SINCE its debut nearly a year ago, Last
Week Tonight With John Oliver has been steadily gaining awareness among viewers for going The Daily Show one better by taking complex subjects and tackling them in a comedic way. But on Sunday’s show, Oliver seems to have taken the show to the next level, both in comedy and audience respect with his surprise interview with National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden.
The longer episode, at 45 minutes, included a 33-minute discussion of the upcoming renewal of the Patriot Act and its implications for the American public. It turns out, at least according to Oliver’s random sampling of Americans in New York City’s Times Square, that the public is ill informed about the controversy surrounding Snowden and the implications of the information that he leaked.
Snowden, the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, is in Russia, so Oliver traveled to Moscow to sit down with the computer specialist and explain to him, with video assist, that the American public has no real idea who he is or what he’s trying to tell them. Oliver also demonstrated the problem with a clip from MSNBC in which host Andrea Mitchell interrupted a congresswoman discussing a key part of the Patriot Act to bring viewers “breaking news” on Justin Bieber’s arrest.
Oliver’s interview with Snowden was not a comedy puffball. Though he started off with jokes about Hot Pockets, he quickly began pressing Snowden about his responsibility for some of the more sensitive information he leaked getting mishandled by the media.
And when Snowden tried to argue his points about unchecked government surveillance, Oliver brusquely waved him off, the same way people would get bored by an information technology guy droning on about computer stuff.
Instead, Oliver gave Snowden an easily graspable way for the public at large to understand the things he’s talking about. Forget surveillance of charities or overseas phone calls. Can the government look at our own private nudie pics?
The answer, not surprisingly, is yes. And Snowden discussed all the various ways the government could access our nudie pics, all while sitting with a folder containing a nudie pic of Oliver himself on his lap.
The interview walked a tightrope between comedy and actual journalism; the reaction on Twitter has been overwhelmingly positive. With the public’s privacy fears boiled down to just one subject very close to home, it seems as if Snowden’s message may start to resonate. As one viewer wrote, “That’s the sound of somebody uncorking a bottle in the White House, because John Oliver.” Sinister screenwriter C. Robert Cargill put it this way: “So in just 18 minutes, the guy who played the drunk professor on cmmunity got Snowden to explain the NSA programs in plain English. Woah.”
A Florida law student applauded Oliver’s aggression in the interview, commenting, “I love [that] John Oliver actually challenges Snowden on some of the negative repercussions and takes him to task on those issues.”
Patrick Kevin Day
The entire segment can be viewed at https://youtu.be/XEVlyP4_11M.