Ben Affleck Targeted by Conservatives After Islamism Spat With Bill Maher

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Rush Limbaugh is among those on the attack, while Media Matters for America is defending the actor

Ever since Ben Affleck appeared Friday on Real Time With Bill Maher and accused the host of Islamophobia, the Gone Girl actor has been a whipping boy for the political right, while left-leaning organizations like Media Matters for America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have come to his defense.

During Friday’s show, Affleck bristled at the notion posited by Maher and atheist author Sam Harris that there’s something wrong with Islamic culture, given its mistreatment of gays and women and videotaped beheadings of journalists and aid workers conducted by the Islamic State.

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“Why are you so hostile about this?” Maher asked Affleck.

“Because it’s gross. It’s racist … it’s like saying, ‘Oh, you shifty Jew’ ” said Affleck.

“We have to be able to criticize bad ideas,” added Harris. “Islam at the moment is the mother lode of bad ideas.”

“Jesus Christ!” said Affleck. “It’s not a fact. It’s just an ugly thing to say.”

Since then, Fox News has run several segments dissecting the exchange, usually favoring Maher, and it has been a favorite topic on conservative talk radio.

Nationally syndicated radio host Dennis Prager, for example, not only spoke about the Affleck-Maher debate, he also wrote about it in a column, calling it a “rare” moment on television because Islam is a “taboo subject.”

Affleck is engaging in “classic leftist thinking,” Prager wrote. “The question of whether an assertion is true is of little or no interest to the left. The question of concern to the left is whether something is politically correct.”

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Rush Limbaugh has addressed the issue twice so far. “I wonder how Bill Maher feels when Ben Affleck calls him a racist and a bigot,” he said Tuesday on his national radio show. 

National Review’s Rich Lowry also weighed in at RealClearPolitics.com, calling Friday’s show “an in-studio social experiment.”

"How long could Maher and atheist author Sam Harris talk frankly about the illiberalism of much of the Muslim world before actor and director Ben Affleck, also a guest on the show, accused them of racism?" Lowry asked. "The result is in: not very."

He also wrote: “You might be wondering, ‘Why should I care what the new Batman thinks?’ The heated exchange was so notable because all three are men of the Left in good standing … Maher had zeroed in on one of the more perverse aspects of contemporary politics, which is that self-consciously tolerant liberals often look the other way when confronted with the intolerance of the Muslim world.”

All of this was much too much for Media Matters, which rounded up several examples of the media bashing the actor and emailed them to journalists under the heading: “Right-wing media attack Ben Affleck for challenging Islamophobia.”

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The Fox News Channel is most prominent in the Media Matters missive, including video of Greg Gutfeld calling Affleck a “caliphate crusader” during a segment on The Five.

“Burdened by lack of facts, Ben relied on that emotional crowd-pleaser: cries of racism,” Gutfeld said after showing clips of the Maher show. “Affleck is reduced to a sputtering, bitter scold, soaked in self-righteousness, in need of a script, because his words ring hollow. And, in a shock to even himself, Maher becomes the sanest man in the room.”

CAIR also sent an email to journalists, which links to an article by Max Fisher at Ezra Klein’s Vox.com that calls Maher “the leading voice of American bigotry against Muslims.”

The article includes video of “Islamophobia” displayed on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

“While Maher might be the loudest and most candid in his bigotry toward Muslims, there is a subtler, more pervasive, and far more dangerous Islamophobia that has crept into mainstream news coverage,” wrote Fisher.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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