Bill Maher was at odds with his Real Time panel on Friday, coming to the defense of now-former Food Network personality Paula Deen in the wake of revelations she used the racial slur “ni–er” freely in the past.
“People shouldn’t have to lose their shows and go away when they do something bad,” said Maher, who was criticized himself in 2011 for referring to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as a “c-nt” in his stand-up act. “It’s just a word. It’s a wrong word. She was wrong to use it. But do we always have to make people go away?”
“If they use that word? Yeah,” journalist and Demos senior fellow Bob Herbert answered. “They gotta go away.”
“I disagree,” Maher answered. “She fucked up. Really, for one fuck up?”
“Didn’t sound like it was one,” Herbert countered.
“That’s somebody else’s testimony,” Maher insisted after some cross-talk between the panelists. “That’s not what she said.”
“You can’t call somebody a racist anymore,” said Herbert, who is African-American. “You gotta have like dyed-in-the-wool proof and that sort of thing. There’s gotta be some kind of a line. So, for me, that word is the line. People need to stop using that word.”
“Did you watch her show?” Maher interjected. When Herbert said he did not, Maher continued, “So I’m guessing lots of black people did not watch her show.”
“Yeah? What’s that got to do with her using the n-word?” Herbert shot back. “The brothers need to stop using the n-word. Nobody should be using that word.”
“So they should go away, too?” Maher responded. “So, what, we should ban rap records?”
“Don’t get me started,” Herbert answered. “I don’t like gangsta rap.”
“It’s gotta be a free country, even to be an asshole,” Maher said.
“It’s a free country,” Herbert responded. “She’s got the right to say that word. It’s not illegal to say that word. But her boss said, ‘You’ve gotta go if you’ve used that word.’”
Deen’s fellow Southerner, Newsweek contributing editor Julia Reed, told Maher the former TV chef she did not understand Deen’s explanation that she used it in a positive sense.
“I thought everybody had sort of figured out that we’re not supposed to go there anymore,” Reed said to Maher. “Even if you’re the worst person on the planet, most of the time, unless you’re one of the congressmen you love so much with the fetal masturbation, you know, don’t say this, do not say this, especially if you’re on TV. Even if you’re evil incarnate, don’t let people know it, or you’re gonna lose your TV show.”
But while saying he didn’t excuse Deen’s use of the slur, Maher continued to put up arguments for taking it easy on her.
“I’m just wondering, if you’re 66 years old, and you were raised in Georgia, and you were a child before the Civil Rights movement, do you get a bit of a pass?” Maher asked his guests, who quickly said no. “Or do say, ‘No, you’ve had 40 years to get used to the vernacular.’”
Watch the discussion.