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Was Bill Maher Muzzled By CBS News?

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," September 19, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: On last Friday's broadcast of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," host Bill Maher sparked a controversy when he said that the "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric invited him to appear in their "Free Speech" segment and then didn't want him to discuss religion. Now the executive producer of the "CBS Evening News" has since responded with this statement.

"Bill Maher was never told that he couldn't discuss religion in a "Free Speech" segment. In fact, "Free Speech" has already addressed religion and we expect others will in the future."

Joining us now, Bill Maher. Apparently some, by the way, it's your favorite conservative, Bill, good to see you.

BILL MAHER, TALK SHOW HOST: Hi, Sean, how you doing?

HANNITY: I'm good, thanks. Is there some misunderstanding here 'cause it appears there might be at this point.

MAHER: You know what, I try to take the high road with my statement yesterday and saying, look, if there was a misunderstanding, great, then I'm happy to go on and do it. But you know, honestly Sean, I was just trying to call their bluff. I don't think they want me at 6:30 at night to be saying what I would be saying about religion. Not that I would be profane in any way, I was just expressing my views on religion, which, by the way, are shared by millions of people.

But you know, when you call your segment "Free Speech," I think what you're looking for — what I would be looking for in such a segment is speech that is not the most popular. What I see on that segment almost every night is not what I would call free speech, it's what I would call agreed speech.

I haven't heard anything that anybody would ever disagree with on that segment.

And I understand they're on at 6:30 at night. But maybe they shouldn't have called it "Free Speech" if they really don't want someone there to express a minority, unpopular opinion.

HANNITY: You know, I hate to defend you, but I think you're absolutely right in this respect. It kills me. But look, I've read your comments on religion. You and I on religion agree on nothing. We really don't.

MAHER: Right.

HANNITY: But if you're going to have a free speech segment, why can't Bill Maher unleash, say whatever he wants, and then let the viewers of Katie Couric's show decide? I think if I was them, I would let you go on next week, express your views, and then four days later I'd put Jerry Falwell on.

MAHER: Right. And you know, I think what they found now is that either they're going to put me on — and they don't want to do that — or now that this has sort of come to the surface — and I wasn't trying to embarrass anybody. But I did make the point on my show that, hey, this is the "CBS Evening News." This is the CBS News division. That's a division — that's a group of people I've had on a pedestal for a long time. So I expect them to understand what free speech is. And when Katie introduced the segment by saying it was one of the great privileges of living in America, right away I was like, whoa, hold on. This is not a privilege. This is a right.

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: I can see you're enjoying every minute of this.

COLMES: You ought to wonder why they asked you in the first place if — they know what they're going to get when they ask Bill Maher, right?

MAHER: Because I think they want credit for giving a forum for free speech without really having something that's going to stir the pot.

But that's what free speech is. It's the speech that protects the minority point of view. It's easy to go on there, as I've seen somebody who came out against genocide — oh, you know, boy, write letters if you have to, but he's against genocide. Somebody else was for the middle ground, for the moderates. Ooh. Again, tough stuff.

ALAN COLME, CO-HOST: That's going out on a ledge. It's like the First Amendment, though, Bill. It's like, you know, when people say, well, you know, the First Amendment — we need the First Amendment to protect unpopular speech. We don't need the Bill of Rights to protect the popular point of view, the majority point of view. And that's what you, your career has been about that.

MAHER: Yes. And I think that's something even you and Sean can agree on late at night when you're...

COLMES: You brought us together, yes.

MAHER: ... having steak and beer.

COLMES: Have we ever done that?

HANNITY: You dream too deeply there, Bill.

COLMES: It's like, you know, we go into Iraq to create freedom, and yet you have so many people in this country talking about how they're willing to compromise their freedoms while we fight the war on terror and don't seem to care that much about what the Constitution says.

MAHER: Or torture. You know, Bush's position seems to be, as long as we're good, we can do bad things. We're the good guys, so sometimes we have to torture people. And, you know, not to tie everything we're talking about together, but that's a point of view that only comes from people who have the religious certitude that Mr. Bush possesses. They think they're above it.

COLMES: The argument I hear about the Geneva Convention, for example, is, well, the people we're fighting don't obey them, why should we? Well, the fact is, we obey them because we have this moral imperative. We call ourselves a great moral country. We don't want to be like the people we're fighting. That's the whole point.

MAHER: That's right. I mean, we're better than them. I've always said that, no bones about it. I don't like it when people tolerate intolerance. And there's a lot more intolerance on their side than our side. We should be upholding the things that make us different, and yes, better, like free speech, freedom of the press, equality of men and women, minority rights. These are things that are not rampant in the Muslim world, and in our world — yea?

HANNITY: Hey Bill, I just disagree with your assessment. The president doesn't support torture. He's never said he supports torture. He's said just the opposite.

MAHER: Oh...

HANNITY: Wait a minute. What he said is he supports strong, aggressive interrogation techniques. That would be sleep deprivation, loud music, to extract information from enemy combatants on a battlefield when they may have information that will kill Americans or kill American soldiers. Why wouldn't you support that?

MAHER: OK. There are thousands of people in detention centers that we have. Thousands of them in Iraq and Guantanamo, Bagram Bay, black sites we don't even know about in lots of countries. And just because he uses a euphemism doesn't mean it's not torture.

How about this? If this is not really torture, if this is something that you're OK with our enemy doing to our troops if they were captured, why don't you undergo it for a week? Water-boarding, where they put you underwater until you nearly drown?

HANNITY: Nobody supports waterboarding. The president specifically addressed that. That's not what they're talking about. But loud music, sleep deprivation, aggressive interrogation, you should support that, especially knowing that American lives would be at stake.

MAHER: OK. If it's not torture, how come all the people who have served, like Colin Powell, John McCain, Lindsey Graham...

HANNITY: I disagree with them.

MAHER: Right, because you haven't served either.

HANNITY: No, because I believe in free speech, and I have my opinion and you have yours.

We'll take a break. We'll come back.

MAHER: Yes.

COLMES: We now continue with the host of HBO's "Real Time," Bill Maher.

You know, we forget that it was Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, who wrote the torture memo, tried to redefine the Geneva Conventions. The question is, what is torture? They've tried to redefine it. That's what the issue is with this administration.

MAHER: Yes. What are you asking me?

COLMES: Well, I'm giving you an opportunity to extrapolate. Now, I know this is something you've talked about, in fact, recently on your show. How do you choose material? I mean, clearly, a lot of this stuff writes itself.

MAHER: Well, that's a way to make sure you get thrown off television, by thinking this job writes itself. I wish it were that easy.

But, yes, we do have an administration that is constantly fumbling and bumbling and screwing things up, and that certainly makes it a lot easier for a political commentator.

COLMES: But you don't go out of your way to poke your finger in the eye of society. It seems like that's just — I've known you a long time and that's who you are, but you don't say, what can I do to be provocative or what can I do to upset CBS? You don't do that on purpose.

MAHER: Never. In fact, I really wrestled with that in my mind, whether I should bring that up. And I say, if it wasn't CBS News, I wouldn't have. It's sort of a tribute to how much I think of them that I thought it rose to the occasion.

But, you know, I don't see that as my job is to make stuff up. There's enough stuff that's out there.

I wish the Democratic Party would have that kind of gumption to rise to that occasion — not to make our friend Sean Hannity happy there — but you know, I'm not with the people who think they have got a lock on this election, because I still don't think they present an alternative or a plan.

I think the American people don't know much about what's going on in the world, so what they do is they follow the guy who looks like he knows what he's doing, who looks sure of himself. And you've got to give it to Bush. He looks sure of himself and he looks like he's a million percent certain, because I'm sure in his febrile mind he is, of what he's doing.

So if the Democrats had a plan, if they had a counterargument, I think they could win walking away. But they don't.

HANNITY: Let me move beyond that for just a second. We're talking a little bit about speech here. One of the things that bothers me — and you tell me if I'm right or wrong, Bill Maher — is I think there's a double standard for what conservatives can say versus what liberals can say on the issues of public discourse. I'll give you an example. I'll play you two cuts followed by a third cut. It's going to be Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, and then we'll play Robert Byrd. And just imagine if it was a prominent conservative that made the following remarks. Let's roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I love this quote. It's from Mahatma Gandhi. He ran a gas station down in St. Louis for a couple of years. Mr. Gandhi, do you still go to the gas station?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: Former Klansman Robert Byrd in an interview with FOX News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: There are white niggers. I've seen a lot of white niggers in my time, if you want to use that word.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: If conservatives said that, I'd say the reaction would have been 50 times greater in terms of public criticism. Is there a double standard for conservatives?

MAHER: Well, I guess so, in that area that you're giving me an example of, in racial areas. But it works the other way in other areas, like religion. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell say some amazingly ridiculous things, but because they have a church and they're wearing a suit and they're not on some corner with a bullhorn, they're treated as if they should be treated with dignity and respect in those statements.

HANNITY: I disagree. No, if they say something that is, quote, over the line or viewed as politically incorrect, they're excoriated in public. Hillary Clinton can make the comments that she made about Gandhi the gas station owner, and Joe Biden can talk about the 7-Eleven guys. Robert Byrd, the former Klansman, ran the Senate for the Democrats in 10 years, but Trent Lott makes a joke at a guy's 100th birthday party and he's thrown out of his position. And it seems that this happens....

MAHER: Oh, wait a second.

HANNITY: Go ahead.

MAHER: Hold on, Sean. It wasn't that he made a joke, if you're talking about the Trent Lott situation that caused such an uproar. It was that he suggested that what Strom Thurmond had been advocating 50 years ago might have been a better way for this country to go.

HANNITY: OK. Is it any different than Biden? Is it any different than Hillary?

MAHER: What's that?

HANNITY: Is it any different than Hillary? Is it any different than Biden?

MAHER: Of course it's different.

HANNITY: Why? And is it any different than Byrd? Byrd ran the Senate. He was a Klansman.

MAHER: Yes, but they were not — those people were caught making an off-color remark. Usually it's because politicians — just the same with George Allen — it's usually because they're trying to be funny, and someone needs to sit them down and tell them you are not funny. So don't try.

HANNITY: I may agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

COLMES: ... apologize and say, you know, I'm sorry I said it, I regret the Klan. It is all in the past. I thank you very much, Bill.

MAHER: But there's a difference...

HANNITY: Go ahead, finish your comment, go ahead. Free speech.

COLMES: Go ahead.

MAHER: There's a difference between making a bad joke and suggesting that segregation was a way that this country missed out on.

COLMES: Yeah, thank you. Don't tell anybody we ever cut you off here. Thank you very much for being with us.

Be sure to tune in "Real Time" Fridays on HBO. And on October 6th, Bill will be in D.C. with special guest Robin Williams.

Watch "Hannity & Colmes" weeknights at 9 p.m. ET!

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