Liz Smith: Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh — Who's Insulted? And Who's Got the Upper Hand on the Misogyny Front?

Bill Maher, left, and Rush Limbaugh

And more from our Gossip Girl: a star-packed day at NYC’s Michael’s restaurant

“HEY, SLUTS!” was comedian Bill Maher’s greeting to his TV audience recently and the comedian-commentator has been roundly criticized for this.

But it was for laughs. His is a comedy act without sponsors who have to consider whether or not he is abusing First Amendment speech. (Calling an agreeable gang of applauding, screaming young men and women “sluts” is pretty mild, especially considering some of the stuff that appears on network TV and certainly on the web.)

I don’t see being addressed as an audience of free-wheeling “sluts” as being insulting, not compared to Rush Limbaugh’s singling out an authentic female person by name and accusing her of being a prostitute. And inviting her to film her sex life and show it to him. (Bill’s critics have pointed out that he has used some pretty strong language about real women, such as Michele Bachmann and Mrs. Palin. Words that are unnecessary to make a satiric point.)

But I am on Bill’s side in this. I have almost always been on his side. Even more, now, because he has urged everybody to accept Rush Limbaugh’s apology: “Hate to defend Rush, but he apologized. Liberals look bad for not accepting it. Also, I hate intimidation by sponsor pull-out.”

Of course, the Rush Limbaugh transgression will be forgotten, if not forgiven, before we know it. In the new HBO movie “Game Change,” John McCain’s chief real-life adviser Steve Schmidt tells Sarah Palin not to answer her detractors because “there is a 48 hour news cycle” and it’s just theater. Everybody forgets it and moves on to the next news cycle. We’ll see what comes next.

The Hollywood Reporter maintains that Bill Maher has given a million dollars to a pro-Obama Super-Pak in an effort to “Wake up Hollywood because ‘Obama could lose!’”

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I was in Michael’s famous New York media café last week and entered into a din of loud talk, shouts, VIP air kisses and “Heys.” Wednesday is the most exotic day of week at this media haunt. And when a lot of folks who count in the book business, newspapers, magazines, TV production and commentary, charitable organizing and even movie-making all get together — well, it gets loud.

The grandly bedizened PR maven Peggy Siegal was running a lunch in the back room for the advent of the new CBS Films movie which opened just moments ago. This one is titled “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and the word of mouth has been good.

The man who wrote this movie, Simon Beaufoy, was there and he already has an Oscar for his “Slumdog Millionaire.” It was wonderful to meet, in person, two “someones” I admire. There was the beautiful creamy-faced, very good actress Emily Blunt, who was so great in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Young Victoria.” She has made lots of movies since, and has four more in the can. And, ta, da! There was Ewan McGregor, who most recently worked with Oscar winner Christopher Plummer in “Beginners.”

Dick Cavett came in and plenty of people are still talking about his recent book Talk Show. Gayle King of TV land was sitting with Sports Illustrated’s Terry McDonell. They were arguing about how much body space has been uncovered by bikini models, because next year marks the 50th anniversary of the first “swimsuit model” on the cover. This was a big controversy way back when — and I know, because I wrote the very first article to go with the very first such cover. Lots of people cancelled their subscriptions — imagine that! I am proud I did it, but my prediction of nudity on U.S.beaches really didn’t come true because total nudity is — sorry, not that attractive.

Katie Couric and her wonderful PR rep Cindi Berger took up a middle table. Katie said she’d stopped eating and she did look trim and slim. I have known both these young ladies for dog’s years, and they look better now than when I first met them. (Everybody looks better these days unless they’ve “done too much.”)

Donny Deutsch and I managed to exchange our e-mail and telephones, and I do see why ladies want to exchange numbers with this good-looking TV personality. I was told that “The View’s” Joy Behar was in residence but I didn’t hear laughter, so I missed her.

Sitting with literary agent Michael Carlisle and wOw’s Joni Evans, both of whom used to search, edit, publish and promote bestsellers for William Morris, we had a pointed conversation — in loud voices — about the future of real books, books on tape, and literature. Yes, I believe literature will persevere — and someday there’ll be a real Renaissance for reading and learning. I hope.

I asked Michael’s “Mayor” Joe Armstrong, the king of veteran media, why he now does only charity work and never seems to be earning a salary. He said, “I am very very rich!” Well, I’ll let that one go so long as he keeps picking up the tabs.

It was all a “Michael’s Lunch Moment” — and although I am sure I missed a lot of VIPs, maybe even Angelina Jolie and President Obama, I’ll never know. You can’t see everyone, everywhere, all at once.

* * *

RUMOR: There’s a move to make a movie about the butler and chef who spent 50 years at the White House. There are lots of great African American actors suggested to portray this interesting character … but what about the gossip that his wife would be played by — Oprah Winfrey? OK, just a rumor and you know how those are.

9 Responses so far.

  1. avatar maytaguide says:

    Just from reading your column I guess most people consider Bill Maher a liberal. I have always found his commentary, and his persona, ambiguous, to put it mildly, and think he is pushing an agenda of his own, although I can never quite figure out what that agenda is.

  2. avatar lisakitty says:

    I’m not sure if the latest episode of Limbaugh’s hoof in mouth disease will be easily forgotten.  I don’t label myself either liberal or conservative, but friends of mine on all sides of the political spectrum have voiced their strong critisisms of Limbaugh’s words.  Yes, this includes several (gasp!) Republicans.  When you put this last transgression on top of all his other blunders, this may well be the straw that breaks the windbag’s back.

  3. avatar jvtyler45 says:

    Emily Blunt — don’t forget her role in “The Adjustment Bureau” where she showed off her dancing talent as well.

  4. avatar Anais P says:

    Rush gave an inadequate apology. He only apologized for two words, if you listen carefully to what he said, and not for his lying that Sandra Fluke was expecting the Catholic Church to pay for her to have sex when she was urging the insurer to pay for birth control pills because they have therapeutic value in preventing ovarian cancer. Does anyone remember Ms. Fluke mentioning her friend, who instead of being able to get the pills, had to have an ovary removed because it was cancerous? And he did not also apologize for saying Ms. Fluke should post videos of her having sex so the public could see what they were paying for, when taxpayers do NOT pay for birth control pills, the insurer does. Yet Limbaugh perpetrates this ridiculous claptrap on airwaves that belong to the American public, whereas Maher does his shtick on subscriber cable. I hope Rush is on a long, long slide into oblivion, where he and his misogynist, hateful views belong.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Rush’s apology was almost as insulting as his initial dog-diatribe and pony that followed over the next couple of days. He is a T-U-R-D who should be flushed away on the principle of gravity.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Yes, good going, Catholic Church! Now a woman’s fertility is threatened because they were too titillated by the prescription packaging to see what it really was in that case – hormonal therapy to preserve her reproductive health. Just what I want! Health care dispensed by priests rather than doctors!

      Wonder if they cover Viagra for the male students?

  5. avatar Susan G says:

    I fully understand why Mayer doesn’t support a Limbaugh advertiser boycott, and assume he’s still wounded from the day his show was thrown off the air for an extremely hateful remark about 9/11. Yes, it was one mistake, but it was an outrageous one.

    “Free speech” is a misunderstood comment. It protects us from persecution from the government. It doesn’t mean we can go into a workplace or business and spew to our heart’s content. When Limbaugh is “on air,” he’s at the mercy at the marketplace. He gives his opinion–so can the public.

    Limbaugh has spread filth long before the Fluke episode. The white supremest “parody” he played of “Puff the Magic Dragon” alone was a national embarrassment. It’s commentators like him that have debased public discourse to the extent it’s no longer about real issues, it’s now around so much fictional paranoia.

    I’m glad the sponsors finally are awakening to what they underwrote.

  6. avatar JCF4612 says:

    Bill Maher is intelligent, witty, and knows how to hit a home run. If you follow Limbaugh’s clueless nonsense, you get the feeling he thinks women pop a birth control pill whenever they have sex, this linking quantity to the frequency of sex … sort of like him taking Viagra.

    P.S. Can’t help but laugh remembering the classic “you slut” line from Bill Murray to Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie.

  7. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Dear Annqwe

    Would you please be lonely  (and hot) someplace else?