Madonna’s Malawi switch

Change of plans on girls’ school up­sets of­fi­cials

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY RAPHAEL TENTHANI

CBLANTYRE, MALAWI elebrity prom­ises have turned into dis­ap­point­ment, fin­ger-point­ing and law­suits in Malawi, an im­pov­er­ished and trou­bled south­ern African coun­try where Madonna has dras­ti­cally scaled back char­ity ef­forts.

Some Malawi of­fi­cials say Madonna’s changes in plans have taken them by sur­prise, but Madonna’s camp says the gov­ern­ment has been in­formed and in­volved in the new agenda.

In 2009, Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Ge­orge Chaponda helped Madonna break ground for a $15 mil­lion academy for girls. Ear­lier this year, Madonna’s Rais­ing Malawi foun­da­tion an­nounced that in­stead of build­ing the academy, it is pro­vid­ing $300,000 to the non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion buil­don, which has years of ex­pe­ri­ence in Malawi, to de­velop 10 schools. They’ll serve about 1,000 boys and girls in the na­tion of 15 mil­lion, which is among the poor­est in the world.

“We haven’t been of­fi­cially ap­proached” about the change, Mr. Chaponda com­plained re­cently. “We are just read­ing from the me­dia, but we haven’t been told any­thing.”

1. Don’t be para­noid: As con­ser­va­tive crit­ics have pointed out in the wake of ra­dio host Rush Lim­baugh’s slut­sham­ing me­dia firestorm, Mr. Maher is a bit of a potty-mouth. He can be pro­fane. He is no­to­ri­ously anti-re­li­gion, gave $1 mil­lion to a su­per PAC sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Obama’s re-elec­tion bid and was a fre­quent critic of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Maher isn’t, well, rude.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing on the show when he had the queen of Jor­dan for a one-on-one in­ter­view,” said Amy Holmes, the an­chor of GBTV’S “News from the Blaze” and a re­cent “Real Time” guest. “She kept say­ing ‘In­shal­lah’ and mak­ing all these re­li­gious ref­er­ences. And she’s just a girl from Santa Mon­ica who mar­ried the king. But Bill sat very re­spect­fully and did not mock her.”

Con­ser­va­tive “Real Time” guests are brought on to make a case. To be foils. They are not re­cruited to be hu­mil­i­ated. Con­sider anti-tax ad­vo­cate Grover Norquist. The pres­i­dent of Amer­i­cans for Tax Re­form is a long­time lib­eral bete noire, a man whose fa­mous no-new-taxes po­lit­i­cal pledge and de­sire to see a fed­eral gov­ern­ment so small it can be “drowned in a bath­tub” have been fod­der for Mr. Maher’s wit and scorn.

Still, Mr. Norquist said, Mr. Maher treated him with re­spect when the two en­gaged in a tax pol­icy back-and-forth on the show last fall. “He was gen­er­ous to me,” Mr. Norquist said. “He talked about how we had done stuff be­fore, been on [Mr. Maher’s pre­vi­ous show] ‘Po­lit­i­cally In­cor­rect.’ He said nice things, hint­ing to the au­di­ence — which is very left wing — that this is not some­body I hate.”

Mr. Lazio con­curred. “I wouldn’t keep do­ing the show if peo­ple were talk­ing over me and not let­ting me ex­press my point of view,” Mr. Lazio said. “Bill doesn’t do that. The last time I was on, he came up to me af­ter­ward and said, ‘I know it’s very dif­fi­cult for you and peo­ple who are more con­ser­va­tive to come on the show, and I just want you to know I do ap­pre­ci­ate and re­spect the fact that you were will­ing to do this.’ Now, I don’t need to hear that. But it’s nice.”

2. Do pre­pare: Mr. Lazio has a rou­tine: About two weeks be­fore mak­ing a “Real Time” ap­pear­ance, he’ll talk with the show’s pro­duc­ers about po­ten­tial top­ics. The pro­duc­ers will share news ar­ti­cles that Mr. Maher is read­ing; Mr. Lazio sup­ple­ments those with in­de­pen­dent re­search. He reads ad­di­tional ma­te­rial on the cross-coun­try flight to Los An­ge­les, where the show is taped, and gen­er­ally an­tic­i­pates about 10 to 12 ma­jor po­ten­tial dis­cus­sion top­ics.

“I def­i­nitely pre­pare dif­fer­ently than for other shows,” Mr. Lazio said. “You try to be over-pre­pared when you know that you’re the only one de­fend­ing a point of view.”

Mr. Maher may be a co­me­dian, but he’s also an ex­pe­ri­enced tele­vi­sion host and an en­gaged po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. Panel guests can range from politi­cians to aca­demic ex­perts to jour­nal­ists. Un­like many tra­di­tional cable news shows, the pro­gram is an hour­long and com­mer­cial-free, which leaves am­ple time for dis­cus­sion that goes be­yond re­hearsed rhetoric and rapid-fire talk­ing points.

Trans­la­tion? “Real Time” isn’t a place to not know your stuff.

“I’ll watch seven in­ter­views of Bill Maher talk­ing to con­ser­va­tives [be­fore ap­pear­ing], just to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t,” Mr. Norquist said. “Bill is a se­ri­ous co­me­dian with se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal world views. He has like 17 staffers, seven writ­ers. The chances he’s un­pre­pared are not high.

“He’s prob­a­bly thought through all sorts of dif­fer­ent jokes and com­ments. And you’ve been think­ing about stuff on the plane. So you bet­ter bring facts and ex­am­ples. You need to have a good idea of what the left’s re­sponse is to your points, and have a re­sponse to that, think two moves ahead. You have to be on your game.”

3. Don’t take the bait: Years ago, the bira­cial Ms. Holmes was ap­pear­ing on Mr. Maher’s old pro­gram when an­other guest — a black ac­tress — un­ex­pect­edly at­tacked her for lack­ing racial sol­i­dar­ity.

Ms. Holmes’ crime? She said she didn’t like the rapper Eminem. Who hap­pens to be white.

“I was kind of stunned,” Ms. Holmes said. “It did piss me off. It was the first time I had ever ex­pe­ri­enced that kind of frontal at­tack, and it was painful.

“What’s funny was, the per­son who came to my res­cue was [ac­tor-co­me­dian] Pauly Shore. He was my knight in shin­ing ar­mor, told her to back off. Bill also has been good about that — he will pro­tect the con­ser­va­tive if he feels the con­ver­sa­tion is too lop­sided or the au­di­ence is re­flex­ively cheer­ing on the left side of the panel.”

If you’re a con­ser­va­tive guest on “Real Time,” it’s al­most in­evitable: Some­one is go­ing to say some­thing that gets your goat. Could be po­lit­i­cal, like slag­ging Ron­ald Rea­gan. Could be per­sonal. Could be both. And Mr. Shore won’t al­ways been there to serve as the sooth­ing voice of rea­son. (Af­ter all, it’s 2012, not 1995).

Mr. Lazio’s ad­vice? Don’t take the bait. Never ever.

The panel’s to­ken righty will face some pres­sure to serve as un­of­fi­cial spokesman for their side, “so if some crazy per­son on the right said any­thing con­tro­ver­sial that week, you have to de­fend it,” he said. “You have to de­fend ev­ery con­ser­va­tive that ever lived. You don’t. And you can’t be the an­gry white con­ser­va­tive. You have to en­joy the lighter mo­ments. Be con­ver­sa­tional. Laugh when it’s ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Should mat­ters get heated any­way, fear not: It’s just tele­vi­sion. When Mr. Fetterman noted that he was the mayor of the “poor­est town in Penn­syl­va­nia,” Mr. Gille­spie re­sponded with a mut­tered “Well, you must be very proud” — prompt­ing Mr. Fetterman to ask Mr. Gille­spie to “take it out­side.” The mo­ment was un­com­fort­able, even for view­ers at home. But by the time the two men met at the show’s af­ter-party, all was for­given.

“We had a fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion, and he’s a great guy,” Mr. Gille­spie said. “[Demo­cratic strate­gist] Donna Brazile was also on the show, and she in­vited me over for a good Ca­jun meal with her sis­ter. I talked with the pro­duc­ers for a long time, too. I re­al­ized I was the light­ning rod on that panel, but they treated me to­tally squarely. It was a very pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.”

4. Do make your point: Ms. Holmes jokes that ap­pear­ing on “Real Time” can be like be­ing the con­ser­va­tive pinata at a lib­eral party. The prob­lem with her anal­ogy? Pinatas can’t swing back.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr. Lazio, Mr. Maher al­lows his con­ser­va­tive guests to make their points — pro­vided they have some. The last time Mr. Lazio was on the show, Mr. Maher ar­gued that dur­ing Mr. Obama’s pres­i­dency, public em­ploy­ment had de­creased, some­thing the pres­i­dent should get credit for.

Mr. Lazio coun­tered that Mr. Maher’s num­bers were mis­lead­ing, be­cause while the num­ber of state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment jobs had gone down, fed­eral em­ploy­ment was roughly the same.

“I ba­si­cally pointed out that the stim­u­lus pack­age let state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments keep larger pay­rolls than were sus­tain­able in the long run, and now we were see­ing the ef­fects of that,” Mr. Lazio said. “If you make your points and you have facts, Bill ac­cepts it. He won’t just la­bel you and dis­miss you. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he’ll even say, ‘Good point.’ ”

5. Don’t be a co­me­dian: Sim­ple. Mr. Maher is a pro at mak­ing peo­ple laugh. The typ­i­cal con­ser­va­tive pan­elist is not. Act ac­cord­ingly.

“I would put up a big blink­ing cau­tion sign: Do not go down the com­edy road,” Ms. Holmes said. “It will end badly. If you’re Chris Buck­ley or P.J. O’rourke, maybe you can get away with it. But if you’re not known for your wit or comedic tim­ing, ‘Real Time’ is not the place to try to change that.

“Bill does a stand-up show al­most ev­ery week­end. He has road-tested his ma­te­rial. He’s pol­ished and prac­ticed. And if you’re put on with a celebrity guest who is also a crowd-pleaser, your best bet is to fo­cus on what you do best. It’s like the con­ser­va­tive eco­nom­ics prin­ci­ple of com­par­a­tive ad­van­tage.” So: Don’t be a hu­mor hero. Once you’ve mas­tered these ba­sic self-de­fense prin­ci­ples, you may find you’re ready to sur­vive — per­haps even thrive — as the con­ser­va­tive of­fer­ing on “Real Time.” The tele­vi­sion gab-os­phere can be a shrill, an­gry, par­ti­san place. “Real Time” is dif­fer­ent. For con­ser­va­tives, Ms. Holmes said, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in a longer, looser po­lit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion. To sharpen one’s de­bat­ing skills. To reach out to a large and un­fa­mil­iar au­di­ence.

“It’s funny how of­ten I’ve been ap­proached by gay men telling me in hushed tones that they are se­cretly con­ser­va­tive,” Ms. Holmes said. “Or Hol­ly­wood peo­ple will tell me that I just watched you on the show. Ap­par­ently that is where ac­tors get their po­lit­i­cal news.”

HBO VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“Real Time,” hosted by Bill Maher, isn’t a place to not know your stuff so come pre­pared to en­gage the other guests and de­fend your views, say those who have been on the show.

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