When comedy reports deeper stories – kudos to John Oliver

When my friends used to tell me they got their televised news from The Daily Show, I encouraged them to also look to good news sources to balance that out. Jon Stewart does a wonderful job of looking at the issues of the day and casting them in a funny light. Since hypocrisies abound, especially in politics, there is ample fodder to make fun of. But, at the end of the day, it is comedy, right? Maybe, not just comedy.

John Oliver, who hosted The Daily Show while Stewart was mentoring his Middle East counterpart, has a new show on Sunday evening called Last Week Tonight. I have seen every one of the thirteen episodes thus far and he is funny, but also very insightful with a journalistic bent. Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour did a piece on Oliver recently where Brown noted the compliments Oliver is getting on the investigative reporting which underlies his comedy. In other words, Oliver is reporting stories in the US and around the globe in a fairly robust manner and mocking the hypocrisies of leaders and public figures and highlighting the marginalization of others. He and his staff are doing their homework to get it right.

To give you a sense of what he is reporting and making fun of, here are a few examples:

– He noted how Uganda’s legislature passed a law that condemned LGBT behavior and created open season on gays, lesbians and transgender people. These people were being physically brutalized, fired from their jobs, and put in jail. It turns out an American evangelist helped sow the seeds fomenting laws to promote violence, actually speaking for five hours in front of their legislature. Plus, the Ugandan proponents were spreading vile misinformation to fan the flames. After this show went viral and the US condemned Uganda for these laws, they just last week said the laws were unconstitutional as a quorum was not present for the vote.

– He noted how the dietary supplement business has greased the skids to avoid being regulated over the years. They contribute heavily to two Senators (Orrin Hatch and Tom Harkins) campaigns, who jointly promoted legislation to protect this growing industry from FDA scrutiny. He also shows the hypocrisy of Dr. Oz who shamelessly plugs dietary supplements as “magical cures” and “miracle drugs” without the supporting science. He noted with Oz being a medical doctor, he is far worse than a regular salesperson as his credentials and passion validate the drugs. The story occurred when Oz was grilled by a Senate Committee back in June for this issue.

– He put the climate change debate in its proper proportions, when he invited two experts on his show and then stopped them and had 96 experts join the climate change is real and man-influenced side and 2 experts join the climate change denial expert. This provided a visual comparison of the argument for all to see, with 97% of scientists favoring one side and 3% favoring the other.

– He noted on his most recent show the troubling concept of “native advertising” in online and print publications where advertisement copy is presented and integrated into the news. He notes it is flagged, but the purpose is to mask the “flags” and make it look like an actual news story. He called several publications on the carpet for their move down this path, including Time Magazine and the New York Times. He noted the wrongheadedness of blending the two together, chastising those who said it would not make a difference. In short, of course it will.

Each of these stories is reported on in varying degrees in real news shows and Oliver is good to show footage of their coverage. Yet, given the nature of the show, he is able to dive further into the issues and note how the common person could look at this and say something is simply wrong. Again, I would ask that you pay attention to reputable news sources that are not spin doctored versions of the news and who disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest. Also, watch out for the native advertising.

But, Oliver’s show is worth the watch. You definitely will learn something you did not know before. You may want to avoid watching with young children, as he is not bashful.

 

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14 thoughts on “When comedy reports deeper stories – kudos to John Oliver

    • Amaya, I think you can catch it online. Also, some of his stories have gone viral. Colbert said he won’t be using his “persona” when he replaces Letterman. That will be missed. Let me know what you think, BTG

  1. Since I can’t abide network TV, I’ll try to look for this on a ROKU channel.This is my new toy. I have only used it for Netflix so far, but I understand there is also news available. It sounds like John Oliver is a step above the tried and true stand up comedians who stand in, for too many Americans, as news. I am still alarmed by the concept of spoon feeding people information. Must everything be cloaked in entertainment? Aren’t people curious enough to actually look for journalists?

  2. Note to Readers: On Sunday’s show, Oliver did a terrific piece on Pay Day Lenders. Very in depth on the problem for the customers and the lenders ability to sidestep governance. The examples in Texas and Ohio will make your skin crawl.

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