Calling Bill Maher "politically incorrect" is too kind. Bitingly snide, bitterly sarcastic, at times crude, caustic and offensive, he is also horribly funny.
Tony Snow declared himself "the sacrificial lamb" the moment he stepped on stage at Universal Studios Gibson Amphitheatre, rightly anticipating a rough tumble with the provocative HBO pundit during the final installment of American Jewish University's (AJU) 2008 Public Lecture series on April 28.
"Yeah, I'm the idiot who decided to come to Hollywood and debate Bill Maher," Snow said, immediately segueing into an analysis of the current campaign climate before Maher took the podium and denigrated the president.
During an exhaustive debate, Snow, a CNN conservative commentator and former White House press secretary, and Maher, host of "Real Time," tussled over the usual hot topics: the 2008 presidential campaign, the Iraq War, a faltering economy, rising gas prices, famine, race and religion. As might be expected, the two did not agree on a single issue: Maher declared his vote for Obama and Snow suggested a president needs to be "more than an eloquent student council president."
Snow praised Hillary Clinton as one of the hardest working members of the Senate, while Maher made the usual adulterous innuendoes about her husband (although he said it would take a lot of chutzpah to ask her to drop out of a race she is losing by a hair).
While Maher, an avowed atheist, was the favored voice of reason, his views about religion -- namely, that it is "silly and dangerous" -- prompted a shift in audience allegiance. While he counted Judaism as the least scary, Maher's diatribe against religion relegated faith to "you either believe in a talking snake or you don't." This visibly befuddled the debate's moderator, AJU President Robert Wexler, who appeared painfully restrained when Maher declared the first four of the Ten Commandments as evidence of an egomaniacal God.
Hubris from both speakers -- potshots, crude jokes, even cuss words -- cheapened an otherwise dynamic debate.
The aim of the lecture series, which has also included Tony Blair, Karl Rove and Arianna Huffington this season, is to posture divisive speakers on polar ends of the political spectrum in front of a mostly liberal-leaning Los Angeles audience. While the crowd vacillated between laughing at Maher's outrageousness and appreciating Snow's clear-mindedness, in the end, bandying politics as entertainment did not necessarily elevate political discourse.
Journal Veteran Praised as 'Distinguished Journalist'
Left to right: Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, award winner Contributing Editor Tom Tugend, Managing Editor Susan Freudenheim, Contributing Editor Jane Ulman
Southland journalists gathered at the Omni Hotel to honor Jewish Journal contributing editor Tom Tugend, whose illustrious career in journalism was feted, along with those of three other reporters, by the Los Angeles Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists during its 32nd annual Distinguished Journalists Awards banquet on April 30.
Tugend began his journalism career as a copyboy at The San Francisco Chronicle. He is currently West Coast correspondent for The Jerusalem Post in Israel, the Jewish Chronicle in Britain and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in New York.
In addition to his prolific journalism background, Tugend is a war hero, having fought in World War II, the Korean War and Israel's 1948 War for Independence.
Other honorees included Bob Banfield, KABC-TV's Inland Empire bureau chief; Beth Barrett, a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News; and John Rabe, host of the KPCC program "Off-Ramp." NPR's Cokie Roberts delivered the keynote address, detailing a comprehensive history of women in journalism.
Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman presented Tugend with his award and said, "Tom is not a religious man, but there is a concept in Judaism called tikkun olam, which means to repair the world. If there is a religious spirit in Tom, it's that he sees through Jewish journalism an opportunity to make the world a better place."