Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 1, Episode 13 - Episode #1.13 - full transcript

John discusses native advertising and Argentine debt restructuring.

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Welcome! Welcome!

Welcome, welcome, welcome to "Last Week Tonight."

I'm John Oliver.

Just time for a quick recap of the week.

In a nutshell: Gaza--horrific;

Ebola spreading;

and Syria, to be honest, it's barely

being reported on, but let's assume it's

still fucking awful.

Thankfully for all of our souls, though, in Uganda,

there was one genuinely good piece of news this week.



A controversial and much-protested anti-gay law

in Uganda was
invalidated today.

Yes!

That is fantastic!

Uganda's brutal anti-gay
law has been struck down.

Presumably, this was
a simple case of a country

finally coming to its
senses and understanding

the dignity and worth
of all individuals.

The country's
constitutional court

ruled that it was
"Null and void"

because the parliament
didn't have a quorum when

it was passed
earlier this year.

Well, that's even better!

It was overturned
on a technicality!



"Free at last, free at last.

"Thank God Almighty,

we are
accidentally free at last!"

It still counts.

It still counts.

Now, you may remember, we
actually covered Uganda's

anti-gay laws a while
ago, and we all met one

of its main proponents,
Pastor Martin Ssempa.

They begin to use
gadgets like bananas.

They use carrots.
They use bananas.

They use cucumbers and
other metallized ones,

and they put them inside
themselves.

Maybe tiny coconuts.

OK. Just to be clear,
what you're describing

isn't a sexual
orientation.

It's a juice cleanse, OK?

Which, by the way, is
an abomination before God.

It's wrong. It's wrong.

But surprisingly--perhaps
unsurprisingly, Ssempa

was not thrilled
with this law being

overturned, and he thinks
he knows who is to blame.

Barack Obama,
who has been putting

pressure in
the U.S.-Africa summit.

Wait. President Obama
was responsible?

That could actually be
the most ignorant thing

this man has said so far
because it is one thing

to believe that gay sex
involves a complete

edible arrangement,
but if you truly believe

President Obama
has the power to influence

legislation anywhere
on Earth, you are

a complete idiot.

And--moving on.

Speaking of
the president, he ended

this week having to deal
with the imminent release

of a major report on
the CIA and torture.

Leaks suggest that this
country is about to have

to confront the brutality
that has been committed

in its name,
and the president attempted to

prepare us all for that
in a bizarrely casual way.

We did some things
that were wrong.

We did a whole lot of
things that were right,

but we tortured
some folks.

What?

Folks?

When you're admitting
one of the darkest chapters

in recent American history,
it's maybe best

not to come off
like an old man

in a Country Time Lemonade
commercial.

"Well, that was the day
I met your grandmother.

"We spent the whole
afternoon at

"the county fair.

"Then that night,
we tortured some folks.

"We did it,
and we've been together.

That's our story."

Even the CIA's conduct
towards the Senate

committee that wrote
the report is proving to

be controversial.

Back in March,
Dianne Feinstein accused them

of hacking into the Senate
committee's computers,

which, CIA Director John Brennan
thought sounded crazy.

The allegations of,
you know, CIA hacking

into, you know, Senate
computers, nothing could

be further
from the truth.

We wouldn't do that.

I mean that's--that's
just beyond

the, you know,
the scope of reason.

Uh-huh, uh-huh, OK.

Beyond the scope of
reason, uh-huh, uh-huh.

I get it.

Guess what.

CIA Director John Brennan
apologized today after

an internal investigation
determined the agency had

spied on staff members of
the United States Senate.

OK. So it wasn't so much
beyond the scope of reason

as it was nestled extremely deep
within the scope of reason.

Just all up in that
scope of reason.

Right up in there.

This man has either
lied to senators or been

guilty of not knowing
what his own agency was doing.

At the very least, this has got to knock

the president's confidence
in John Brennan, right?

I have full confidence
in John Brennan.

How? How?

How is that possible?

The only way you can have
full, 100% confidence

in him is if you somehow
had 300% confidence

in him before all
of this happened.

In fact, Mr. President,
let me try and put this in terms

you might understand.

You really might want
to consider disciplining

some folks.

And finally, to some
lighter news right here

in New York.

Fishs Eddy is
a local independent

kitchenware store.

They make delightful
plates featuring

New York's skyline,
but this week they ran into some

unexpected trouble
with a government agency.

NEWSWOMAN: Last week,
a Port Authority attorney

fired off a letter
to Fishs Eddy.

According to the letter,
"Your use of

"the Port Authority's assets
on dinnerware and other

items is of great concern
to the Port Authority."

DIFFERENT NEWSWOMAN: The store
was also told the use

of the images interferes
with the Port Authority's

control of its
own reputation.

That's right, that's right.

The Port Authority
is anxious to protect

its reputation.

And here is something
the Port Authority clearly

does not understand--its
reputation is terrible.

Because the only thing
people think of when they

hear its name is the
Port Authority bus terminal,

also known as
the single worst place

on planet Earth.

It is--let me
explain how bad.

It is a place--it's
a place where cockroaches

run up to people
screaming,

"Please get me out of here.

This place is
disgusting."

The Port Authority is
so famously awful that

the sitcom "Everybody
Hates Chris" once had

an episode called "Everybody
Hates the Port Authority,"

which featured this scene.

ROCHELLE: OK. I want y'all to be real
careful in here.

This place is full of
pickpockets, pimps,

and murderers and child
molesters and thieves.

ADULT CHRIS: That's
the Port Authority slogan.

And the producers were
safe in the knowledge

that everyone would
understand that joke

because you do not need
to have been to

the Port Authority to
know that you never

want to go there.

And yet the Port Authority
is worried that

a whimsical plate
will destroy its reputation.

Well, look, if they
really want to take

ownership of their
hard-earned image,

maybe we can be of some help.

ANNOUNCER: New York,
home to such icons as

the Empire State Building,
the Statue of Liberty,

and, of course,
the Port Authority Bus Terminal,

the Big Apple's
magnificent worm.

If you really want to
know the Port Authority's

reputation,
just ask any New Yorker.

The Port Authority
is pretty gross.

I think it's
fucking disgusting.

It's kind of skuzzy.

It really creeps me out.

It's kind of like
a dumpy shithole

from the eighties.

ANNOUNCER: And in tribute to
this great building, we're

proud to introduce
the official

Port Authority dinner plate.

Handcrafted from
Port Authority bathroom tiles,

the plate features
all the most famous

Port Authority sights:

an old woman throwing
up in a garbage can;

an unattended child;

a rat orgy;

a man relieving himself
into a water fountain;

a used condom
and 3 loose teeth;

and two pregnant women
fist fighting.

The official Port Authority
dinner plate.

Eat shit!

Mmm! Oh, beautiful, beautiful.

Moving on.

There was an amazing
international story

this week that you
may have missed.

Argentina is in default
for the second time

in 13 years.

Last-minute talks
failed to produce a deal

with the country's
bondholders, demanding

payment overnight.

Now Argentina
has defaulted.

Now Argentina
defaulting is not,

in itself, startling.

They've done it
7 times before.

Defaulting is
an Argentine tradition every

bit as grand as the tango
and hiding Nazis, both

of which they are
flamboyantly good at.

And you may be thinking,
"Well, look, this is

"horrible for the people
of Argentina, who are

"clearly in for
a very difficult time,

but what does this story
have to do with me?"

Well...

NEWSMAN: There is
a deep-seated resentment

against the United States
in Argentina nowadays.

People there say
the world's most powerful

country is driving
their financially strapped

nation into the abyss.

That's an unpleasant
surprise because normally

if you see someone
burning an American flag,

you can at the very
least guess why.

Pakistan--well,
probably drone strikes.

Iran--let's say
crippling sanctions.

College campus--looks
like Tyler just learned

about the military-industrial
complex.

"Hey, this is
bullshit, man!"

"I ain't gonna take it"

"No, Tyler ain't
gonna take it"

But interestingly,
this time, the flag is not

burning due to the actions
of the U.S. government

as much as it is
some U.S. hedge funds.

NEWSWOMAN: The dispute
began when Argentina

financially collapsed
in 2001 and couldn't pay

its debts.

Most investors owed money
have agreed to accept

repayments of as little
as 25 cents for each

dollar spent, but a group
of U.S. hedge funds known

as hold-out investors
have refused and have

taken Argentina to court
to get their money.

Now, I know that you are
on the edge of your seats

at this point.

Hedge funds, foreign bonds,
and court-ordered

debt restructuring?

You don't often get
a single story with all 3 active

ingredients in a bottle
of NyQuil, but how is it

possible for a hedge
fund, which is, by

definition, run by
a small group

of extremely rich
assholes--That's a fact--

how is it possible for
them to bring Argentina

to the precipice
of default?

Well, luckily, there is
a hyperexcited financial

reporter from "Reuters"
who is anxious to explain

this to you.

FELIX SALMON: How
exciting is this, people?

I get to bring out my
Legos again and bring out

my toys and use it to
explain to you what

is going on.

Oh, no, no.

Why does he have
to be English?

Why?

And not just English.

His name is actually
Felix Salmon, which

sounds like what
the Queen would feed her cat.

But, look, I'm
sorry, Felix.

You were explaining.

So what happens is that
every so often there's

a coupon payment.

And the train goes
choo-choo-choo through

Clearstream
and various other bits

of financial intermediaries.

These people owe those
people money, and unless

those people have money,
you're not allowed to

do anything.

Felix, Felix, stop.

Stop, Felix.

How are you somehow
managing to make this

complicated story even
more confusing than it

already is?

Look, in its most
basic form, this is

what happened.

Argentina's economy
collapsed in 2001.

Their government wrote
a bunch of IOUs to

bondholders that it
later decided not to pay.

93% of those
bondholders eventually

accepted Argentina's
offer to pay the debt

back at around
30 cents on the dollar,

but the remaining investors--
led by a hedge fund

called Elliott Management--
listened to

Argentina's kind offer of
30 cents on the dollar

and counteroffered by
telling them to go

fuck themselves.

And then two years ago,
Elliott Management, who

at this point were acting
like an international

collection agency,
went full "Repo Man"

on Argentina.

A court in Ghana
today ruling that this

Argentine navy ship,
the "Libertad,"

cannot leave port.

Elliott Management, run
by secretive hedge fund

billionaire Paul Singer,
sued to take control

of the ship.

JOHN: Just--just
think about that.

A secretive billionaire's
hedge fund managed to

essentially boat-jack
a warship like a Somali

pirate in an Armani suit.

"I am the captain
of industry now.

I am the captain!"

And the hedge fund held
that ship for more than

two months, which is
crazy, almost as crazy as

how Argentina greeted
the ship upon its return.

NEWSMAN: She arrives to
a full-blown celebration.

The "ARA Libertad" is finally home after being

detained for two
months in Ghana.

The triumphant return
was watched by

the Argentinean president
Cristina Fernandez.

OK, OK.

First, Argentina,
what exactly do you think

you're doing?

If you're on the edge of
default, maybe cut

the fireworks budget a bit.

And also, it's a little
suspicious that you

suddenly care this much
about a warship which, no

offense, would look
more at home inside

a decorative
glass bottle.

Because, look, just to be
clear to you, Argentina

is by no means
blameless in this story.

They reneged
on their debts.

So throwing a party
for that boat is

the international equivalent
of a deadbeat dad

celebrating moving his car
before his ex-wife

could seize it
for child support.

"Yes! Fuck you, Carol.

"I need this Celica to
drive to the job I'm

"definitely gonna get.

"Yes!

Celica is mine!"

But the point is,
Is anyone else a little

uncomfortable that
a hedge fund with

300 employees has
the power to seize the ship

of a sovereign nation
of 41 million people?

Even the reporters
covering this whole story

seem a little flummoxed.

All sides continue
to negotiate through

a complex web of rulings
and conflicting

ideologies--what is
legal or illegal,

moral or immoral.

JOHN: OK. Well, there's one
thing I can definitely

clear up for you there.

Hedge funds are neither
moral nor immoral.

They are amoral.

They only exist
to make money.

Hedge funds look at
distressed countries

with assets the way
that vultures look

at dying zebras.

"Mmm!

"Sure it's suffering,
but this one's gonna

taste all stripy!"

Elliott Management
has been here before.

They reportedly made
a 400% profit

on Peruvian debt in
2000 and then,

in the Republic of Congo,
invested less than

$20 million and got
$90 million back.

Give them credit.

That is skilled
secondary-market investing.

And it also must
make great small talk

at parties.

"Hey, nice watch, Brian."

"Thanks! I paid for it by
shaking the Congo until

$90 million fell out."

"Oh, I thought
I liked it."

It is no wonder hedge funds
prefer not to have

their activities
scrutinized.

The head of Elliott Management,
Paul Singer,

has been called
publicity-shy,

and his firm's recent
letter to investors said,

"Obviously, our lives
would be easier if

"the press cared less
about this

particular position."

So is that clear
to everyone?

All Paul Singer wants--
this Paul Singer here--

is for people to respect
Paul Singer's demands

for Paul Singer's privacy
at this very difficult,

potentially profitable
time for Paul Singer, OK?

Respect his privacy.

Respect it.

You respect that man!

You respect him!

Perhaps the most alarming
aspect of this whole story

is that a brief moment
of notoriety could be

the worst consequence for
the hedge funds who are

involved in the current
situation in Argentina

because they've
not broken the law.

And the fact that that's true
makes this story so much

more concerning to me.

That a dispute with
a small group of powerful

investors can drive
a G-20 nation into

default is one of
those things that is

technically not illegal
but really feels like it

probably should be,

like being drunk
on a Segway

or watching porn
on an airplane

or naming your puppy
Cunty McGee.

You're technically
allowed to do all

of those things,
but isn't humanity supposed

to be a lot fucking
better than that?

And now this...

Stop what you're doing
and listen to this.

Your face wash
could kill you.

NEWSMAN: Too much sugar can actually kill you.

Binge watching TV
could kill you?

Your digital life
may be killing you.

Is your purse
killing you slowly?

Are your shoes
killing you?

Nagging spouses
can kill you.

Your desk job may
actually be killing you.

Your daytime snoozing
might be killing you.

Oh, boy!

MAN: How can my necktie
kill you?

And finally, finally
tonight, let's talk

about corporate influence
in the media.

And before I do,
I am very aware that we're

extremely lucky here on HBO.

We don't have advertisers,
so if I want to say

that, for instance,
Cadbury Cream Eggs

are filled
with dolphin sperm or that

Old Navy clothing makes you
look like a tacky murderer

or that Snickers
only satisfies you

for about 8 minutes,
then makes you hate

yourself for the rest
of the day, I can.

I can do all of those
things, and why?

Well, because of HBO's
business model, which

no one has been able
to adequately explain

to me yet.

But most other outlets
are locked in a constant

battle for editorial
independence, which is

especially
problematic when it comes

to the news.

America has a proud
tradition of a free

and independent press,
but it has always

been a fight.

Back in the fifties,
newscasters like NBC's

John Cameron Swayze were
introduced like this.

ANNOUNCER: Sit back,
light up a Camel,

and be an eyewitness to
the happenings that made

history in the last 24 hours.

The Camel News
Caravan presents...

Top story this evening--

Americans' life
expectancy, still 45.

That's Camel smooth.

Now, exceptions like that
aside, it's generally

agreed upon in journalism
that there should be

a wall separating
the editorial

and the business
side of news.

It's sometimes referred
to as the separation

of church and state,
although I like to think

of news and advertising
as the separation

of guacamole
and Twizzlers.

Separately they're good,
but if you mix them

together, somehow
you make both of them

really gross.

But recently,
the integrity of news has

become harder to protect,
particularly in print.

Print is still where most
original journalism is done,

but since papers
moved online, they have

struggled financially,
mainly because news is

like porn--people don't
want to pay for it

on the Internet,
even though somewhere

in a dimly lit room
Paul Krugman worked very hard

to make it.

Online--online...

Uh-uh. Online--
he worked hard.

He put his heart
and soul into that.

Online, print
publications have

struggled to attract
advertisers, partly

because traditional
banner ads are

so ineffective that one
study found we only

intentionally click on
them less than 2/10 of 1%

of the time, which
actually sounds about right

because did you know
that if you ever actually

click on a banner ad,
you literally get taken to

a page that reads,
"Hey, is everything OK?

"I'm presuming you passed
out and hit your head

"on the keyboard.

I'm calling
an ambulance right now!"

The publishing industry,
though, has responded to

this crisis by finding
a new way to appeal

to advertisers.

Native advertising is
basically saying to

corporations that want
to advertise,

"We will camouflage your
ads to make them look

like news stories."

That's essentially it.

"That's essentially it"?

Are you saying that
to sum up your point

on native advertising,
or are you describing

independent journalism?

"That's essentially it.

It's over.
We're done here."

Even if you've not
heard the term

"native advertising" before,
you have probably been

subjected to it by now.

It's when a piece of
ostensibly normal content

is stamped with tiny
disclaimers like this

and this and then contains
messages that

are often clear
endorsements,

and if you'll
excuse me,

I'll just take
a break from

making this point
by enjoying

the refreshing
taste of

Mountain Dew
Code Red.

Mmm.

And then it's at
this point that

you usually
realize,

"Oh, this isn't the thing that I
was looking for.

"You're just
advertising

the most disgusting fucking drink
ever manufactured."

Although--although,
I will say

it does undeniably
taste of red.

Native advertising,
though, has been

so lucrative for new
media organizations,

they've basically built
their entire business model

around it.

100% of our
revenue comes from

branded content.

So we have a lot
of partners who are

marketers
and major brands.

We work with 76 of
the top 100 brands now.

That's the CEO of
BuzzFeed Jonah Peretti,

and his face is like
BuzzFeed itself--

successful, appealing,
and yet somehow you want

to punch it.

BuzzFeed has created--

BuzzFeed has--
no, no, no.

BuzzFeed has created
masterpieces of

native advertising, such as
"10 Lifechanging Ways to Make

Your Day More Efficient,"
sponsored by GE,

and "9 Ways Cleaning
Has Become Smarter,"

sponsored by Swiffer,

and "11 Sea Creatures
Who Deserved to Die,"

sponsored by BP.

Now, that--

that--

that last one is a joke,
but it's not

significantly different
from the previous two.

Full disclosure--HBO did
pay for lists to promote

this show around the time
that we began, very cleverly

realizing, "We'd better
promote this show.

No one is going to give
a shit about it."

But the success of this
practice has clearly

impressed old media such
as Time Inc., whose CEO

recently created
a native advertising team,

and he also doesn't see why
that might be an issue.

JOE RIPP: As long as it's
clearly marked, as long

as the consumer knows
the difference between what's

editorial and what's
native, I don't see any

problem with it at all.

Yeah, but it is
a problem, though,

because the consumer
cannot tell

the difference.

A recent study showed
that less than half

of visitors to a news site
could distinguish

native advertising
from actual news.

And, of course, they can't
because it's supposed

to blend in.

You're like a camouflage
manufacturer saying,

"Only an idiot could
not tell the difference

"between that man
and foliage.

"I mean, look,
the camouflage clearly states

"not foliage
on the collar.

"It's clear, and besides,
I'm sure the deer knows

"the difference
between the two things.

"Deers are so smart.

You have to
respect deer."

And if you are wondering
how he reconciles this

with the line between
church and state,

well, funny story.

Quite frankly, I've
changed church and state,

as you know.

We took that away, and we
said the editors are gonna

now be working
for the business side

of the equation.

Quite frankly, I think
they're happier, they're

more excited about it because
no longer are we asking

ourselves the question,
"Are we violating

church and state?"
Whatever that was.

"Whatever that was"?

That's like a surgeon
saying, "Hey, I found

"this squishy thing
in there, all bloody

and gross, so I removed
it, whatever that was!"

That was the heart!

That was what made
the whole thing work!

You needed that!

And it's not just
Time Inc. that's doing this.

"The Atlantic" published
some native advertising

for the Church
of Scientology.

The ad is the kind
you've probably seen.

It's called sponsored
content, and it's

formatted to look like
an actual article on their

web site, and the article
lavishly praised

Scientology's leader,
David Miscavige.

JOHN: OK. Now for
"The Atlantic," that is

ethically compromising,
but for Scientology, that

is just plain stupid.

They clearly should've
gone with a magazine

with better access to
their key demographic,

such as "Depressed
Aspiring Actor Monthly."

But even--even
the "New York Times" is now

embracing this.

They had a recent
feature on their web site

about women in prison,
which looked like

a serious piece of
journalism but was

actually a paid post
promoting season two

of "Orange is the New Black."

And here's the thing--as
far as native advertising

goes, that's about
as good as it gets.

The reporting is real,
and the sponsored

branding was minimal,
but it is still an ad.

It's like hearing
the one Katy Perry song

that you like.

You think, "Sure, this
is the best possible

"iteration of Katy Perry,
but it still feels wrong

to be listening to this."

You're gonna
hear me roar

Louder, louder
than a lion

It's a good song.

It's a good song.

There's a 12-year-old
girl inside me who is

empowered by that song.

The problem is--
the problem is--the problem

is sponsors aren't always
going to be as benign as

"Orange is
the New Black."

Sometimes, it's going
to be a company like

Chevron, who recently
sponsored a piece

in the "Times" about
"How Our Energy Needs

Are Changing."

And, spoiler alert,
the notion that they're

changing because we
fucked up the Earth

thanks to companies
like Chevron is not

the conclusion of
the article.

You might think all of
this might seriously

damage trust
in a news organization,

but a "Times" advertising
executive would like to

vigorously refute that.

Let me start by
vigorously refuting

the notion that native
advertising has to erode

consumer trust or
compromise the wall that

exists between editorial
and advertising.

Good native advertising
is just not meant to

be trickery.

It's meant to be
a publisher sharing

its storytelling tools
with a marketer.

Exactly, exactly!

It's not trickery.

It's sharing
storytelling tools,

and that's not bullshit.

It's repurposed
bovine waste.

And, look, in news--

in news, that is
seemingly the model now.

Ads are baked into
content like chocolate chips

into a cookie,
except it's actually more

like raisins into
a cookie because no one

fucking wants them there.

And the point is, think
how much it would affect

your trust in me as
a source if you knew that

that last anti-raisin-cookie
joke was actually brought

to you by Chips Ahoy!

But before we demonize
these organizations

for selling out, it is
worth remembering this is

all at least
partially our fault.

A press cannot be free
and independent if nobody

is willing to pay for
it, and it seems nobody

is going to.

In which case, I'd like
to make a suggestion.

If our news is going to
be corrupted, we should

at least get
something in return.

Every time a corporation
sneaks advertising into

our news and ruins it, our news should be

allowed to sneak into
their advertising.

ANNOUNCER: When you get
hot, you get thirsty,

and when you get
thirsty, there's only

one choice...

Diet Coke.

The recent Ebola outbreak
has killed over 700

people in West Africa.

The World Health
Organization says they

don't yet have it under
control and the situation

threatens to
become catastrophic.

ANNOUNCER: Diet Coke.

It's only fair.

That's it for our
show this week.

See you next week!

Thanks for joining us.
Good night!