"Bill Maher was never told that he couldn’t discuss religion in a ‘freeSpeech’ segment," Rome Hartman, executive producer of the CBS Evening News, said in a statement Monday. "In fact, 'freeSpeech' has already addressed religion and we expect others will in the future."
Hartman was responding to a charge by comedian/provocateur Bill Maher that he had been recruited to deliver commentary for the broadcasts debut of a new 'freeSpeech' segment, then denied the slot because he wanted to talk about religion. He also denies Maher was given a list of approved topics.
Maher was making hay with the issue on his HBO Show: Real Time Friday night, though several reports had him backing off the charge by late Monday.
A CBS spokesperson explained that the network sent Maher three possible topics that would likely be dealt with on the next week's newscasts--CBS wants the commentaries to be topical. "We never told him that he could not talk about religion, " said Kelli Edwards. "In fact," she said, "Monday's (Sept. 18) topic is about religion."As B&C
the new CBS segment is a work in progress that has gotten some early critical pans, though CBS notes that early controversy has led to buzz about the show, which was reworked when Katie Couric took over the anchor chair September 5.