Ken Tucker
September 19, 2010 AT 06:35 PM EDT

On the Friday season premiere of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher played a clip of newly victorious Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell. It was a 1999 segment from Maher’s old ABC show Politically Incorrect, and it’s had immediate political repercussions:

In the wake of the Friday night HBO airing, O’Donnell canceled appearances on two Sunday morning talk shows, CBS’ Face The Nation and Fox News Channel’s Fox News Sunday. A spokesperson for O’Donnell denied there was a connection between the Maher clip and the cancellations, but the last-minute coincidence speaks for itself.

That’s certainly what Republican strategist and Fox News analyst Karl Rove thinks. He went on Fox News Sunday in place of O’Donnell and said bluntly, “In southern Delaware, there are a lot of churchgoing people. They’re going to want to know what that is all about.” He called upon O’Donnell to explain her I-dabbled-in-witchcraft remarks.

I think what the clip was all about was O’Donnell speaking about her wide and varied experiences that led to her current, Tea Party-backed, conservative positions. Maher was using the clip to do his job: Make fun of anyone he considers ridiculous, conservative or liberal. Rove was using the clip in the hopes of dashing O’Donnell’s chances of remaining a viable candidate.

The idea that O’Donnell should have to explain her decade-old curiosity with witchcraft while on a date with a guy who knew something about animal sacrifices — well, hey, don’t we all have an old dating story or two like this?

Once again, the news media is all too willing to mingle with the entertainment media, with the result that what should provoke nothing more than a derisive laugh (which was Maher’s goal) suddenly becomes a “serious” news story (which is how it’s been played on many of the network and cable news shows). Now more than ever, we need to rally around the idea of restoring sanity — oh, wait, that’s what Jon Stewart’s trying to do, isn’t it?

What do you think of the Christine O’Donnell witchcraft controversy?

Follow: @kentucker

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