we'll repeat our interview with John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" tomorrow evening repeated.
It's good to be back after two week's off as of tonight. Lots of tapes, hope you enjoyed the programming.
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