John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” is a must see

I have written before about John Oliver’s show which is now in its second season. He truly should take over for Jon Stewart, but he may be better placed doing this show. While the show is steeped in comedy, underneath the comedy is some very good journalism on a variety of topics. His show has gotten the attention of other news sources such as PBS Newshour and Charlie Rose’s Show, as well it should.

“Last Week Tonight” typically has the following format – a brief news summary of the week with a break off on one issue for comedic purposes, followed by a more in-depth review of a topic with comedic highlights seasoning the mix. Between the two large segments, he has a taped topical summary called “Now This.” But, it is his crew’s in-depth research and his reporting on the elongated topic which actually leaves some pseudo-news organizations in the dust.

His show is actually covering topics that should be discussed, but don’t get much airplay as the issue is too complex or subtle, or the pseudo-news sources are too biased to cover an issue. The national news sources may whisk by the topics as their viewers don’t want subtlety, time does not permit an in-depth review or their funders would not allow such depth of reporting on an issue. As an example, here are a few topics Oliver has reported on:

– Pay-day lending and the politics and conflict of interests that won’t call this industry on the carpet. He noted some particularly bad examples of conflict of interest in the state of Texas legislature. Predatory pay-day lending is bad news no matter how you slice it.

– Climate change and that it should not be an even-handed debate as 97% of scientists support that it is real, it is a problem and it is man-influenced. Showing this as a 50/50 debate is disservice to the issue.

– The involvement of one small evangelical US organization who helped convince the government of Uganda to persecute homosexuals. The government was surprised when the US government condemned them for this maltreatment and retreated some.

– The lack of oversight of the supplemental vitamin and drug industry, which has been perpetuated by two senators from each party dating back to the 1990s. He also took Dr. Oz to task for his un-scientific based claims of miracle drugs that actually are not proven and some are harmful (Dr. Oz was called on the carpet by Congress as well).

– The lack of awareness of who Eric Snowden is and how the brief notoriety over what NSA is and was doing has waned. The question he is asking has much changed as a result? He also poses a very comical, but vulgar way to get Americans to care about this issue, which has many hits on line.

– The abuse by law enforcement officers in civil forfeiture cases, where departments can seize property or goods if suspected of being used in a crime. This is not uncommon and is how many departments can get around budget cuts. Our rights as citizens are being stepped on by this abuse.

– The abuse of “Patent Trolls” who sue everyone for patent infringement just because certain words were used and they filed a patent on those words, that were not supported by an invention. These trolls extort money, as the true inventor organization would rather pay them off such as $150,000 than go to court and spend millions.

He has also covered the extortion of the World Cup organization that requires a country to spend money needlessly to host the event, the wealth gap in America, the gross misuse of college scholarship marketing by Miss America when it is not significant, and the for-profit college fraudulent claims of success and high marketing budget and many more.

It is a sad indictment of pseudo-news organizations that a comedy show has better news reporting than they do. On the flip side, maybe more people will pay attention if we make fun of the news. Certainly with the changing positions of politicians, there is a lot of material. I would encourage you to watch his show via You Tube or on HBO. A link to You Tube follows:

https://www.youtube.com/user/LastWeekTonight

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.