Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 3, Episode 20 - Journalism - full transcript

John talks about the Olympics Opening Ceremony and the main story is about Journalism and the descent of printed news.

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Welcome to Last Week Tonight !
I'm John Oliver.

Thank you for joining us. Let us
begin straight away with the Olympics.

A global display of the world's
greatest athletes and also dressage.

I don't care if you fuck your horse,

but you are not getting a medal
for the foreplay.

Now, the buildup to the Rio games
has been turbulent,

with Brazil experiencing
a massive recession,

protests in the streets,
and a Zika outbreak.

But NBC urged us to forget all that
and focus on the opening ceremony.

The cariocas, as they call themselves,

they are ready at least for tonight
to put the headlines aside,

hit the reset button
and throw one massive party.

Did somebody say "party" ?!

No !

Aunt Hoda
got into the caipirinha supply.

Everybody watch yourselves.
She gets grabby.

The ceremony itself
was as spectacular as you'd expect,

featuring fireworks, little scooters
from junior high gym class,

to people throwing Ikea Fluurgen
lampshades at each other,

to plants forming the Olympic rings,
before having a full-on plant-gasm.

If people in that stadium start giving
birth to palm trees in nine months,

you will know why.

The ceremony also featured
a solemn moment of history.

She is one of Brazil's
most recognizable exports.

But tonight she walks
on her country's biggest stage,

that is supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

According to everything we have heard,
this will be Gisele's last catwalk.

Wait: last catwalk ?
What's happening to her ?

My God, they're going
to kill Gisele, aren't they ?

Or maybe they'll send her where
all supermodels go: a farm upstate,

where they can sassily walk around
and graze on tiny amounts of grass.

Still, the centerpiece of any opening
ceremony is the Parade of Nations.

That inspirational moment

where athletes come together, as one,
to have Today Show anchors

point out everything
that's wrong with their countries.

As Turkey enters the stadium, there
has got to be so many mixed emotions.

There was an attempted coup that
failed to overthrow the government.

It's been a difficult
and tragic year for France.

Terrorist attacks in Paris
and Nice and Normandy.

She was in Kathmandu when the
devastating earthquake hit that region.

That killed an estimated 9,000 people.

Sudan is entering the stadium.
Troubled nation.

Holy shit.
It is a good thing that those anchors

don't behave like that
during the Macy's Day Parade.

"There goes Shrek,
obviously jaundiced"

"and beset by weight problems
stemming from chronic diabetes."

"Here's Charlie Brown, clearly
losing his fight with leukemia."

"There is Snoopy, who of course
is going to be put down later today."

That might be preferable to whenever
they tried to get jocular instead.

Once every four years, someone gets
to say it and today it's my turn,

so how about this:
check out Djibouti.

- You did it.
- I did it.

You did. Djibouti is a country
with a rich cultural history

and a multi-ethnic population
of over 850,000 people.

But you are right,
it does also sound like a butt.

The parade itself was a fairly standard
affair, most countries' athletes

were forced to dress like flight
attendants from shitty airlines,

with one glorious exception.

- Look at Tonga.
- Slow that down !

We'll live here for a minute.

He's so shiny, what is that ?

He just became a sensation in Brazil,
I can tell you that.

- They love him here.
- As do Meredith and I.

What's not to love ?
He's a great athlete.

I think Meredith and Hoda just did
whatever those trees did earlier.

But, look we would
be remiss to gloss over the fact

that there is real political turmoil
in Brazil right now.

Their president, Dilma Rousseff,
has been suspended,

and did not attend
the opening ceremony saying:

"Imagine you're going to throw a party,
you work on it for years,"

"you set it all up and then on the day
of the party someone shows up,"

"takes your place
and takes over your party."

"In this story of the games,
I am the Cinderella."

Which is absolute bullshit,

not least because Cinderella
did not organize the ball.

The prince's publicist Andrea did,

to distract from the gay rumors
surrounding the prince.

Come on ! Think about it. The guest
list was "every eligible maiden".

It was Cinderella or Katie Holmes !
Please ! Please ! It was obvious.

Now instead, Brazil's current acting
president, Michel Temer, was there

although he, too,
is not exactly beloved.

Acting president Michel Temer
declaring the games officially open,

but greeted by jeers.

Those boos actually make sense
for a couple of reasons:

he's unelected and is planning
to push through austerity measures.

And second, he's a poet,
who once released a book of poetry

titled "Anonymous Intimacy",
featuring this actual poem.

Of red fiery flames of fire.

Brilliant eyes which smile
with scarlet lips.

Fires they take hold of me.
Of my mind my soul.

All mine in heat.
My body on fire consumed dissolved.

Finally ashes are left
that I spread on the bed to sleep.

Now, what is interesting
about that poem is nothing.

But what is relevant about it
is that his muse is his wife, Marcela,

who is 42 years younger than him.

He is 75, she is 33.

At least when 70-something
American politicians

get creepily handsy
with 30-something women,

they have the decency to do so
with their own daughters.

Have some class, Brazil !
Have some class.

But wait: it gets one step worse.

Because she apparently has a tattoo
of his name on her neck.

Which seems a tradition that is part of
a wedding ceremony at a Senor Frog's.

Does any of this have anything
to do with the Olympics ? No.

But did I just find out about it,
and need to tell somebody ?

Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

But for all of this, the Olympic games
promise to be genuinely inspiring.

For the first time,

a team of refugees will be competing
under the Olympic flag.

One of them is Yusra Mardini,
an 18-year-old Syrian refugee

who helped keep the boat carrying her
and a group of others afloat

when its engine
failed off the Greek coast.

She's pretty incredible. Listen to her
describe her training regime in Syria.

Sometimes we couldn't train
because of the war.

Sometimes you had a training and there
was a bombing in the swimming pool.

So it was... You can see like the roof,
there is three or four places is open.

When you have a problem
that doesn't mean

you have to sit around
and cry like babies or something.

First, I am almost terrifyingly
impressed by that woman.

And second, when something goes
wrong. I don't cry like a baby.

I cry like a grown man.
And I'll tell you why. It's louder.

It terrifies strangers.
And no one comforts me. It's better.

I will say this: there was one moment
in the opening ceremony

where the inspirational rhetoric
went just a touch too far.

In this Olympic world there is
one universal law for everybody.

In this Olympic world,
we are all equal.

Okay, that is simply not true.

If that were the case,
you wouldn't need to have an Olympics.

The whole reason we do this is to find
out who is better than everyone else,

so that we can make them stand higher

than the other people
who are not as good as them.

Because the point of the games
is not to celebrate equality.

It is to celebrate
individuals' excellence.

Let us settle in for two incredible
weeks of celebrating the fittest,

the bravest, the most beautiful,
and, of course, the drunkest of us all.

Did somebody say "party" ?
And now this.

Newscasters perv out over a shirtless
Olympian in national dress.

All eyes went straight to what
people are calling, now, Mr. Tonga.

The boy from Tonga.

The beefcake who stole the...
Yes, I said beefcake.

A whole bunch of oil,
glistening body.

Look at that. He's hot.

I mean, just body oil.

- I can't take it.
- He's tuned up right there.

He actually is an athlete
that competes in taekwondo.

- I don't think anybody was asking.
- I don't think either.

- We're stretching this story out.
- My God !

Our producer wants to scoot us along.
But five more seconds in heaven.

Give the people what they want !
I mean me.

Can we look at that shot again ?
No ?

- I gotta go to Tonga.
- I don't think so.

I'm just kidding.

Moving on. Our main story
concerns journalists:

the heroes that we root for in movies
like "All The President's Men",

"The Great Muppet Caper",
and, most recently, "Spotlight".

We gotta nail these scumbags !

We gotta show people that nobody
can get away with this...

Not a priest, or a cardinal,
or a freaking pope !

Now remember, "Spotlight" won
best picture at the Oscars this year.

Newspapers received the recognition

that we normally reserve
for subjects of such importance as:

the bravery of real-life
Hollywood filmmakers,

the bravery of fictional
Hollywood filmmakers,

and the bravery of wanting
to fuck your daughter's friend.

But, one of the things
that made "Spotlight" so powerful

is the knowledge that the newspaper
industry today is in big trouble.

Papers have been closing for years,
and that affects all of us,

even if you only get your news
from Facebook, Google, Twitter,

"Arianna Huffington's Junction
And Book Excerpt Clearinghouse."

Those places are often repackaging
the work of newspapers.

And it is not just websites...

watch how often TV news
ends up citing print sources.

- According to the Chicago Tribune.
- Detroit Free Press.

- San Francisco Chronicle.
- The Times-Picayune.

The Boston Globe.

- The Philadelphia Inquirer.
- The Detroit News.

- The Houston Chronicle reports.
- The Oklahoman reports.

The Hartford Courant reports.

It's obvious:
without newspapers around to cite,

TV news would just be Wolf Blitzer
endlessly batting a ball of yarn around.

And, it is not just news outlets.

Stupid shows like ours
lean heavily on local papers.

Whenever this show
is called journalism,

it is a slap in the face to the actual
journalists whose work we rely on.

I'll give you one example: 2 years ago,
we ran a piece on state lotteries,

and a not-insignificant portion of it
was built on the work of Harry Esteve,

a reporter at the Oregonian.

Here is a clip we used of him
talking about his series on camera.

Here I am quoting one of his
Oregonian stories directly.

And here I am, doing it again.

You probably didn't notice it,
you were too fixated

on my bold choice of shiny grey tie
with checkered dress shirt.

The tie says "mafia funeral," the shirt
says "high school debate tournament",

and the face says "I am not confident
enough to carry this look off."

But the point is, we used a lot
of Harry Esteve's work in that piece.

And we try to add new information
to our stories.

Our researchers
work incredibly hard.

But the media is a food chain, which
would fall apart without newspapers.

And the problem is, print ads
are less popular with advertisers

than they used to be.

And online ads
produce much less revenue.

Between 2004 and 2014,

newspapers gained two billion dollars
in online ad revenue.

Unfortunately, in that same period,
they lost $30 billion in print revenue.

So that's like finding a lucky penny
on the sidewalk on the day

your bank account is drained
by a 16-year-old Belgian hacker.

And this has led to cutbacks
in newsrooms.

Again, and look at The Oregonian.
It used to be a big money-maker.

In 1993, their editor talked about how
proud he was of its record of success.

I've been at that paper
more than 40 years.

I've seen our staff increase,
I've seen our salaries increase,

not a year has gone by that
an employee at the Oregonian,

full-time employee,
has not been a beneficiary of a raise.

Now, that level of confidence
is almost tempting fate.

He's like a citizen of Pompeii saying:

"What I love about this city
is how volcano-proof it is."

"Not a year goes by
without us not having to have"

"our horrified reactions
captured in ash forever."

Unfortunately, the Oregonian's
circulation has since dropped

and in 2013 just as Harry Esteve
was working on his lottery series

their parent company, Advance
Publications, dropped a bombshell.

This picture, tweeted out from inside
the Oregonian, shows staffers listening

as editor Peter Bhatia
broke the news some had feared:

the paper will split in two,
stop 7 day a week home delivery,

and lay off some employees.

This is an, a strategic move
to really focus everybody

on what that digital future is,
what our products and services can be.

It's true. They became
a "digital first" company.

"Digitalfirst" sounds like
a high-school euphemism

for seductively sucking on a finger.

"I put my finger in his mouth.
We totally got to digital-first."

"It was like...
But it was also, like... Hot."

That meant big changes.
A local weekly, the Willamette Week,

got their hands on a presentation
for the Oregonian staff,

outlining reporters
are expected to meet a quota

of three blog posts a day,
and on any post of substance,

they would have to post
the first comment.

What better way to win the trust
of your readers

than posting "first !"
underneath your own article ?

Those rules were criticized
and have since been relaxed.

Extra digital demands
placed on journalists

is now common
throughout the industry.

Listen to Washington Post editor
Marty Baron,

the guy Liev Schreiber
played in "Spotlight".

He describes his concerns about
the average workload required.

They have to do their reporting,
participate in social media

produce a wire service that's
available 24 hours a day.

They have to be responsible
for video, you name it...

It's a lot to ask.

True. If journalists
are constantly required to write,

edit, shoot videos and tweet,
mistakes are going to get made.

Perhaps that is how the
"Boston Globe" wound up tweeting

that the FBI had
"investifarted about 70 leads".

If they had more time, they would
have written "hashtag investifarted".

Because that's how you drive the
conversation. Hashtag investifarted.

At the Oregonian,
those digital demands came

just as almost a quarter
of the newsroom was laid off.

Even more staffers left the paper,
including statehouse reporters,

a two-time Pulitzer winner
and Harry Esteve.

So his work bolstered
our lottery piece and now,

the lack of his work has bolstered
this journalism piece.

So you can't say that we don't
use every part of the Harry Esteve.

Here is where it gets frightening:

while the Oregonian rebuilt
its statehouse team,

other papers have been
forced to simply go without.

A study of over 200 papers found
that between 2003 and 2014,

their number of full-time statehouse
reporters "declined by 35 percent".

And that's not good.

While there
are some great web outlets,

some of which do cover
local government,

there aren't nearly enough
to replace what has been lost.

Listen to David Simon, who
before creating the show "The Wire",

worked for years
at the Baltimore Sun.

The day I run into a Huffington Post
reporter at a Baltimore hearing

is the day that I will be confident
we've reached some equilibrium.

There's no glory
in that kind of journalism,

but that is the bedrock
of what keeps...

The next 10 or 15 years in this country
are going to be a halcyon era

for state
and local political corruption.

It is going to be one of the great
times to be a corrupt politician.

I really envy them. I really do.

He's right, because not having
reporters at government meetings

is like a teacher leaving seventh
graders to supervise themselves.

Best case scenario,
Britney gets gum in her hair.

Worst-case scenario,
you no longer have a school.

It is clearly smart for newspapers
to expand online.

But the danger is
the temptation to gravitate

toward whatever gets
the most clicks.

Which is why news organizations
badly need to have leaders

who appreciate that what's popular
isn't always what's most important,

but that is not always the case.

Look at Sam Zell, a billionaire
investor and living garden gnome.

Nine years ago, he took
over the Tribune Company,

which owns LA Times,
Orlando Sentinel and Chicago Tribune.

He spoke to the Sentinel's nervous
staff, outlining his vision.

Listen to one particular exchange
with a journalist.

His last two words are
perhaps the most illuminating.

My attitude on journalism
is very simple.

I want to make enough money
so I can afford you.

It's really that simple. Okay ?
You need to help me,

by being a journalist that focuses
on what our readers want.

And generates more revenue.

But what readers want
are puppy dogs,

and we also need to
inform the community...

I'm sorry, I can't...

You're giving me the classic what
I would call journalistic arrogance,

of deciding
that puppies don't count.

Hopefully we get to the point
where our revenue is so significant

that we can do puppies
and Iraq, okay ?

Fuck you.

Sam Zell just created a new motto for
the Sentinel's masthead:

"the puppy news fit to print,"

"and maybe some Iraq news too,
if we can afford it, fuck you."

The good news is, Zell no longer
owns the Tribune company.

Their latest attempt to balance
business pressures

with journalistic responsibility
has not been confidence-inspiring.

Just this year, "Tribune Publishing"
was rebranded

into something much stupider.

This is the future of journalism,
of content.

If you care about media and technology,
this is the place to be.

Tronc stands
for tribune online content.

Yes, Tronc. They have chosen
to call themselves "Tronc".

Which sounds like the noise
an ejaculating elephant makes,

or the sound of a stack of newspapers
being thrown into a dumpster.

If you are wondering how Tronc's
business model will be different,

get ready to have
your minds Tronc'ed.

We're going to
harness the power of our journalism

by having a optimization group,
this Tronc team.

Will work with all the local markets
to harness our local journalism,

feed it into a funnel,
and then optimize it

so that we reach the biggest

What the fuck did she just say ?

They're going to feed
journalism into a funnel ?

"We're just gonna take content
and cram it down your throat"

"like you're an abused goose."

And the corresponding
visuals makes even less sense.

What is happening here ?

It looks like a bunch of digital
sperm impregnating a Tronc egg.

But what seems like a banal
corporate re-branding speech

goes off the rails
with their next big idea.

Artificial intelligence
is going to allow journalists

to do their jobs more efficiently,
finding the right photos,

the videos, the things that you
will package your stories with.

Now that's a manual effort.
With artificial intelligence,

you can create a system that
automatically is doing that.

Putting aside the news-robots.

I would like to take a moment
to break down what may be

the most meaningless
graphic ever created.

On the left, there is the phrase
"reading habits."

But once those reading habits
undergo X,

they become
"increase consumption."

It almost feels like a test

and the first employee
to say:

"that doesn't mean anything"
becomes king of the news.

It is easy to make fun of Tronc.
I could do it for another 20 minutes.

But the publishers are desperate.

No one seems to have a perfect
plan to keep newspapers afloat.

One option seems to be to pray
you get bought by a benefactor

who could afford
to swallow losses.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought
"The Washington Post" in 2013,

and they've done
spectacular journalism

and the reporters seem happy,
despite some of his stupider ideas

like "a game that would allow
a reader who didn't enjoy an article"

"to pay to remove its vowels."

Which is just absurd.

Taking out all the vowels makes
every word sound like an app.

I'll give you an example.
"Turkey" is a nation in crisis.

"TRK" is a dating service that helps
you fuck long-haul truckers.

But there are potential downsides
to having a rich owner,

if there is a concern that they could
meddle with the paper's coverage.

Look at what happened to
the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Acquired by Sheldon Adelson, magnate
and Republican mega-donor.

He's a big deal in Vegas,
and his businesses are at the center

of a lot of stories
the Review-Journal covers.

While Adelson and the editors
have denied that he interferes

with news coverage in any way,
the editors have admitted

they put any articles about him
through a special review process,

to make sure that they are "fair".

Listen to an ex-deputy editor
describe his experience.

In this review process, things
are changed, added, removed.

There's no explanation for why
and there's no appeal.

Reporters have asked if they could
have their name taken off the story

and have been told
that's not allowed.

There are things that are done
because it's known

that this is the way Adelson
wants it to read.

And it can be something minor
or something very big.

If that's true,
that is very compromising.

There could not be a worse owner
of a paper in Vegas than Adelson,

with the possible exception
of Cirque du Soleil.

They wouldn't give you a newspaper,
you'd just have a fistful of glitter

thrown in your face
by a 90-pound man in a thong.

None of this is to say there isn't
great work in local newsrooms now.

Many are at the Oregonian,
at the Review-Journal, even at Tronc.

But, they are doing it
despite their current conditions.

A big part of the blame for this
industry's dire straits is on us

and our unwillingness to pay
for the work journalists produce.

We've just grown accustomed
to getting our news for free.

The longer
we get something for free,

the less willing we are to pay for it,
and I'm talking to you,

the person watching
this on YouTube

using the WiFi from the coffee shop
underneath you.

You're killing us !

But sooner or later, we are either
going to have to pay for journalism

or we are all going to pay for it.

If we don't, not only
will malfeasance run amok,

but the journalism movies of
the future will look like this.

In a city built on secrets.

There's corruption in City Hall.

Only a newsroom willing to stop
at nothing can uncover the truth.

It might go all the way to the top.

They knew. And I think we can
prove that they knew.

I'm not sure what kind of clicks
we're gonna get. Anybody else ?

I've got a thing about a cat
that looks like a raccoon.

Or a raccoon that looks
like a cat. Not sure.

Now we're talking !
That's great. Let's figure that out.

- An online poll.
- Political corruption in Boston.

- We'll come back to that...
- I like the Rac Cat.

That's great.
Let's pull the roof off that.

It's the movie critics are hailing
as "genuinely deflating"

and "depressingly accurate."

The Oregonian raves:
"Who needs a drink ?"

Four reporters.

Actually, I'm taking a buyout.

Three reporters.

I'm not a reporter, I'm the Director
of Social Media Strategies,

but I'm an
important part of the editorial.

Two reporters.

I'm also leaving. I'm being replaced
by whatever the fuck this is.

One reporter and a burnt-orange
X, chase the story of a lifetime.

- How far does this thing go ?
- I can't tell you.

All the way up to the mayor ?

I got kids, man,
I've already said too much.

Tommy. Sorry to interrupt.
I gotta talk to you about Twitter.

It's like a ghost town in here.
We talked about this.

Eight tweets a day.
T-Bone, how many tweets ?

- Eight.
- And we're not counting re-tweets.

He wasn't just up against the
powerful voices in City Hall.

I need answers. You're the only one
who can give 'em.

He was up against the most
powerful voices at his newspaper.

We gotta show people
that no one can get away with this.

Let me stop you right there.
Hopefully, we can get to the point

where we can do raccoon cats
and City Hall.

But we're not there.
So, fuck you.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution raves:

"We had to get rid of our full-time
movie reviewer, we haven't seen it."

The Las Vegas Review-Journal says:

"for fun and excitement, look at
Sheldon Adelson's casinos and resorts."

I don't care about you.
I still believe in newspapers.

Technically, you don't work
for a newspaper anymore,

but at a multi-platform content
distribution network.

The Rac Cat: is it adorable or scary ?

You know what ?
It's cute.

- Could it be scary ?
- We could make it.

Get some likes, clicks, re-tweets,

- I'm talking about corruption.
- We'll get back to you.

- The archdiocese.
- Gotta keep it moving.

We need a story we can funnel.
Now, there you go.

- Like a piggy's tail.
- Funnel vision.

Exactly. Think of, like,
a witch's hat, upside-down.

- I work for the Chronicle.
- We rebranded. Yeah.

You work for Chorp.

- What the fuck is Chorp ?
- That's a good idea for a story.

Stoplight. He tried to break the story.
He was told to pump the brakes.

Tommy, we're gonna take you
off that whole City Hall thing,

have you work
the Raccoon Cat beat.

- Cat Raccoon.
- What'd I say ?

Raccoon Cat.

I want you to dig on this thing.
Dig like a Raccoon Cat.

Yeah, there you go. Chorp !

Stoplight. Coming soon to a midsize
American city newspaper near you.

That's our show,
see you next week, goodnight !

You mind if I get
a picture for my Instagram ?

- Buddy, here we go.
- God dammit !

You guys are blurry.
You ran off too quick.

Chorp !