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Maher Reveals O'Donnell "Witchcraft" Tape; Candidate Makes Self Disappear

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Who didn’t do regrettable things in the ’90s? Grew a goatee? [Raises hand.] Bought a Limp Bizkit CD? Went on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher and recalled having “dabbled into witchcraft,” not considering that you might some day run for the U.S. Senate?

This is the pickle Christine O’Donnell finds herself in, after Maher went on his HBO show, Real Time, Friday night, and played the embarrassing clip from a 1999 episode of his ABC show. Afterward, citing exhaustion and schedule conflicts, O’Donnell canceled appearances she had scheduled, in the wake of her upset win in the GOP primary, on two Sunday-morning talk shows.

Maher introduced the clip by complimenting O’Donnell as being a “nice” person (by way of contrasting her with his bete noire Sarah Palin). At the time, O’Donnell had made a minor splash as a conservative-youth spokesperson, from whence came her remarks, publicized earlier last week, denouncing masturbation to MTV. Maher noted, slyly, that she had been on his show 22 times, implying that he had more awkward material where that came from if she didn’t agree to come on his show. “It’s like a hostage crisis,” he said. “Every week you don’t show up, I’m going to throw another body out.”

I can’t imagine this is a good thing for O’Donnell, and let me just say that I fervently love Halloween, against which she was seemingly trying to make a case against on PI. (Nor do I wish any ill will to any of my Wiccan readers!) But in a way I can sympathize with O’Donnell, who seems caught up in a pre-Web 2.0 version of “Anything you post on Facebook could haunt you someday.”

At least one irony here is that Maher was taunting O’Donnell for her remarks she made on a show of his called Politically Incorrect, whose title and purpose had to do with the notion that public discourse had become toothless and boring because people were afraid to offend anyone and politicians had become thoroughly coached against gaffes.

People have a right to vote for or against O’Donnell on any grounds they want to, of course, and it’s not exactly as if what we’ve seen of her I Love the ’90s clips bolsters her gravitas. But while her remarks on masturbation or the occult arts may be an entertaining sideshow, if her candidacy is that significant, it would be nice to see people questioning her instead on, you know, matters she’d vote on in the Senatehow she thinks she could cut taxes while balancing the budget, say, or any number of other matters people actually care about.

Of course, the press can’t do that if she’s canceling interview bookings, and as a candidate for public office, that’s her failing and her fault, regardless of the sideshow questions. (Ironically again, this is the same candidate who, when Sean Hannity questioned why she went on “liberal” NBC, ABC, CBS and CNN, said that she wasn’t “afraid” of them.) But it may prove to be a better political strategy for her; already today her champion Sarah Palin tweeted encouragement for O’Donnell to dodge the national media, or at least outlets that can’t be counted on to be friendly: “C. O’Donnell strategy: time’s limited;use it 2 connect w/local voters whom you’ll be serving vs appeasing nat’l media seeking ur destruction.”

Yeah, because it’s not as if “local voters” ever rely on national media outlets to ask probing questions of the people looking to represent them in Washington. I hope O’Donnell decides to keep engaging with the press; and I hope that the press members who interview her resist the temptation to focus on getting buzzworthy soundbites about witchcraft and masturbation. After all, when it comes to politicians promising magic and instant gratification, we have bigger worries.