Bill Maher, the controversial liberal host of Real Time, says he’s to thank for the fall of former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.
Maher, who interviewed Yiannopoulos on his show over the weekend, told the New York Times on Tuesday night:
About a week ago, I went on Van Jones’s show, and somebody asked me about the booking. I hadn’t really gotten into the details of Milo yet. He was just getting on my radar. I said, specifically, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Then we had Milo on, despite the fact that many people said, “Oh, how dare you give a platform to this man.” What I think people saw was an emotionally needy Ann Coulter wannabe, trying to make a buck off of the left’s propensity for outrage. And by the end of the weekend, by dinnertime Monday, he’s dropped as a speaker at CPAC. Then he’s dropped by Breitbart, and his book deal falls through. As I say, sunlight is the best disinfectant. You’re welcome.
The timeline here is broadly correct. Yiannopoulos did go on Maher’s show, only to be dropped by the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), his publishers, and Breitbart in the following days.
But as it’s commonly said, correlation is not causation. Yiannopoulos’s fall had nothing to do with what he did on Maher’s show.
On Real Time, Yiannopoulos regurgitated his boilerplate free speech defense — that he says offensive things because he believes in free speech so much that he feels he should be able to say and do whatever he wants — and claimed that transgender people are “disordered.” These remarks sparked outrage among the left, who were upset that Maher gave Yiannopoulos a platform to make his typical bigoted talking points.
But it wasn’t angry liberals who brought Yiannopoulos down. Instead, what brought Yiannopoulos down was conservatives disowning him. That happened not after they learned of Yiannopoulos’s racist, sexist, transphobic, and other bigoted remarks, but after a July 2016 clip — from months before he appeared on Maher’s show — was resurfaced by the conservative website Reagan Battalion following news that Yiannopoulos was invited to give a speech at CPAC.
In the clip, Yiannopoulos defended the idea of “13 year olds” having sex with “older men.” He argued, “In the homosexual world, particularly, some of those relationships between younger boys and older men — the sort of ‘coming of age’ relationships — the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable sort of rock.”
This — not anything that Yiannopoulos said on Maher’s show — is what brought him down among conservatives. Although conservative organizations like CPAC and Breitbart had originally argued that they supported Yiannopoulos despite his past offensive remarks because they supported his free speech, they ultimately disowned him when his speech went too far for them.
Take, for example, what American Conservative Union Chair Matt Schlapp said in regard to CPAC dropping Yiannopoulos: “Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference. … We initially extended the invitation knowing that the free speech issue on college campuses is a battlefield where we need brave, conservative standard-bearers.”
In other words, Yiannopoulos’s “free speech” insulting and stereotyping minorities, women, and LGBTQ people was fine for CPAC, but his “free speech” about pedophilia went too far.
So Maher is right that sunlight was the best disinfectant in Yiannopoulos’s case. Once conservatives saw who he really was, they no longer liked him.
But everything Yiannopoulos said on Maher’s show was his typical spiel, doing little to change how conservatives viewed Yiannopoulos. That change only came about after a conservative blog, in response to Yiannopoulos’s invitation to speak at CPAC, resurfaced Yiannopoulos’s months-old child molestation comments, leading to outrage within the movement.
For more on Milo Yiannopoulos’s fall, read Vox’s explainer.