Comedian and host of “Last Week Tonight” John Oliver is receiving praise from liberal media outlets for his show’s most recent episode. Sunday night’s installment focused mainly on public shaming, culminating with a special guest appearance by former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
After acknowledging the devastating effects that public ridicule and harassment can have on a person, the comedian said, “You may be expecting me to say that all public shaming is bad, but I don’t actually think that. When it’s well directed, a lot of good can come out of it. If someone is caught doing something racist or a powerful person is behaving badly, it can increase accountability.”
Oliver then named Tucker Carlson as an example of someone who deserves to be tormented online: “Tucker is actually a good example of an internet pile-on being merited. He’s a public figure, he made his comments publicly, they are appalling, and he’s standing by them.”
Oliver’s Double Standards for Kids Versus Himself
Later in the segment he goes further into actually endorsing public shaming by revisiting the recent college bribery scandal involving actress Lori Loughlin. He says Loughlin and all the adults involved deserved all the public shaming they got, but then said, “Where it gets more complicated is with the kids, how much is it fair to make fun of them?”
Well, according to Oliver, as long as said kids have a big social media following—like Loughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade—they are fair game for all the internet hate coming their way because they are a “public figure.” Olivia Jade, who is 19, has lost several product endorsements because of the scandal and outrage. In 2015, Oliver ran a segment about how dangerous online harassment is for women.
The segment then transitioned into the most famous victim of public shaming, Lewinsky. Oliver showed several clips of Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” jokes about Lewinsky. Of Leno’s recent call for civility, Oliver suggests Leno should go “f— himself” since he never apologized for his salacious jokes from the 1990s.
Then Oliver freed himself of the guilt of his own vile jokes of the (much more recent) past: “Look, my hands are not clean here, either,” he said. “I wasn’t in the U.S. at the time, but ten years after the fact, I was in a ‘Daily Show’ piece marking the tenth anniversary of the [Lewinsky] scandal above a graphic reading, ‘10 Sucking Years,’ which is gross. It’s gross.”
Actually, Oliver did much more than appear over a graphic that said “10 Suckin’ Years.” He introduced the entire discussion with a clip from a porn video and thoroughly propped up his boss Jon Stewart with relish and laughter as they relived the crudest moments of “The Daily Show’s” despicable treatment of Lewinsky.
Saying “My hands are not clean” and “It’s gross” doesn’t sound like a public apology, either.
Oliver Is Queen of the Internet Flying Monkeys
But what is most egregious about this segment is Oliver attempting to judge anyone for perpetuating public humiliation. Oliver, who is known for attracting a cult-like following of millennial viewers, has frequently directed his fans to engage in social media and other outlets to advance his show’s political message.
Viewers who get their information about American politics from “Last Week Tonight” are getting a version of current events based entirely on the opinion of a British satirist with no political experience and his team of comedy writers. But Oliver is convincing. He speaks with confidence and resolve—and people listen.
Although he has consistently stated that he is not a journalist, just a comedian, his influence on young viewers’ political bend is staggering. He presents his main segments as political education spotted with humor and often names little-known people, both politicians and civilians, as punch lines. These people, most frequently presented through old videos and out-of-context quotes, become immediate troll fodder for Oliver’s loyal core of fans.
Here are five undeserving people Oliver shoved into the crosshairs of his loyal outrage mob in his quest to promote his political prerogatives.
In a May 2017 episode of “Last Week Tonight” regarding net neutrality, Oliver takes aim at Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. Oliver paints Pai as buffoonish and incompetent, while making his identity well known to people who had likely never heard his name before.
In a burst of outraged excitement, Oliver ends the segment directing viewers to storm the FCC’s comments page by telling “everyone on the internet” to flock there to demand the continuance of net neutrality. Like the wicked witch to her monkeys, he says, “Fly my pretties, fly once more!” The show even developed their own domain for the occasion, “goFCCyourself.com,” which rerouted users to the FCC comments page.
Oliver’s segment went viral and his fans flooded the FCC comment section until it crashed. Unsatisfied with just that, the internet mob grew in size and anger directing ire toward Pai and his family. It quickly turned racist and hateful, and included death threats.
— Lee Camp [Redacted] (@LeeCamp) May 8, 2017
A week later, Oliver addressed his fans’ behavior in a follow-up segment. While smirking and stifling laughter, he called for more comments but said they should be posted in a “clear, civil fashion.” Of the racism and threats, he said, “Stop it! Being racist is not how you win the net neutrality debate, it’s how you become president.”
While his request for civility had the sincerity of Chester Cheetah advocating for healthy eating, Oliver’s executive producer didn’t hesitate to use it as a defense for invoking behavior that led to physical threats to Pai and his family.
You're right, the show should've explicitly discouraged abusive attacks and told people to only act by commenting on the FCC website in a clear, civil fashion. Something like… I dunno… this: https://t.co/p1bFHTXW81
— Tim Carvell (@timcarvell) March 19, 2019
In a segment from April 2018, Oliver targeted crisis pregnancy centers, describing them as Christian, non-medical institutions that frequently lie to clients and deceive them into keeping an unwanted pregnancy. He specifically chides a few women who have dedicated their lives to helping women in a crisis pregnancy, including former Planned Parenthood facility director Abby Johnson. The online backlash was significant.
@iamjohnoliver just exposed you. Shame on you! Don’t want to create dependency for women in a time of desperate need, and need to “cut them off”. How typically hypocritical of a pro-life advocate. I wouldn’t get to comforfotable with God, doubt you’ll be seeing him.
— Stacey (@furmama17) April 9, 2018
Johnson responded from the high road, engaging with many commenters and using the outrage to draw attention to the many lies told by pro-abortion advocates. She also highlighted here every single untrue, harmful thing Oliver said about crisis pregnancy centers.
In March 2018, Oliver dedicated the majority of one episode to condemning Vice President Mike Pence as a homophobic bigot. He highlighted his association with the Colorado-based group Focus on the Family, which promotes traditional, biblical values of marriage between a man and a woman.
Sure, Pence is a very public figure and the topic of gay marriage is a hot-button issue for a lot of Americans on both sides of the aisle. But Oliver crossed the line when he decided to make an upcoming children’s book penned by Pence’s daughter, Charlotte, the target of his faithful mob.
Charlotte’s book about her pet rabbit was parodied by Oliver and staff, who created their own book about a gay rabbit of the same name to be simultaneously released with Pence’s. Charlotte Pence responded with pure grace, praising Oliver’s successful book for donating its proceeds to charity. She said, “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery in a way, but also … his book is contributing to charities that I think we can all get behind.”
Wagner, a Republican state senator from Pennsylvania, spoke out against climate panic early in 2017 in a speech that Oliver twisted to make him seem as unhinged as possible. Wagner was gearing up for a gubernatorial race at the time. It’s unlikely the Oliver effect helped his chances. He lost the 2018 election.
— Jeff Welshans (@jeffwelshans) June 5, 2017
In the same segment on climate change that caused the Wagner pile-on, North Carolina GOP state Rep. Larry Pitman was accused of supporting a bill that would effectively block measures to fund renewable energy in North Carolina. Oliver quoted Larry from 2012 suggesting that climate change happens in cycles.
It came to light that Pitman didn’t even support the bill for which he was being targeted. That little detail didn’t stop the angry mob from tormenting him online and even creating fake accounts in his name.
Anyone Is Fair Game
Oliver may say he has some sort of moral code that he and his writers adhere to when they choose their targets for ridicule and subsequent outrage, but he will drag anyone he deems not to be in line with his views. In an episode from 2015, while addressing low-level criminal offenders, he shared a clip of a young woman getting a ticket on a reality show from a decade earlier.
She is clearly annoyed, clearly not very respectful of the officer, and ready to be on her way. It’s surely not the young woman’s finest moment, but Oliver ridicules her mercilessly, and while he doesn’t name her, he names the reality show footage and clearly shows her face.
Even Oliver recognized that she would be getting a sudden influx of interest as a result, joking, “She’s probably not thought about that ticket until I’m guessing round about now when she’s getting a lot of text messages from friends saying ‘Amber, you’re totally on HBO right now shouting at a cop.’”
By giving his political rhetoric a previously unknown face for his fans to punch at, ostensibly in the name of comedy, Oliver creates more internet hostility than any other show. He is celebrated for his ability to make the news by encouraging his fans to be activists based on what they got from his 30-minute “satire” show.
Oliver being praised for half-apologizing to Lewinsky and allowing her to talk about being publicly shamed is hypocrisy in its purest form.