Skip to main content

Political Satirist Bill Maher

He's just published When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism. It's a coffee table book of post-Sept. 11 political posters, with slogans such as "Political Correctness is Dangerous...Demand Real Security" and "Put a Flag on Your Car...It's Literally the Least You Can Do/Empty Gestures Don't Win Wars." For nine years, Maher was the host of the TV talk show Politically Incorrect" which aired first on Comedy Central and then on ABC. The network pulled the show in June of 2002, citing declining ratings.


Other segments from the episode on November 7, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 7, 2002: Interview with Bill Maher; Commentary on the rock group "Rolling Stones."


DATE November 7, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Bill Maher discusses his new book, "When You Ride
Alone You Ride with Bin Laden"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Bill Maher's late-night program, "Politically Incorrect," was canceled over
the summer, but he is still politically incorrect, saying very intentionally
provocative and funny things about the state of our country. He said, `I
criticize my country because that's what a patriot does.' Maher has a new
book in which he offers his critique of America's war on terrorism. The book
was inspired by posters issued by the government during World War I and World
War II with messages that encouraged Americans to make sacrifices for the war
effort. Maher has reworked those posters with new messages about the war on
terrorism. Those posters are the illustrations in his book. The book is
called "When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden: What the Government
Should be Telling Us to Help Fight the War on Terrorism."

Bill Maher, welcome back to FRESH AIR.

Mr. BILL MAHER (Author, "When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden"): Nice
to be back. Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Let me ask you to describe the title poster in your book.

Mr. MAHER: OK. That's true, a lot of people want to know, what does that
mean, "When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden"? Well, there was a World
War II poster, `when you ride alone, you ride with Hitler,' and we really just
redid that original one. The poster depicted a guy sitting in a convertible
with a kind of a ghost outline of Adolf Hitler next to him. And at the bottom
it said, `join a carpooling club,' because they were trying to tell people
that by saving oil, you were helping in the war effort.

And this is one of the posters that inspired me to do this book, because I was
looking through this book of World War II posters and I was struck, not only
by how beautiful the artwork is, but also the spirit involved, the way the
government was so unafraid in that era to ask the citizens to do something, to
pitch in in whatever way they could, whether it was planting a victory garden
or saving tin or buying war bonds, more productive at work, you name it.

And certainly oil was a big part of that war effort, and, you know, there's no
doubt that it's a big part of our war effort, although the government we have
would never tell you. So I thought, if they're not going to tell you, then I
will. So that's how the cover came about.

GROSS: This leads to another poster in your book that's called `The Empty
Podium.' Would you describe that one?

Mr. MAHER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That one depicts--on the one side it has 1961 and
a picture of Kennedy at the podium, and it quotes his famous quote about
getting to the moon where he says, "I believe this nation should commit itself
to achieving the goal before the decade is out of landing a man on the moon."
And under that it says, `We did.' And then next to that, there's an empty
podium and it says, `Today' on the top and there's a quote, although it
doesn't really exist because nobody ever said it but it's the one I'd like to
see, and it says, `I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the
goal before the decade is out of being completely independent of foreign oil.'
And underneath that, it says, `We could.'

And the point is that Kennedy set a goal of 10 years to get to the moon, and
if we set a goal of 10 years to be completely independent of foreign oil, of
course we could achieve that goal. But it's not a goal that's in the cards
because the government we have is, of course, funded largely in their
campaigns, which is what they care about, by money from oil corporations. I
mean, we do have two oil men in the White House. So the idea that they're
going to turn their back on their contributors is very slim. That, to me, is,
I think, what their idea of integrity is, is to make sure that they don't
betray the people who gave them money to run for the office.

GROSS: Now there's a poster in your book, `At Airport Security.'

Mr. MAHER: Yeah.

GROSS: And, you know, like a grandmother is passing through security with her
grandson. She's getting frisked.

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: The kid has to take his sneakers off and they're getting examined.
Meanwhile, bin Laden is just kind of breezing through the radar.

Mr. MAHER: Right. He's going right through the metal detector while Grandma
gets frisked. Yeah.

GROSS: And below, it says `Political correctness is dangerous--demand real
security.' What are some of your beefs about how political correctness is
affecting airport security?

Mr. MAHER: Well, I think the picture says it all. The fact that we basically
not only search and are suspicious of people randomly, but we brag about it.
Secretary Mineta, I quote him in the book. I think it's in that chapter. He
was asked on "60 Minutes" whether a 70-year-old woman from Vero Beach, I think
it was, would receive the same level of scrutiny as a Muslim young man from
Jersey City. And he said, `I would hope so.' And I think the first casualty
of war is sometimes common sense. He said passengers should find all the
evidence of equal inspection reassuring, and I find it anything but
reassuring. I find it a mindless, exploitable system. And that's not what we
need. We need focus now. We need heads up right now.

And it's funny that when I do my stand-up performance, which is similar to the
material in the book, so we project these posters behind me when I'm talking
about the subject that is appropriate for the poster. And when I bring up the
subject of profiling, I hear, you know, people sort of get uncomfortable with
that word and they don't sound like they're really for it. But when they see
the poster, they applaud, which is a tremendous contradiction because the
poster is saying, `Well, we need to do some profiling.'

And by the way, if they just stop calling it `profiling,' if they called it,
you know, `proactive intelligence screening,' or `high alert detecting,'
people would say, `Of course, it's about time.' That's what the Israelis do.
That is, of course, what all police work is based on. And this is not an
attempt to be prejudiced against Muslim people or Middle Eastern people in any
way, but it's realistic.

GROSS: Where would you, Bill Maher, draw the line between what you would
consider to be justifiable profiling at airport security and racism?

Mr. MAHER: Well, they're two completely different things. Someone has to
willfully not want to understand that they are two completely different
things. Just because the word has been applied to both doesn't mean both are
the same. And when I say `both,' I mean, pulling over a young black man in a
Mercedes driving through a nice neighborhood, that's the bad kind of
profiling; that's unjustified because black people driving Mercedes, that has
no history or basis. They're not stealing those cars. That's racism.

But, please, on September 11th, we were attacked by 19 Muslim young men who
were on a suicide mission. And their ilk is out there still in sleeper cells
in this country, as we have found out. Certainly there is a large pool of
recruitment for such a movement in many of the Muslim countries around the
world. After September 11th, the most popular name for a baby in Pakistan was
Osama. So, you know, when people say `it's just a few extremists,' well, it's
not just a few extremists, and they are drawing from a large pool of
popularity in the Muslim world for this cause. So this is a very different
situation than what I would call domestic profiling.

GROSS: I will say probably a lot of people are thinking that's easy for you
to say that because you don't look like you are from the Gulf or the Middle
East. You could breeze through if there isn't profiling, whereas a lot of

Mr. MAHER: Well, first of all, I never breeze through.

GROSS: Really? Have you gotten stopped a lot?

Mr. MAHER: All the time. And...

GROSS: Are you stopped by guards who recognize you, who know who you are?

Mr. MAHER: Yes. This is something--I talked about this on my show before it
went off, that maybe it's going to get better now that it's been federalized.
And people seem to think it's getting better. I think there's actually an
element of racism in that opinion because I noticed that the federal workers
are whiter in general than the workers have been in the past who do that job
at the airports. And I think people's prejudice shows through. And they
think, `Oh, I think it's better at the airport.' I don't see that it's a lot
better. I just see that it's a lot whiter.

Anyway, yeah, it seems like everyone I know who is in the public eye has
gotten stopped an inordinate amount of times because it's just too much fun to
go through Kevin Bacon's shaving kit. And I told the story one night on the
air about Ray Charles got very angry--and I don't blame Ray Charles for
getting angry--because he was pulled out of line. And, you know, if you're
over 70 years old and you're blind and you're very famous and you're Ray
Charles, I don't think that's the guy.

Al Gore was pulled out of line. I mean, this is mindless. This is just
silly. This is not going to help the situation. There is a finite amount of
time and of manpower, and if we pretend that we can randomly suspect everyone
equally, we're going to be in big trouble.

Like I said, the Israelis don't do this. Their airport, which is the most,
probably, attacked airport in the world, if the bad guys could get at it, is
actually the safest. And that's because they can't afford this kind of
political correctness that we have. They can't afford to worry about hurting
someone's feelings. And we are in basically the same state that they are in
now, and we are going to have to get real also.

By the way, this profiling is what our attorney general is doing every single

GROSS: You mean, but not at the airports.

Mr. MAHER: Not at the airports, but, you know, I mentioned in the book the
story of the Arab-American Secret Service agent who--I don't know--it was
about a year ago or so was--he had a gun and he certainly was a Secret Service
agent. But he was an Arab with a gun. And they asked him to step out of line
to answer a few questions. You know, it's not like we're putting them in
internment camps here. And he was very upset about this. You know,
apparently he'll take a bullet for his country, but a few questions at the
airport is too much to ask.

And this got all the way up to President Bush, and President Bush said he
would be `plenty hot' if he found out that the man was pulled out of line
because he was Middle Eastern. And I just thought that that was Dick Cheney's
cue to whisper into his ear, `Sir, that is what Ashcroft is doing every day.'

GROSS: My guest is Bill Maher. His new book is called "When You Ride Alone
You Ride with Bin Laden." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Bill Maher is my guest. He has a new book called "When You Ride
Alone You Ride with Bin Laden: What the Government Should be Telling Us to
Help Fight the War on Terrorism."

Are you fazed by the terrorism alerts? Every time we get to a more heightened
color, do you change your behavior? Do you worry?

Mr. MAHER: I stopped because they never tell us what to do. It's like, you
know, `Code burnt orange. Bring a sweater.' You know, what? Get in the
panic room? There's never any follow-up to that. It's just, `We're on higher
alert today.' I guess that means that we could keep our eyes and ears peeled
a little more. But, you know, I think a lot of that is just covering their
behind because that way when something happens, they can just say, `Well, we
told you so.' And that's not really going to get the job done.

GROSS: A lot of people turned to religion after September 11th...

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: ...for comfort or for just some sense of, you know, larger

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: ...or sense of their place in the world or whatever. And I'm
wondering how September 11th affected your sense of religion.

Mr. MAHER: Well, you know, Terry, we've talked about this before. I am not
the fan of religion that I'm sure that the religious people would like to hear
on the air. And a lot of times, I said things on my show that riled their
feathers and got them to be my archenemy. When I was under attack last
September, a lot of it came from the Christian right. Really they were behind
it because they hate what I have to say about religion.

But, I'm sorry, I find it to be dangerous, prejudicial, childish. And now I
think we need to realize that, on top of all that, it could get you killed
because as long as we have this clash of civilization that is based on
religion, I think we are going to be living in a very, very dangerous world.
You know, hatred springs from people feeling slighted, from indignity, from
poverty. I think those are the real root causes.

I know the hijackers weren't all impoverished, and that's certainly true. But
it comes from very deep-seated human resentments and emotions. But it's the
religion that justifies it. It's the religion that gives it a framework.
It's the religion that allows them to say, `I'm doing this for a great cause,
and I'm going to get 72 virgins,' or whatever it is, and go ahead with it.
And that's what's really dangerous, is that religion provides the veneer and
the vehicle for them to carry out nefarious plans under the guise of doing
something in their mind that's actually quite wonderful.

GROSS: I wonder if you think that our own politicians crossed the line
between religion and politics. And, for example, I'm wondering if you saw
this and what your opinion of it was, Jeb Bush in his victory speech...

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: ...started off by thanking God for the victory.

Mr. MAHER: Yes. I wanted to say, `You're not at the Grammys.'

GROSS: God's very busy with the Grammys.

Mr. MAHER: Yeah, you know, it's bad enough when we hear it from rappers, you
know, with an enormous platinum crucifix with diamonds encrusted on it hanging
from their neck as if that's the way Jesus would really want to be remembered.
That's why he went on the cross, so that they could make a huge platinum
encrusted replica of it someday. No, I think it's terrible. But, you know,
they all do it. Al Gore did it, said he asked himself, `What would Jesus do?'
I think. President Bush at one point early in his campaigning before he had
gotten the script down said that he didn't think--I'm paraphrasing; I'm not
quoting exactly, but the basis of it was that he didn't think that
non-Christians could get into heaven.

Because once again that is the problem with religion, is it's really only a
one-lane highway there that's open to heaven. And they think they have the
answer. And we think we have the answer. When I say `we,' I mean Christians
in the West. And there's not a lot of wiggle room there. The Bible says `I
am the way, the truth and the life and no man cometh into the Father but by
me.' And in the Islamic religion, they say there is no God but Allah, and
Mohammed is his prophet. It's pretty much pick a side. I think that's
dangerous stuff, and it's really dangerous when it infects our politics. And
no matter what they say, that is exactly what the Founding Fathers were trying
to avoid, was that kind of mixing of religion and politics.

GROSS: Has anyone in your family ever been religious, and what kind of
religion were you brought up by?

Mr. MAHER: Yes. Absolutely. Well, I was brought up Catholic. I come from a
mixed marriage. My parents got married in 1951 when a Catholic, my father,
marrying a Jew, my mother, was considered quite outrageous. It certainly was
in both of their families not well-received. That was just something people
didn't do in 1951. My mother even told me once that she was engaged to
someone before my father, who one day took her aside and just said, `You know
what? This has got to end because, let's face it, you're a Jew.' So I didn't
really understand that my mother was Jewish when I was a little kid. We used
to just go to church--my father, my sister, I and myself--and my mother would
stay home. And I was just so scared by the church-going experience that I
never even asked why, but I certainly was brought up with religion. I went to
catechism, and I made my first communion, and I did all of it, and I found it
pretty frightening.

GROSS: I mean, did it ever mean anything to you, and what frightened you
about it?

Mr. MAHER: Well, I was so young. Of course, it meant the world to me when I
was five and six years old. It's what they tell you when you're a little kid,
and they frighten you that if you don't believe it, you're going to burn in
hell. And, you know, it was all about fear. I remember just shaking with
fear when I had to go to that first communion practice. It was a special
after-school thing for a while that we had to go to because we were practicing
for the first communion, and I just remember being paralyzed with fear because
the nuns were mean. And I remember once, I was slumping over in the pew, and
the nun said, `The boy who's slumping over is going to go to hell.' And...

GROSS: A confidence-builder.

Mr. MAHER: Yeah. And, you know, it's like, gee, if you can get that
punishment for slumping over, I don't want to think about what's going to
happen when I reach puberty.

GROSS: In the Jewish religion, if you're born to a Jewish mother, you're kind
of automatically Jewish...

Mr. MAHER: Yes.

GROSS: ...unless you officially head in another direction. So have you ever
felt the kind of Jewish side of your family?

Mr. MAHER: Absolutely. Because the relatives that I knew growing up were all
the relatives on my mother's side. My father's family lived further away.
But the relatives on my mother's side were all in the New Jersey area, so
every year, we'd have a Christmas party on Christmas, and it was all the
Jewish people who came over. My mother's family was not terribly religious.
They were Jewish. They knew it. They were happy about it, but they didn't go
to temple or any of that. But, I mean, in general, the Jewish religion is a
lot cooler, I would say, than the Christian religion. Christianity is a lot
more about fear and what's going to happen to you if you don't behave and
repercussions and silly rules. You know, Christianity started out fantastic.
I mean, Jesus Christ is about the greatest role model anyone could ever ask
for, but, boy, did it get hijacked along the way.

GROSS: Bill Maher. His new book is called "When You Ride Alone You Ride
with Bin Laden." He's starting a performance tour that includes stops in
Washington, DC, New York, Boston and Chicago. Bill Maher will be back in the
second half of our show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with political satirist Bill
Maher. His ABC program "Politically Incorrect" was canceled over the summer.
Now he has a new book called "When You Ride Alone You Ride with bin Laden:
What the Government Should Be Telling Us To Fight the War On Terrorism." Maher
is starting a performance tour tomorrow.

Let's talk a little bit about the election. Why do you think the Democrats
did so badly?

Mr. MAHER: The Democrats deserved to do so badly because they do not present
any sort of choice. They are not the loyal opposition. They are a lapdog to
the Republican Party. They don't stand up for what they believe in, and they
got what they deserved. They got their head handed to them. And I'm glad. I
don't blame anyone for voting for a Republican. If your choice is between a
real Republican and a fake Republican--that is, a Democrat who pretty much
goes along with the Republican line and doesn't give you the alternative--then
why not vote for the real thing?

GROSS: What do you think it's going to mean to have--like, what do you think
is in the near future now that there's a Republican White House, Senate and

Mr. MAHER: I don't think anything'll change. You know, we sort of have that
already. I used to laugh when I heard Bush call himself a compassionate
conservative because I thought, `Oh, that is a Democrat.' I don't think that
our Congress is going to behave terribly differently than it has in the past.
They pretty much gave him everything he wanted anyway. They voted for the tax
cut, which is a terrible direction to take the country in, both economically
and especially now that we're at war. They started to mount a little bit of
opposition against Iraq, but then people like Senator Kerry caved right in and
went along. So I don't think it makes any difference.

I think the only good thing to come out of this is that sometime, somewhere
along the way, I hope they will start to find their soul again. Stop running
away from who they are, stop running away from Bill Clinton. Erskine Bowles
lost in North Carolina, did the same thing Al Gore did in the year 2000:
would not let Clinton campaign for him. And when are the Democrats going to
learn Clinton is probably the best asset they have? He's the big dog. Let
him in the race. A lot of people still love him. Forget about the people who
don't like him. Those people will never like him, and they're not going to
vote for Erskine Bowles anyway.

GROSS: The Democratic Party was very cool--cold, I should say, to Al Gore,
after the presidential defeat and I think--I wonder if you think Gore looks
good by comparison to what the results were this time around? Like in
Florida, the big margin that Jeb Bush had? You know...

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: ...Gore did much better than the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in

Mr. MAHER: You're right. That's a good point. I hadn't thought of that.
But I always love Election Night in Florida, or as they call it `mischief
night.' But...

GROSS: You spent a lot of time on your show talking about Katherine
Harris. What do you think of her election?

Mr. MAHER: Well, it was a very safe Republican seat, so I'm not surprised.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MAHER: And she's a hero to her party because she was obviously very
instrumental in the outcome of that election. I've never been one for
replaying the 2000 election or Florida. I couldn't bring myself to vote for
Al Gore because he is part and parcel to what I was talking about; a Democrat
who doesn't really act like a Democrat, doesn't really give an alternative
version of what I would like to see out there on many issues. For example,
the drug war; he's just as right wing and hypocritical as the Republican
candidate. There was a number of issues that Bush and Gore in the year 2000
didn't talk about because it was a conspiracy of silence.

So I'm not big fan of Mr. Gore and I'm no big fan of going over the 2000
election. If Al Gore, as a sitting vice president, with the kind of economy
and prosperity and peace that he had for eight years to run on couldn't win
that election by more than--well, he actually did win it, but he couldn't eke
out a more decisive victory, then he didn't deserve it. He was running
against an opponent who was not formidable. He's formidable now. Now he's
going to be legendary because people are going to feel like he's the one
president who was able to win a midterm election. But he certainly wasn't in
the year 2000. Al Gore lost that election all by himself.

GROSS: Well, you might say he had your help in the sense that you kind of
campaigned on your show for Ralph Nader, which took, I think, you know, a...

Mr. MAHER: Well, I...

GROSS: ...fair number of votes from--that people might otherwise have placed
with Al Gore and the Democratic Party. And I wonder if you have any regrets
about that, in retrospect?

Mr. MAHER: Absolutely none. I certainly didn't campaign for Ralph Nader on
my show, but I wasn't going to lie if someone asked me, `Who are you backing?'
Yes, absolutely. And I certainly don't agree with everything Ralph Nader
says, but at least Ralph Nader is a candidate who says what he believes. And
politics has become such a cynical marketing manipulation that if we don't
start somewhere in getting back to believing in what we are voting for and
believing in the people, then I don't know where this is going. I really

You know, for people to stand up and cheer when George Bush says, `I'm cutting
your taxes and it's your money,' is a cruel joke, because that money is not
going to them. It's--when he says, `Big business will be held to the highest
standards of conduct,' which he said after the corporate scandals broke, it's
also a cruel joke because it's because of people like him who have fought
campaign finance reform that business hasn't been held to the highest
standards, because they don't want to insult and alienate the people in those
corporations who gave them the money to run ads that fooled people into
thinking they were on the people's side. It's perverse the way that the
people ultimately pay for their own bamboozlement.

GROSS: Bill Maher, do you think we should be going to war with Iraq?

Mr. MAHER: No.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. MAHER: Well, I've been comparing Iraq to a case of herpes that's a
disease that gets contained that suddenly became cancer. And I think it
became cancer suddenly because an election issue was needed. Three months
ago, the Democrats were going to win this election based on the economy, which
is not in good shape, and one of the reasons it's not in good shape is because
of that tax cut. But the subject got changed, and that's what real smart
politicians do. The Republicans just run much better campaigns than the
Democrats, and they were able to change the subject.

But I don't think it--the situation in Iraq has changed in the last 12 years,
and the reasons that they gave to be suddenly so alarmed about Iraq I don't
buy. Saddam Hussein is certainly not in league with Osama bin Laden. I don't
care how many times they try to sell that, that dog will never hunt. Saddam
Hussein and Osama bin Laden hate each other. Bin Laden hates Hussein the way
he hates the royal family in Saudi Arabia. He sees them as corrupt
nationalists. And the idea that a megalomaniac paranoid dictator like Saddam
Hussein would give an atom bomb to a religious guy like bin Laden--he would
never give an atom bomb to anybody else, most not to Osama bin Laden because
bin Laden would use it on him, perhaps.

GROSS: So do you think we'll really go to war with Iraq, or do you think the
subject will be changed again?

Mr. MAHER: I do think the subject will be changed again. Now that the
election has been won--and, look, maybe it will do some good. Maybe Hussein
will actually be bluffed into relenting. I think that may very well happen.
And in that case, President Bush should get a pat on the back if he can bluff
this guy into allowing real inspectors in, because he is a threat down the
road. But I think it's a much greater threat that we actually drive these two
enemies together with our saber-rattling. These are two people who did not
want to work together, and we're pretty much forcing them to.

GROSS: My guest is Bill Maher. He has a new book called "When You Ride Alone
You Ride with bin Laden." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Bill Maher is my guest. He has a new book called "When You Ride Alone
You Ride with bin Laden: What the Government Should Be Telling Us To Help
Fight the War On Terrorism."

Bill Maher, what do you miss most about not having your show, "Politically

Mr. MAHER: You know, I haven't had time to miss it because I went into this
book almost immediately after the show ended.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. MAHER: But there are days when I pick up the paper and I read something
and I so want to get my 2 cents in on it. So I think that's what I miss. It
hasn't happened that much, but sometimes there's an item in the paper,
sometimes it's not a big item. And I just know that there would be a rich
subject to tackle, and I can imagine a panel that would be fun chewing it over
with me. But in general, you know, it was a good nine-year run and, you know,
when you get to be middle-aged like I am, you realize that, you know, there is
a finite amount of time. You can't do everything, and if you do one thing for
too long, well, then you don't get a chance to do a lot of other things. So I
loved that show, but it's--I'm very OK that it came to an end, because it's an
opportunity to do other stuff.

GROSS: The show was so much about bringing people together from different
points of view...

Mr. MAHER: Yes.

GROSS: ...and having them all give their take on the issues of the day. Did
you change your mind about anything as a result of speaking every night with
people who disagree with you?

Mr. MAHER: Absolutely.

GROSS: What?

Mr. MAHER: Hunting. You know, I'm still very much an animal rights activist,
and I don't know under--can't imagine why anyone would take pleasure in
shooting a beautiful animal. But I did come to understand that sometimes the
hunters are more environmentalist than the people who live in the cities and
just eat the meat that comes to the supermarket. They very often are doing it
because they don't want to eat tainted food, and I'm very much on that page.
I think our food supply is completely poisoned with preservatives and hormones
and antibiotics and a lot of other stuff that's making us very unhealthy. And
I have more respect that I used to for someone who is a hunter in that sense,
almost like the Indians used to hunt, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now one of the people who was a very frequent guest on your
show, and was also very far to the right, was Ann Coulter.

Mr. MAHER: Yeah.

GROSS: And you became good friends.

Mr. MAHER: Yeah.

GROSS: So what is the basis of the relationship? Because you're so involved
with your political point of view...

Mr. MAHER: Right.

GROSS: ...what's the basis of a relationship with somebody who has a very
opposing point of view to yours?

Mr. MAHER: Well, contrary to popular belief, it's not sex. She's just my
friend, and people think it's all based on pillow talk. But I promise you
we're just friends, but we're really good friends. And one thing that doing
that show taught me was that you can become friends with people who you
absolutely disagree with, and I think people should. One reason I'm able to
do that is because, first of all, I'm only 99 percent certain I'm right about
anything, and I think everyone should have that attitude. If you don't, it's
arrogant. It's arrogant to think that you absolutely, 100 percent, know
you're right about anything. So, you know, who knows? I could get up to the
pearly gates and find out Ann Coulter had it all right. I doubt it, however.

But the other thing is what I love about Ann Coulter is that she's sort of
the--she's sort of a version of myself in that she absolutely never pulls a
punch. Even when she's saying something that I think is outrageous, it's what
she really believes and she doesn't back off of it. And that is what I find
so refreshing and, unfortunately, so unique. I can't name five other people
who do that, who don't calculate before they speak. If she believes that nuns
should carry guns, then she'll just say that. Or whatever she said about how
we should conquer the Muslim countries and convert them to Christianity. It's
insane; I don't agree with it. But you know what? I have to give it up to
her because she absolutely says what she thinks and doesn't back off of it.

She's not afraid to get booed. You know how wonderful a quality I find that?
Not afraid to get a little booing. People in this country are so lame about
that. They're so lame about worrying about their popularity--politicians,
people in show business; they're so afraid that mass out there, that bunch of
hamsters who are pushing a pedal of approval will somehow push the wrong
pedal--`Oh, I did not like that very much. I liked it somewhat.' Well, how
about just saying what you feel and whatever they feel? Fine. If they don't
agree with you, what's the worst that can happen? Well, I tell you, I know.
I experienced what the worst that could happen. You get fired. So what? You
go on.

GROSS: OK. Now how did you find out you were getting fired? Did you find
out from ABC, or did you learn about it from the newspapers?

Mr. MAHER: I think I learned about it from intermediaries. I think I learned
about it from my agents and managers. I don't think--I mean, ABC people were
always kind of afraid to talk to me. So I don't--I...

GROSS: Well, that's a legitimate way. I mean, to go through channels and
learn about it from your managers. But it wasn't...

Mr. MAHER: Oh, sure. Whatever. You know, I was never mad at ABC. ABC is a
corporate entity, as it was, when I joined it. I had no illusions about it
then; I have no illusions about it now. Quite frankly, I'm surprised we
lasted six years on ABC. I mean, the idea of mixing the concept of Disney,
which owns ABC, and "Politically Incorrect" is like a--what a silly marriage
idea that is.

GROSS: Did you ever consider entering politics?

Mr. MAHER: No. When I had to make a statement on my show about the show
getting canceled, I addressed that question because that week, when the news
came out officially that we were going away, a lot of people said to me, `Oh,
you could run for office now,' which only made me laugh because I am the last
person who could ever run successfully for office, because the opinions I have
are not mainstream opinions and I read a whole list of them. It was pretty
funny. A whole list, a litany of the things that I've supported or not
supported and believed in over the years. You know, like, I think religion is
bad and drugs are good. This is not the basis to run a political campaign in
America. I'm for mad cow disease. I think the Vietnam War was a war we had
to fight. You know, I have a lot of opinions that just do not jive with the
vast, unreasoning beast, the public, if I may.

GROSS: OK. One last question, which I'm sure you won't want to share. Have
you lost a lot of money in the stock market this past year?

Mr. MAHER: I've lost money in the stock market. I think everybody has. I
think the key for me is never having put--I never put all my money in the
stock market. I think I'm about, you know, 30 percent or something, so I
didn't do too terribly bad. I think I came out pretty even because I guess I
have bonds, or whatever. I don't know. But when I look at those statements,
it's astounding. I'm astounded that it's not more of an issue still. Do you
realize that we've lost $8 trillion of wealth in the last two and a half
years? That is gonna run into real money someday, and I don't know why--I
mean, people are not more upset about this. I would think that if there's one
thing that Americans care about and vote about it's their money. And like I
was saying before, you know, it's campaign donations from cheating
corporations that allow laws to get softened and unenforced. And the fact
that the president fights for a Harvey Pitt or a William Webster to be the fox
to guard the hen house, I don't understand why his popularity is so great.

GROSS: We only have one second left. But do you feel the things that you say
as a comic you couldn't ever say if you were actually in politics, that you
could only speak your mind politically if you weren't in politics?

Mr. MAHER: Exactly. You said one second.

GROSS: Well, you got it. All right.

Mr. MAHER: But you're exactly right. That's right. That's why I'm gonna
stay doing what I'm doing, because you can't speak the truth in politics. God
forbid you can't speak anything.

GROSS: Bill Maher, thank you so much.

Mr. MAHER: Terry, it is always a pleasure to be on with you.

GROSS: Political satirist Bill Maher. His new book is called "When You Ride
Alone You Ride with bin Laden." He's starting a performance tour tomorrow that
includes stops in Washington, DC, New York, Boston and Chicago.

Coming up, the second in Ed Ward's two-part series on the 40th anniversary of
The Rolling Stones. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Re-released early catalog of The Rolling Stones offers a
view of the band's early years

The 40th anniversary of The Rolling Stones has seen an avalanche of publicity
as well as yet another world tour. Among the events has been the remastering
and re-release of their early albums. Rock historian Ed Ward sat down and
listened to all of them, and here's his report.

(Soundbite of music)

ED WARD reporting:

As part of the 40th anniversary of the birth of The Rolling Stones, we're
being treated to a massive reissue of their early catalog by Abkco Records
owned by their former business manager Allen Klein. Not only has every album
been reissued in its original form--which means two copies of "Out Of Our
Heads," "Aftermath" and "Between The Buttons," which had different tracks in
their US and UK versions--but each has been remastered both in normal CD
format and a new format, SA-CD. It's tempting to trot out the old cliches
about how you can hear things you've never heard before, but, OK, I'll give
in. You can hear things you've never heard before, as well as things that you
have, including how out of tune they could be.

(Soundbite of "The Singer Not The Song")

Mr. MICK JAGGER (The Rolling Stones): (Singing) Everywhere you want, I always
go. I always give in because, babe, you know. You just say so 'cause you
give me that feeling inside that I know I must be right. It's the singer not
the song.

WARD: The climactic ending of that one is even more excruciating in crisp
digital sound, too.

But beyond that, it gave me the opportunity to sit down and play The Stones
catalog in order, something I never did when I was buying the originals on
vinyl because I was in the middle of living my fandom. Needless to say, 30
years later, The Stones have seen to it that my fandom has diminished
considerably through their refusal to change gracefully. The media's played
its part, too, with its focus on Mick. Mick? Everybody knows The Stones are
all about Charlie.

(Soundbite of "My Obsession")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) My obsession, your possession, every piece that I can
get. My obsessions are your possessions, my mouth is soaking wet. I think I
blew it now--Confession!

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) You can't dodge it...

WARD: That's from the Charlie Watts solo album, as I've always thought of it,
"Between The Buttons." For some reason, this album, overflowing with what
were then daring new approaches to songwriting, has Charlie way up in the mix.
And it's a great chance to hear what his deceptively simple technique brings
to the band.

Another thing I got to do was sit down with what's widely considered to be The
Stones' worst album, "Their Satanic Majesties Request." I'm grieved to inform
you that the original 3-D cover is not reproduced in miniature here, but the
record turns out to be much better than I and probably you remembered.

(Soundbite of "Citadel")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) Men are armed shout who goes there. We have journeyed
far from here, armed with Bibles make us swear. Candy and Taffy, hope you
both are well. Please come see me in the citadel.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) Flags are...

WARD: And when you get to what is undeniably the worst thing The Stones ever
recorded--the five-minute "Gomper," one of those tracks that was far more fun
to play on than to listen to afterwards--the miracle of digital technology
allows you to simply press a button and--Presto!--it's gone.

It has to be mentioned that these are exact replicas of the originals: no
liner notes, no extra tracks, no personnel listings, no historical contexts,
no added pictures, nothing. Given that extra stuff does exist, this is a
shame, but these recordings--the first album from 1964 through "Get Yer
Ya-Ya's Out" in 1970--were subject to an intense legal battle between The
Stones and Allen Klein, who still owns the rights to them and perhaps not much
more. Still, there's no excuse for omitting liner notes or perhaps some

So which ones should you get? Your favorites, of course. And if you didn't
grow up with these records or need a place to start listening to the band, I'd
heartily recommend the three-disc singles collection, which has their singles
in chronological order. Each disc of it, too, is over 70 minutes. Who'd have
guessed that some of the original albums clocked in at under a half an hour?
The one to avoid is "Metamorphosis," a bunch of studio scraps overdubbed by
anonymous musicians and some think issued as a revenge tactic by Klein.

And if all this hoopla isn't enough, retired Stones bassist Bill Wyman is back
in the bookstores with a $50 coffee table book, "Rolling With The Stones,"
lavishly illustrated from his 40-plus year collection of memorabilia. It's
just as myopic as his endless autobiography, a "Stone Alone," and just as
fixated on finances, but omits the groupie details this time. Nice pictures,

For my money, The Stones started declining after Brian Jones' death, and
plunged into total irrelevance in the mid-'70s. If there's a remastered copy
of "Exile on Main Street" out there, I should get it and then I think I'll
have all The Rolling Stones I need. Your mileage may vary, but as far as I'm
concerned, you can't go wrong with the early Rolling Stones.

GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Sittin' on a Fence")

Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) ...really is too hard I find, so I'm sittin' on a
fence. Oh. The day can come when you get old and sick and tired of life.
You just never realized maybe the choice you made wasn't really right, but you
go out and you don't come back at night. So I'm just sittin' on a fence. Now
you can say I've got no sense. Tryin' to make up my mind really is too hard I
find, so I'm sittin' on a fence.

(Soundbite of music)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue