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Interview With Comedian Bill Maher

Aired June 2, 2004 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Bill Maher, always outspoken, always outrageous and ready to let it rip on President Bush, on Senator Kerry, the race for the White House, Iraq, even maybe Scott Peterson, you name it. We'll take your calls. Bill Maher for the hour all on the news of the day next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always great to have him here. He's always incisive, funny and never dull. By the way, Bill Maher's the host of "Real Time With Bill Maher." He returns to HBO on July 30, Friday nights at 11:00, live. He's the author of the "New York Times" best-seller "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With bin Laden." His live one-man show "Victory Belongs at Home" is available on DVD. And his next in-person performances will be in Anaheim, June 25, at The House of Blues, and in Las Vegas the next night, June 26, at The House of Blues.

And congratulations. He was honored with the Hugh Hefner 1st Amendment Award from the Playboy Foundation.

BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Yes, well, another 1st Amendment Award for me.

KING: Well, if you got...

MAHER: I got a closet full of them, Larry.


MAHER: I get the message. I got a big mouth. I'd trade them all for one of those 18 Emmys I lost.

KING: Basically, that's what the 1st Amendment Award is, the man has a big mouth.


MAHER: A big mouth. I was there. It was a lovely ceremony. Kitty Bruce took one for Lenny Bruce.

KING: Oh, that's nice.

MAHER: And when I got up to speak, I said, You know, there's an old Chinese proverb which goes, "One generation plants the trees, the other gets the shade." And Lenny Bruce planted the trees.

KING: Sure did.

MAHER: He went to jail six times, nine trials. I got the shade. I had to fight a little bit for it, but not like he did.

KING: He was some man. I was proud to know him as a friend.


KING: Your show's been on hiatus two months.


KING: Is it tough when so many things are going on in the world...

MAHER: Very.

KING: ... and you don't get a chance to expound?

MAHER: It hasn't always been tough, and I do love time off, but this period has been tough because so much has been going on. I mean, I never thought that I would see so many things in the world and happen to our country that made me sad, angry. I mean, did you ever think it would get any lower than hearing people brag that our torture wasn't as bad as Saddam's? You know, you hear that. People say, Well, he -- you know, he killed a lot more people. I am so proud -- I am just so proud to be an American, Larry, that our torture wasn't as bad as Saddam Hussein's torture.

KING: Or that it was like a college fraternity initiation.

MAHER: Yes, that's what...

KING: Somebody...

MAHER: ... Rush Limbaugh said.

KING: Oh, was it he...

MAHER: He said it was a hazing. Tough words from a...

KING: It was him? I didn't know it was him that said it.

MAHER: Rush Limbaugh said it was just like a college hazing. They were blowing off some steam. You know.

KING: You're kidding!

MAHER: Tough words from a guy whose dealer is the maid.


MAHER: And you know, we should not tar everybody. I mean, obviously, most guys over there I don't know would have done this. There are people who resisted, even when they were given direct orders. But nevertheless, it's still America. And you know, when I hear President Bush say, This is not us -- well, you know, I had a saying I had in my last special -- I like to say it often -- You are what you do. KING: Yes.

MAHER: You know? You are what you do. If you torture people, you're a torturer.

KING: But you've always been, on this program at least, pro- military.

MAHER: Absolutely.

KING: You're a guy -- you -- did you not agree with going to Iraq?

MAHER: No, I didn't.

KING: You did not. But you're basically pro-military.

MAHER: Yes. That doesn't mean you have to support what the politicians send them to do. I think the person who's not so pro- military is President Bush. But I take your point. And I have to tell you, sometimes, you know, I watch the news at 6:30, and you see these incredibly brave people over there doing a job none of us wants to do. That is a nasty war over there. Even if there wasn't a war, it's an unpleasant situation to be in. And these are brave, brilliant...

KING: Was it a mistake?

MAHER: The war? Yes. Absolutely.

KING: Shouldn't have gone?

MAHER: Of course not. I mean, that becomes more apparent every day, doesn't it?

KING: Even though the new president, the interim president, has praised us for coming?

MAHER: The new photo-op?

MAHER: We've gotten rid of a horrendous leader.

MAHER: Well, that's -- you know, this is, again, what President Bush does so well. A little learning is a dangerous thing, I think should be his motto because he depends on a people knowing just a little bit about something. Yes, the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein. We could say that about a thousand other places around the world where we could intervene. And by the way, if he's so interested in making the world a better place and if torture and atrocities are so intolerable, why doesn't he go into the Sudan right now? It's going on right now, Mr. Speaker. The same with North Korea and a bunch of other places around the world.

But I was going to say, you know, sometimes I watch the news and I see these brave people. And then I watch regular television, especially reality television, and you see people who are -- American citizens who are not asked to sacrifice, obviously, because they're selfish and peevish and shallow and greedy. And every show -- every reality show is based on cruelty -- You're fired. You're not good enough. You can't sing. Get off the island. You're not hot enough. And I ask myself, why is this first group of Americans defending the second group of Americans? I really ask that question.

KING: And what does it say to you? What answer do you come up with?

MAHER: Well, you got to give all these people who are over there all the credit in the world because I'm saying a lot of the people over here, they're not asked to sacrifice. And these people are sacrificing, doing all the sacrifice for them.

How about the nerve of Hastert calling McCain's sacrifice into question? Are we through the looking glass when Hastert asks McCain, Do you know anything about sacrifice, a guy who spends five-and-a-half years in prison? It's just astounding the way the people who have never gone to war can make this case. They talked about John Kerry throwing away his medals. Hey, at least he has medals to throw away! The other guy didn't go, as I recall. He didn't win any medals. He can do what he wants with his medals.

KING: Is all this, then, hypocrisy to you?

MAHER: What? Which part of it? I mean, there's so many aspects of it that are. Yes. But I do think that President Bush relies on hypocrisy. You know, even if you give him a credit that he's a nice guy and this was a sincere effort, you know, it's one thing to run an election based on two-dimensional platitudes, like, They hate us for our freedom. It's another thing to send men to die for a platitude like that.

I honestly think that a lot of these people who have died over there, perhaps all of them, will have died in vain because they screwed up this plan so badly that we'll never know if democracy can take hold in Iraq. I mean, under the best conditions, this might not have worked. But considering how badly they screwed it up from the day after that they pulled Saddam's statue down, I don't think it's possible that democracy is going to be able to grow there, and then these people will have died in vain.

KING: Should any heads roll? Should Rumsfeld leave?

MAHER: Rumsfeld.

KING: Where does the buck stop?

MAHER: I still like Rumsfeld a lot. I can't help it. And he is at least honest and direct. When he was called on the carpet, he said, I apologize, as opposed to Bush's -- remember Bush's apology? He said, I told the king of Jordan I was sorry about the prison scandal. Imagine apologizing to your wife that way? Honey, I told my producer that I'm sorry I slept with your sister.

(LAUGHTER) MAHER: I mean, I don't think you'd get away with that. And also, when somebody, I think it was -- I forget -- Lindsey Graham, I think, said to Donald Rumsfeld, he said, What about quitting just as a way of saying to the rest of the world we're really sorry about this happening and we've turned over a new leaf? Do you think that would help? And Rumsfeld went, Quite possibly. And I think that's a good reason we need to get President Bush out of office. And this isn't a commercial against President Bush, but same principle obtains, as a way to say to the rest of the world we are turning over a new leaf.

KING: Bill Maher usually takes no prisoners, so we'll ask his thoughts on Mr. Kerry.

MAHER: And when I do, I don't torture them.


KING: We'll include your phone calls, of course, for Bill Maher. And we'll be right back.


MAHER: New rule. You can't be a Washington outsider, if you're already president. Excuse me, but Washington insider is by definition a function of one's proximity to the president. That's you, Mr. Bush. When you're given check-writing privileges by the Federal Reserve, you just might be a Washington insider.




DAVE LETTERMAN, HOST: This is a moment with George W. Bush. Watch and listen carefully.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, tell people why I say -- I mean, I -- I think they're cost-effective.

JAY LENO, HOST: See, I'm not sure if I'm pronouncing Abu Ghraib correctly. How did President Bush pronounce it last night in his speech? Do we have that?

BUSH: Abu Ghraib.

LENO: OK. I was better. OK. I was close. All right.


KING: Bill Maher...

MAHER: I mean, that's the thing. We're still treating this president with kid gloves. I mean, if anybody...

KING: That's not kid gloves, they're making fun of him. MAHER: Yes, but the people who aren't comedians are treating him that way. I mean, what we let him get away from -- no wonder he loves that T-ball. He gets to hit from the tee, don't you think so? I mean, remember when he went before the 9/11 commission and he said, I have to do with my vice president? Can you imagine any other president doing that? Couldn't you imagine LBJ saying, I need Humphrey? I want you to see my body language. Can you imagine Nixon? Spiro Agnew is going to come with me on this. You know, I...

KING: OK, let's...

MAHER: ... mean, his answer to the commission -- he got out of there, he said, I answered all the questions. That's where we have the bar for this president, I answered all the questions. I mean, I think it's...

KING: Let's turn to the loyal opposition. How's Mr. Kerry faring?

MAHER: Well, you know, he's never going to be burdened with a lot of charisma. He made a joke the other day, which -- when Bush fell off his bike, and he said, Did the training wheels fall off. And I almost fell off my chair. I mean, he makes a joke about as often as the cicadas come back.


MAHER: But I do think he's going to do well. I mean, a year ago, I would have never thought Bush could have lost this election, but I do think he's going to now. And I think it's going to serve Kerry very well that he had a long run here as the candidate because he is the kind of guy it takes a while to get used to.

KING: But is he not clear on the Iraq, and the flip-flop issue keeps coming up -- I voted for it, I voted against it, I went...

MAHER: Well, you know...

KING: ... against the Patriot Act, for the Patriot Act.

MAHER: Well, first of all, when you look at those issues in detail, they're not really flip-flops. I mean, that famous thing he said, I voted for it before I voted against it -- yes, because they changed the bill. He voted for it, and then they changed it, and then he voted against it, or vice versa. Plus, flip-flopping -- who's a bigger flip-flopper than George Bush? This little thug in Iraq, Sadr, with the army that we just handed over power to in his cities, for the longest time, it was, We got to kill Sadr. We got to -- we got to imprison him. What I meant to say is we're going to work with him. That's not a flip-flop?

And by the way, on that score, one of the rationales for us going into Iraq was that we have to show the Arabs strength. That's the only thing they understand in that part of the world is strength. And I would agree with that assessment. That is the only thing they understand. But you don't really show strength when you walk away from a fight like we did, when you turn it over to him. Suddenly, we have the Ba'athist general coming back. We turn power over to him.

When they talk about only understanding strength, they're talking about when, like, Assad killed 20,000 people in the city of Hamas. They're talking about when Saddam Hussein said, The Americans cannot take 25,000 dying in one battle. That's strength to them. We haven't shown any strength. To them, we're just another big, pitiful giant that's getting its ass kicked by a third world country.

KING: What do you make of the Chalabi thing?

MAHER: Well, you know, again, I don't know who to believe, first of all. I mean, he's a liar, the people who are dealing with him are liars. But it does seem true that at least we know that we shouldn't have been getting all our information from Chalabi. And it turns out -- I mean, "The New York times" did a mea culpa a couple of days ago, saying, We didn't get it right.

I think everybody -- the reason why anybody didn't get it right is they were all listening to the same guy, Chalabi. I think he was talking in difference voices to people on the phone. He would talk to "The New York Times," talk to "Vanity Fair," then he'd put on a moustache and change a necktie, he'd go over to Wolfowitz's table and he'd tell them the same thing. And they were all getting the same bad information.

KING: Powell says the CIA misinformed him.

MAHER: Yes. But see, there's a guy -- you ask about who should quit. I know Al Gore said six people should quit. I don't think Powell was among them. But I disagree. A lot of people -- a month ago, it was Colin Powell. People said he should quit because if he had any backbone -- he was obviously against what they were doing. To me, Powell is heroic because he doesn't quit, because he says to himself, You know what? I'm the only sane guy here. If I leave, it's just going to be the nutcases. It's just going to be the...


MAHER: And I mean it. He can't be having a good time, but he stays because he is the only voice of reason. And I say, thank God he does stay.

KING: Who do you think Mr. Kerry should select to run with him?

MAHER: Oh, I don't know. I mean, John Edwards would be the choice, based on the primaries. He did very well, and he's a vote getter. And I think he brings strength on the economic side. But you know, it's not -- it's not who he runs with, first of all. That's never going to decide the election. And it's not the fact that -- people say he doesn't have a better plan, that there's not a big difference between Bush and Kerry on the war. That's not the point. It's not the plan, it's the man.

When we were talking a few months ago about Bush being a draft dodger and that whole controversy, and people said, It's not relevant now, it is so relevant. If Bush says he's a war president -- you know what? If we're going to be at war and need a war president, I want a president who's been to war. John Kerry understands war in a way George Bush never will.

You know, this is a perfect storm of a mess in Iraq because we have a president who proudly says he doesn't read the paper, never traveled oversees, never really cared to learn about overseas, and never served oversees, so he doesn't understand what it's like overseas. And that's why he has this two-dimensional view of what goes on over there. He gets frustrated with us because we don't understand -- Saddam Hussein, 9/11, they hate us for our freedom. What don't you marshmallow-heads get about that? That's his whole world view. John Kerry has been to war. He's like a guy who's a vegetarian now because he's been to the slaughterhouse. I think he would have kept us out of war.

KING: I don't like to make conclusions, but I think you're going to vote for Kerry.


KING: We're going to take a break and come back. We're going to be taking calls in a while for Bill -- it's just coming through to me. Don't go away. We'll be right back.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joining us now to talk about how this affects his campaign, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Senator, the Bush administration's clearly suffering from this scandal. How do you plan to address this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, Chris, I'm not going to say anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Taking the high road, huh? Not going to talk about the scandal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not going to saying anything at all about anything. See, Chris, whenever I talk, my approval rating plummets. When I shut up my mouth and just let Bush screw up, people love me.




LETTERMAN: Al Gore is back in it. In a recent speech, he called for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld. Whoa, man! Yes. And Donald Rumsfeld, in response, he stripped Gore naked and ran him around on a leash.


KING: Our guest is Bill Maher. He returns to HBO on July 30 with "Real Time With Bill Maher," a welcome addition to the national discussion. Whether you agree or disagree, there's nobody quite like Bill Maher. No, I meant that. You are a -- you're a piece of work. What about...

MAHER: Stick to the facts, Larry.

KING: What do you make of the 9/11 commission and its work?

MAHER: Scary.

KING: Brought about by the victims.

MAHER: What happened?

KING: That commission was established because of the victims being angry.

MAHER: Right. Another Bush flip-flop, by the way. Again, that's not an attack on the president, that's a fact. He fought it, he fought it, he fought it, and then he said, yes, great idea, when he couldn't fight it anymore. So I don't know why he is not labeled a flip-flopper. I can name 10 other instances where he's done the same thing.

But as far as the commission itself, I found it, one, frightening that neither administration, neither his administration nor Clinton administration, would admit that in any way they hadn't made terrorism a top priority. They maintained that line, that it was top priority for us. And my question is, if this is what happened when it was a top priority, what happens when it's not a top priority for you? That's one thing.

The other thing is Richard Clarke. I don't think anyone got it that maybe the guy was telling the truth and was scorned. It seemed to be an either/or in the press. That's what I got. Either you thought he was telling the truth, or you thought that he was a scorned woman who the administration had let go. Why can't it be both? I think what happened is that he would have shut his mouth if they had treated him right, but he was scorned, and so he told what he knew.

And I think the indication of how the Bush administration treated the issue of terrorism is in the person of Richard Clarke. Richard Clarke was the terrorism office, both in the Clinton years, and then they kept him over. And when the Bushies got in, they moved him out.

KING: In other words, a disgruntled employee may have something to be disgruntled about.

MAHER: Right. And how come these people like Condoleezza Rice, but others, always say the same thing? No one could envision -- that was her view. No one could envision flying planes into buildings. You know what? Stop saying that, Ms. Rice. You couldn't envision it. Plenty of people envisioned it. The terrorists envisioned it. Some of the people in your own FBI and CIA envisioned it. Those two little jerks at Columbine envisioned it. Tom Clancy envisioned it. You didn't envision it. And by the way, when you have national security in your title and stenciled on your door, it sort of is your job to envision it.

KING: Should Nader leave the race?

MAHER: Well, it's a moot point because he never will. I don't think that he's going to hurt Kerry.


MAHER: I really don't because I think...

KING: Every vote he gets is a vote -- potential -- it's not getting a Bush vote, is it?

MAHER: That's not true. It's just like in television. Sometimes they play a show that people really like to see, and they say, Well, you know, it didn't hurt "CSI." It brought in a whole new audience. In other words, they -- some powerhouse show ran up against it, and it wasn't that people left "CSI." The same people who were going to watch it watched it. But this brought in a new audience. I think it's the same thing with Ralph Nader. Plus, nobody I know who voted Ralph Nader last time, including myself -- and I do love Ralph -- is going to vote for him this time.

KING: Why do you still love him, if his ego appears to have run wild?

MAHER: Well, I can't help it. I mean, Ralph has done so many amazing...

KING: Great American.

MAHER: ... amazing things for this country. I do think he probably shouldn't run this time just because it's so important. But I think everybody last time who thought, Oh, Gore and Bush, you know, Coke and Pepsi -- you know, we realized it wasn't Coke and Pepsi, it was Coke and Jesus juice. And that's the choice we got, and that's who we got.

KING: What do you make of the -- Scott Peterson? It remains a fascinating...


KING: I always ask you this. It remains a fascinating national story.

MAHER: Now, he's the fisherman who killed Martha Stewart?


KING: You got it. That's it. You're right on top of this story. I can tell.

MAHER: I don't follow this story.

KING: No kidding! MAHER: Tell me what happened with Scott Peterson.

KING: The trial began...

MAHER: Was there a really big development...


KING: The trial began.

MAHER: Oh, the trial began.

KING: The prosecution presented its case.


KING: The defense offered its case. Witnesses...

MAHER: Why do we care about Scott Peterson?

KING: That's what I asked you! You're the expert!

MAHER: But why do you care? Why does anybody care?

KING: The public watches, and we show the public.

MAHER: Right. I mean, there are some murder trials I'm interested in, but this one I'm not. I mean, from what I...

KING: Are you interested in the Michael Jackson case?

MAHER: I'm interested in the Kobe Bryant case.

KING: Why?

MAHER: Because I think it's the way it's -- it's very interesting the way everyone marvels at the way he can juggle his schedule. Oh, my gosh, he shows up at his rape trial, and then by 7:00 o'clock, he's at the Staples Center lighting it up from downtown! I don't think that's something we should be so admiring of. I love it when Kobe does hit an impossible shot, he has that look on his face, like, Are you going to put that in jail?


MAHER: I don't think so! Anyone this entertaining, you're not going to put in jail. In fact, my advice for Michael Jackson -- the best thing Michael Jackson could do for his case is write a great song. Have a big hit record. They will never put you in jail, Michael.

KING: Sing it on the way to court.

MAHER: Absolutely.

KING: Yes. We'll take a break and come back, and then your phone calls for Bill Maher. We'll be right back.


LENO: John Kerry has a new campaign slogan: A mind is a terrible thing to change all the time. That's his new slogan. Well, this election's shaping up great. Our choices are a guy who always has second thoughts or a guy who's never had a first thought. I don't know the way to go.

LETTERMAN: John Kerry raised all of that money and he bought himself an airplane, a campaign plane for $10 million, a big 757 jet, $10 million jet. And Ralph Nader, not to be outdone, is having himself shipped cross-country in a crate.




MAHER: With both sides so set, one being all for gay marriage and the other completely against it, how about we just let the just let the lesbians marry? Come on, marriage is a chick thing anyway.


KING: Bill Maher is our guest, the host of "Realtime with Bill Maher," returns to HBO on July 30. That's Friday nights at 11:00. He'll next appear June 25 at the House of Blues at Anaheim. That's right at Disney?


KING: And on June 26 in Las Vegas at the House of Blues. Let's go to your calls. Coral Springs, Florida. Hello.

CALLER: Hello. Good evening to you, Mr. Maher and Mr. King.

KING: What's the question?

CALLER: It's apparent who you're going to vote for which is great and everything and I'll be honest with you, I've been a long- time fan even though most people, most of my friends object to it but I still stand up for you. But the one thing that actually -- listening to you talk for the past half hour, I'm a little perplexed because during the primaries, I think you threw your support for Clark, which kind of...


CALLER: Which kind of bothered me because I was like, for one, after all that slack you got after 9/11, a lot of fans still stood by your side and we had a candidate like Howard Dean even though, yes, people thought he was angry, he said everything that everybody's always wanted to hear, I'll be honest with you, he was the first candidate I ever helped. KING: Your question is?

CALLER: My thing is why didn't you put your support behind him?

MAHER: First of all, I didn't throw my support for Clark. I had him on the show twice. I interviewed him. I liked him. I said, my mother was anxious to have him get in because she was a veteran of World War II and wanted to see a military man who was a Democrat. I never threw my support. I don't throw my support. I don't tell people who to vote for. This is the most partisan I've ever been, because I think it's that important. I don't think the country in my lifetime has ever been in such dire need of change.

KING: Didn't Dean express that well for you?

MAHER: Howard Dean was very important to the Democratic party. He really got their blood boiling again and I think that's very important and he'll go down in history as an important guy. But, you know, Larry, he was angry, he was scaring the soccer moms and you can't do that in America.

KING: Violet, Louisiana, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Bill, I think you're great. I would like to know, what do you think of Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11?"

MAHER: I haven't seen it. We were talking about it during the break. We're dying to see it.

KING: Apparently it was a big hit at the Cannes -- won the Cannes Film Festival.

MAHER: Right. That's how much the world doesn't like George Bush. They gave Michael Moore an award for hating him.

KING: Apparently it will be distributed by a division of -- the Weinsteins bought it from Disney to distribute it.

MAHER: I've never known Disney to pull out in a craven manner. I was shocked.

KING: Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

CALLER: Hi, thank you for taking my call. Here's my question. Other than who we vote for and keeping respect for everyone's beliefs, Bill, I'm wondering how you think we can work to restore a separation of church and state?

MAHER: Restore it, that's a good point. I think we have -- I hate to sound like a broken record. It has to take place at the top. When you have a president who is this openly religious and this openly contemptible, in contempt, rather, of the separation of church and state, I don't think anything is going to change until that changes.

This is a man who proudly says that Jesus picked him to be president. You said something about you have to respect people's beliefs. I know that's what we always hear, we have to respect. I'm sorry, I don't. I don't respect religion. I don't respect superstitious thinking, which is what religion is. I don't respect childish thinking, which is what religion is.

We talked about this before, this whole gay issue wouldn't even be an issue except it says it in the Bible. The Bible, that book that has people lived to be 900 years old and says the world is 6,000 years old, and that there are people who lived in a whale. That infallible work of genius and slavery is OK. You should stone a guy to death if he works on Sunday. That's the book that says, sorry no queers.

So I'm sorry, I don't respect people who believe in religion. I was religious when I was a kid. We all had dumb stuff drilled into our head. It doesn't mean when you get to be an adult you can't drill it out. I tell you something else they drilled into my head when I was a kid, mercury in my cavities. We found out later mercury is so bad we shouldn't even eat it when there is a trace of it in fish. But it was drilled into my teeth. So when I got older, I had it drilled out. You can do the same thing with religion. To talk about this terrorism situation without talking about religion is like talking about AIDS in America without talking about homosexuality. You can do it, it will get you applause on Oprah but it's not true.

KING: To Queens, New York. Hello.

CALLER: Good evening. I have actually just a comment. I want to know why we are so protective of Iraq, when in actuality, the people of Iraq voted in Saddam Hussein originally?

KING: He didn't have much opposition.

CALLER: That is how he got into office.

MAHER: No, it's not. Are you kidding?

CALLER: That's what someone was telling me.

MAHER: Well, someone is an idiot. And you're not that bright yourself, excuse me, for believing it. That's like saying the people in the old Soviet Union were voted in. Yes, every dictator has elections, they're called shams.

I remember the last time Saddam was voted in. He got 99.9 percent of the vote. Do you think anyone voted for that? By the way, I saw the front page of the "New York Times" today. There is a picture of an Iraqi woman holding up a picture of someone who's gone missing in the Iraqi prison system, our Iraqi prison system. I saw this exact picture a year ago, an Iraqi woman holding up someone who disappeared under Saddam Hussein. Yes, Saddam's torture is worse than ours, but when you have that same picture, it looks awfully bad.

KING: Fremont, California, hello.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Turn your TV down a little so we don't get a feedback.

CALLER: OK. My question is that we have news that in Afghanistan, same nature of prisoner abuse has been going on, so do you think it has been done systematically or it's just an individual incident?

MAHER: It is somewhat systemic. By the way, they use the word "abuse", Donald Rumsfeld did, too, because they don't want to use the word "torture." The same way Rush Limbaugh was on medication. They tried to say that because they were using sleep deprivation or uncomfortable positions, they make it sound like it's not torture. It is absolutely torture. These people are sadists. That's the one thing I don't think people have been bringing out. How much they enjoyed it, these guys in the picture and woman smiling and smirking. Even if they were ordered to do this, which in a way, they were, I don't think they were ordered to smile, I don't think anyone said, and you have a crap-eating grin on your face, soldier, when you punch that Iraqi man.

People can't say you can't blame President Bush for this. I tell you two reasons why you can. One, he says he's the commander-in- chief. He likes to use that term to accrue glory to himself. When you're the commander-in-chief, you're supposed to take care of details. He's the commander. Prisons are a big part of war. No one read the reports. There was no chain of command, no training for the guards, where does the buck stop? And on a macro level, he's the guy, it was the White House who said no Geneva Convention.

The Nazis got the Geneva Convention, the people who are upholding a systematic genocide got the Geneva Convention, but these guys don't? In Afghanistan, those terrorists that we captured, they were terrorists, I wouldn't mind torturing a guy like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or someone who really was a terrorist, who was plotting our annihilation. These were guys in the Iraqi prisons, these were just people that they filled the jails with. We read the reports, most of them had nothing to do with terrorism. Bush's answer as usual is just about how it looks. We're going to tear down the prison, like the prison itself is the problem. It's the "Amityville Horror," we've got to get rid of the building. Like the Susan Smith lake. Remember Susan Smith? She drowned her kids in the lake, some people came by a few months later to look at the lake where it happened and their kids drowned because the car rolled in the lake. And people said we got to drain the lake. It's the lake, it's the prison, it's never the people.

KING: Canadian Lakes, Michigan, hello.

CALLER: Larry and Bill, we love you. Thanks for speaking for and to thinking masses, Bill.

MAHER: Thank you for noticing.

CALLER: What do you believe to be your most significant social contribution? There are many.

MAHER: Well, I don't know. KING: Do you see yourself in the Twain-Rogers mold?

MAHER: I don't think of myself that way. I think of myself as a comedian. I go on the road to these places that you're kindly plugging for me. I make people laugh for two hours. If I stopped for one second to make them laugh, I don't think they would keep listening to me. Your show is an exception. You're on a news network so we can be a little more serious but I try never to veer away from that.

KING: You're first a comedian?

MAHER: Absolutely. And if I make any contribution, if I take any pride of something other than that, it's saying things that get people upset that I think nevertheless are true that have to be said, not pulling a punch. Not being afraid to get booed, I think, is what I want on my tomb tombstone. He wasn't afraid to get booed.

KING: We'll be back with more of Bill Maher right after this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers made a surprise visit to Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq on Thursday with a message for U.S. troops. That message: give me all your digital cameras now you idiots!


LENO: As you know, President Bush says he wants to tear down the Abu Ghraib Prison. But first, he wants to tear down the Baghdad Photomat. That place has been nothing but problems. Nothing but problems.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The U.S. military will no longer use certain prisoner interrogation techniques in Iraq following the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Among the banned tactics are sleep deprivation, keeping prisoners in stressful positions and of course, freestyling.




LENO: President Bush fell off his mountain bike this weekend, luckily he was not hurt. You know, he was wearing the same helmet he wears when he eat pretzels so he was OK.

I guess he hit a rough spot on the trail, that's what they said on the news. There's a switch, the environment hurting Bush that's a little, king of....


KING: We're back with Bill Maher, the host of "Realtime With Bill Maher." June 25, the House of Blues in Anaheim, June 26, at the House of Blues in Vegas and back on TV July 30. And we go to Myrtle Creek, Oregon. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Hi, Larry. Hi, Bill. My question is how do you think -- or what do you think should happen to the teachers that showed the execution of the American worker over in Iraq?

KING: Oh, the teachers in San Diego that showed their students the beheading.

MAHER: Oh. I don't know why teachers would do that. How old were the kids?

KING: High school.

MAHER: High school.

KING: High school or junior high school.

MAHER: I argued when Daniel Pearl was killed, that it was news. Some people said it wasn't news, it was just gasoline. I said, no, these are the people -- because that was part of a recruiting film that they had made, the Daniel Pearl video.

So, it was important, I thought, that we saw what they thought of Jews in the world, what they thought of him, what they thought of us and what they were doing to stir up their recruits. This, I don't know. And more than that, I don't know why I had to see it every time it was mentioned on the news, they would show it just up until the moment when the sword came down.

KING: It was like a grabber?

MAHER: Needlessly titillating. But I don't understand why the media does a lot of things they do.

KING: Valdosta, Georgia, hello.


KING: Yes, go ahead.

CALLER: Bill, my question to you, is in two parts. One, thank you for being one of the last heralds of rational thought.

MAHER: Thank you.

CALLER: And B, have you ever considered running for president and if you did, would you consider Dennis Miller as a VP?

MAHER: No. Dennis and I don't agree on much anymore.

KING: No, I don't think so.

MAHER: And I think he was touted as a Senator recently.

KING: Really? He's gotten very conservative?

MAHER: Very conservative.

KING: Because of the war -- oh, because of 9/11?

MAHER: I guess. I don't know. I love Dennis in a way, but I never really understood where he was coming from. Now, I don't understand having a television show and on the first day saying, well, I think President Bush is a great guy and I'm not going to criticize him. How can you have a news show and say the president of the United States is off limits. That sounds crazy to me.

KING: To West Palm Beach, Florida. Hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Hi, I love you, Bill Maher. Anyway, I have a question for you. And I want to know, why has there not been enough information given in the general news, like CBS, et cetera, regarding the Bush and their friends and the Saudi connection in detail, because I know it's in books but the general public doesn't read.

KING: There is a big book out about the connection.

MAHER: Nor does the president. I don't know. But that's a good question.

KING: Do you think...

MAHER: That's going to be in Michael Moore's movie, a lot of that stuff.

Aside from the president not reading the paper, I think it would be beneficial if he would read books once in a while. I was rereading my favorite novel of all time, "Heart of Darkness," have you ever read it Joseph Conrad, which they made into the movie the "Apocalypse Now." If he had read that, I don't think he would have really gone into Iraq.

That seems like the kind of a book John Kerry may have read and he certainly saw the movie up close when he went to the war. But that's about like people going into a cauldron, like Iraq to do good. They went into the Congo to do good. But what happened is that they became corrupted by the place. They didn't make the place better, the place made them worse.

And that's why a lot of us who were against going into Iraq in the first place, we didn't know exactly how the stuff would hit the fan, but we had this sneaking suspicion that when you invade a country, then you're in a relationship with that country.

And I remember one thing about relationships, the weaker one always takes the stronger one down. The stronger one never pulls the weaker one up. If you get involved with a heroin addict, you will wind up doing heroin, you won't get her off of it, you'll be doing it with her.

KING: Topsham, Maine, hello.

CALLER: Good evening, Larry.


CALLER: Certainly enjoy your program.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: A question for Bill. Bill, it's been reported that Saddam Hussein's handgun that was taken off of him when he crawled out of his hole over there is now adorning the walls in the Oval Office. What's your opinion on something like that?

KING: I think it's in a side -- private room off the Oval Office.

CALLER: Oh, is it?

KING: He said -- Bush said he would disarm Saddam. We thought the weapons would be a little more substantial about that. That's typical of President Bush the symbolism, not really policy stuff but the symbolism. What I'm more concerned about is his dog is also on Lynndie England's leash. And that, I think is very disturbing.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Bill Maher right after this.


LETTERMAN: President Bush has promised Iraq, listen to this, I think this is important, he's going to establish elections there in Iraq, he's going to rebuild the infrastructure, he's going to create jobs. He said, if it works there, he'll try it here.

LENO: President Bush's approval rating now at an all time low. And in fact, it is now lower than Dick Cheney's pulse rate. That's how bad. That's not a good sign, not a good sign.




MAHER: I'm Bill Maher and I approve of this monologue. They did not have a good week. The White House predicted 150,000 new jobs for the month that just passed, 21,000. But you know, the White House, always up for solutions through labeling. From now on, Americans who have lost their jobs will no longer be known as unemployed, they are enjoying "Operation Weekday Freedom."


KING: A caller came in, we cut the call by mistake from Alabama, will gas prices go down?

MAHER: I feel like Cornack (ph). Will gas prices go down? El Paso, I don't know. They shouldn't.

KING: They shouldn't go down?

MAHER: Of course not. The rest of the world has been paying $5 a gallon for decades, this country is so spoiled with gas prices we throw a juvenile tantrum.


MAHER: That's right. Maybe it will force people to understand this is a war that is being funded by oils. Arabs get their money from the relatives, and their relatives sell oil. Hello.

KING: Nashville, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Mr. King, thank you.

Mr. Maher, after decades of oppression by Saddam Hussein, the Shiite Muslims in Iraq now the majority are now free. My question is do you think it's possible they can become -- that Iraq will become a fundamentalist theocracy?

MAHER: I think it's likely. This little guy Sadr, this little thug who they let in the government now. You know, he's Hitler. He's exactly Hitler, and they're treating him like Hitler. Hitler was the same thing. He was a street thug with a street army. And they couldn't defeat him, so they decided so we'll bring him into the government. That's what they are doing with this guy. We'll bring him in and give him a seat at the table. Well, guys like Hitler and this jerk they're never happy with a seat at the table.

KING: We're leaving it up to them, we're not bringing him in, they're bringing him in.

MAHER: Well, but who's pulling the strings -- I mean, if we had done what we said and said we were going to go after him, that would be different. But We're not and they're bringing him into the government. That is a mistake and that could lead to what this woman is talking about. But, you know, the other things is about Saddam, a couple months ago or maybe six weeks ago I wrote an op-ed piece for the "L.A. Times", and it was a tongue in cheek. It was saying that the solution for our problems in Iraq is to bring back Saddam. I said, you know, it's like the Washington Redskins bringing back Joe Gibbs. You know, he knows the problems, he knows the people, and he's learned his lesson. And he's tanned rested and ready. Well, there's something wrong when satire is only about two weeks ahead of reality because it was only like two weeks later that we saw Fallujah, the Ba'athist general. And I'm telling you it's not that far from reality. They may bring back Saddam, and they're going to have to swallow their pride when the Marines have to pull the statue back up.

KING: Dallas, hello. CALLER: Yes, sir. Thank you, Larry. Mr. Maher, it's a pleasure. You make me laugh, but mostly you make me think and make me want to learn more. I was wonder, as a fan of Jesse Ventura is there another independent out there on the national political arena that maybe you could recommend I could keep an eye and ear out for. To hear what they have to say on national issues.

KING: Anyone out there you like?

MAHER: Now, you've stumped me.

KING: Boston, hello.

MAHER: That's the one question.

KING: Boston, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hello, Bill, how are you?

MAHER: How are you doing?

CALLER: Good. Thank you. You're super.

If you were given the opportunity to become president today, what are the three major problems you would take care of immediately aside from Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice?

Thank you.

KING: We have 45 seconds. Three problems, solve them, president Maher.

MAHER: Well, First Of all, it's safety. I mean, President Bush is running on the idea I have made you saver. Just those pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison have not made us saver. I heard him say today, well, our critics say we stirred up a hornet's nest, that nest was already stirred up. To a degree that nest was stirred up. But if millions of young Arab men now say I'm going to sign up for Jihad, because this is exactly what I thought would happen, the Christian Army would come over to Iraq and take pictures of us and point at our wieners, and now I am going to war, that's how he's made us safer.

KING: On that note, thank you, Bill. President Maher speaks.

He'll be back with us in and around the Democratic and Republican conventions. And I'm not sure either party wants to welcome him.

And we'll be back in a couple minutes to tell you about tomorrow night. Don't go away.


KING: Tomorrow night an incredible story. Anchor -- former anchorwoman Bree Walker. Got to watch this. Her husband is sportscaster Jim Lamply. And now in New York, it's "NEWSNIGHT" time. And there were thunderstorms in New York tonight, but there is no storm like thunder created when 10:00 Eastern time rolls around and Aaron Lave (ph) takes over. How's that?


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