Many years ago, when Bill Maher's comedy show was hosted by Comedy Central and he was funny, his formula for success was truly unique. Every week two sets of political and/or cultural opposites were pitted against each other, and he refereed with humor. It was all designed for a good laugh and succeeded because once upon a time Bill Maher was truly funny.
Some producer really thought in extremes when they pitted Oliver Stone and Brent Bozell for one episode. I have to say that you were gracious, charming, engaging, and we enjoyed ourselves -- except for that moment when I chastised you for claiming you're a historian. You bristled and denied ever claming that moniker. I cited the source, an interview in some West Coast newspaper (I can't recall which one now). "I'm a filmmaker, that's all," you told me.
Problem is, Oliver, you're a historian whether you believe it or not. You make films about history and historical figures. You record history, and that makes you a historian.
Being a historian is not the problem. It's that you're a lousy historian.
Your last project was the movie "W." I confess I didn't watch it: I knew it would be a predictable left-wing spin about President George W. Bush being dumb and evil, and it could be worse because it could have been Vice President Dick Cheney. Yawn. It bombed.
You were back on Maher's show the other day talking about historical figures. Maher wanted to know why you haven't done a film about Ronald Reagan, since "that is the type of character you could do very well with." God only knows what he meant by that, but when you gave your answer, you were pretty blunt.
"Nixon always said Reagan was a dumb son of a bitch," you said, and the audience laughed, and you smiled and decided to take that statement further by agreeing with it. So you said, "You know, I think that he was," and the audience cheered and hooted and applauded.
See what I mean when I say you're a lousy historian? Don't take my word for it, Oliver.
I turned to Frank Donatelli, the White House Political Director under President Reagan from 1987 through 1989. I asked him what he thought of your observation. Here's what he has to say: