Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (2014–…): Season 4, Episode 18 - Sinclair Broadcast Group - full transcript

John Oliver takes on The Sinclair Broadcast Group, detainer of the majority of local news channel. He also tackles past president's of the United States with a focus on Warren G. Harding, and POTUS Donald Trump

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Season IV
Episode 18

Welcome to Last Week Tonight.

I'm John Oliver.
Thank you for joining us.

And let us dive right in
with President Trump.

The "Bachelor In Paradise"
of American presidents.

We have to start with the fact
that on Thursday,

the president sent disgusting
tweets about Mika Brzezinski,

tweets that were indefensible.

White House press secretary
Sarah Huckabee Sanders,

the least amusing cast member
in a faithbased romantic comedy,

gave it her very best shot.

The president has been attacked
mercilessly on personal accounts

by members on that program,
and I think he's been very clear

that when he gets attacked,
he's gonna hit back.

She's kind of right about that:

Trump is basically a walrus
wearing a t-shirt that says:

"I have diarrhea !"

He's pretty open about
how grossly shitty he can be.

So we can't be shocked
when he suddenly is.

That news overshadowed
the president's travel ban,

which the administration
has long maintained is not a ban

despite what you may have heard
from biased mainstream media outlets

like the president of the US
and the dictionary.

You may remember Trump's
original order

"halted all refugee admissions
and temporarily barred people"

"from seven
Muslim-majority countries".

It was met with widespread
protests and dozens of lawsuits,

resulting in courts
placing both the ban

and Trump's subsequent
revision of that ban, on hold.

This week, the Supreme Court
got to weigh in.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled
to partially reinstate

the president's controversial
travel ban

before hearing arguments
in October.

At first the ban was banned, the
court has partially banned the ban-ban,

instituting a partial ban pending the
possibility of a future partial-ban.

The court impose restrictions, saying
it couldn't apply to anyone with

"a credible claim
of a bona fide relationship"

"with a person or entity
in the US."

The natural question there is, what
constitutes a bona fide relationship ?

The Trump administration
took a swing at answering that.

The State Department has narrowly
defined that as a parent or child,

including in-laws,
a sibling, or a spouse.

The guidelines for
who's considered close family

does not include grandparents,
aunts or uncles,

nieces or nephews, cousins and
brothers or sisters-in-law.

Grandparents aren't close family ?
Good luck telling them that !

That would require calling them,
a 12 or 13-minute conversation,

that would involve being asked
whether you remember Jerry Flaxman.

Jerry Flaxman who used
to live down the street.

Jerry. Flaxman.
You remember him.

He had the daughter with internet
business and she's gay now ? Flaxman.

What was her name ? Jamie ?
Either Jamie or Amanda.

Samantha Flaxman. Anyway,
her father is Jerry Flaxman.

He's dead now.

While the definition
of the ban is ridiculous,

the impacts of it are real,
particularly for refugees.

The administration decided
that being assisted

by a refugee-resettlement agency
does not constitute a "bona fide".

Thousands of desperate people,
gone through exhaustive vetting

and have been approved to come,
have been left in the lurch.

Which is shameful. And yet,
for some, it's no big deal,

an attitude exemplified by human
lacrosse stick Tucker Carlson,

who asked: "hashtag Tucker.
Why does America benefit"

"from having tons of people
from failing countries come here ?"

That made the Statue of Liberty
give up and drown herself.

If I may just point out, Tucks:
just because a nation is failing,

doesn't mean it can't produce
amazing people.

I think we all know who
exhibit A for this is,

a successful nation can produce
truly failed human beings.

Hashtag Tucker.

This ban is cruel,
it's unnecessary

and it undermines
our standing in the world.

You would think the president
would be justifying its existence.

He keeps derailing the conversation
with his barrage of bullshit.

There is no better example
of this than the fact that,

ABC's "This Week" had a homeland
security adviser on to discuss the ban,

but they never got around to it,
they addressed another unhinged tweet.

Watch the guy's face as he realizes
what he's about to have to talk about.

I wanna get to security
questions and security concerns,

but we've had the president
tweet a GIF, I want you to look at.

Trump has taken some video
and put a CNN mic logo

on who he's beating up.

I have no choice but to admit
that Trump was right:

there is at least one grandparent
who poses a threat to America.

Unfortunately it's the grandparent
currently in fucking charge of it.

And now, this.

CBS-2 Meteorologist John Elliott
engages in too much self-deprecation.

I have been cast as
the wacky redhead for years.

I'm just kinda stuck.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, the working
title of my autobiography

and then he had
great success with it.

I'll get in trouble here,
I did not like Homecoming dance.

I had to beg Janet to go with me
and then Sarah,

she couldn't
get a dress the second year.

When the package is this boring,
no one cares what's inside.

When they tested me for TV
they said I was stern,

and had no future
in the business.

Gravity will get you every time.
Take it from me, the leprechaun.

In the elevator, total strangers,
what are they gonna do ?

They can't leave, so yeah have fun
and just say hi to folks.

My wife can't, does not like
my cargo shorts.

Moving on. Our main story
concerns local news.

It's mostly known for informative
and hard-hitting segments.

Police say one of the masked
suspects, armed with a hand gun,

walked up to the victim's window,
pointed the gun right at her face,

and told her he wanted her purse,
money and cell phone.

Holy shit.

That is a great way to
make people pay attention

to a story they
may not be interested in.

And with that in mind...
Our main story tonight concerns

the potential problems in corporate
consolidation of local news.

Don't you dare
change the channel.

National cable news gets
a lot of attention,

with their big budgets
and fancy graphics packages.

Local news often has to do
a lot more with a lot less.

The black bear was roaming
through Tina's backyard.

Tina was too stunned to get a picture
but this is what the bear looked like.

This recreation identifies
how witnesses say the bear escaped.

Whoever is hiding behind that tiny
bear cutout deserves a Pulitzer.

He could have stood up straight and
walked the bear across the garden.

But he didn't do that. He hunched
down, because he cares.

That man is a journalist.

It's easy for me to make fun,

but local news
fills an important role:

finding stories
the national news is missing.

This show uses local news all the time.
Our civil forfeiture piece

used outstanding reporting from
Tennessee's News Channel Five

and our piece on problems with 911
used great work from "11 Alive".

A Pew study found that local news
is trusted more than national news.

So, yes: when you watch local
news, you may see something silly.

You also may see something great.
And there's actually a third option.

Because in some parts
of the country, you might see this.

I've got a message
for certain students:

listen up closely, snowflake.

Yes, I'm talking to you.
You, the social justice warrior

who whines for trigger warnings
and safe spaces.

Not grown-up enough
to deal with the facts ?

Then hunker down in your room
and Snapchat the day away.

College isn't a babysitting service.
It's time to grow up, snowflake.

That man is Mark Hyman,
with one in what I presume

is a series featuring titles like:
"Wake Up, Libtard",

"Cucked Much, Ya Little Beta Baby ?"
"Knock Knock, Sheeple, It's Me: Truth"

with Mark Hyman.

Hyman is a commentator and former
executive at Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair may be the most influential
media company you've never heard of.

Not only are they the largest
owner of local TV stations,

they could soon get even bigger.

Sinclair will pay about $4 billion for
Tribune Media and its 42 stations.

Combined companies will create
the largest group of TV stations.

It is a little disconcerting to learn
that something you've only heard of

is throwing around
four billion dollars.

It's like finding out that Exxon
Mobil just got bought

and it was by the little twerp
who plays the new Spiderman.

How is that possible ? How does
spider-twerp have the resources ?

I only just found out he existed !

This acquisition still
needs regulatory approval,

but it is assumed that will happen,
Sinclair's reach could expand.

We found out that when you combine
the most-watched nightly newscasts

on Sinclair and Tribune stations
in their largest markets,

you get an average total
viewership of 2.2 million households.

It's more than any current
prime time show on Fox News,

including "Five Idiots Have The
Most Intolerable Dinner Party Ever"

and "That Guy From College Everyone
Hated Has A Talk Show Now".

Sinclair's content tilts
noticeably conservative.

Remember that snowflake guy ?
Sinclair produces those segments

and sends them
to their affiliates.

As best we can tell, no other
major owner of TV stations

distributes its own commentary
segments to run during local news.

Hyman's opinions hew hard-right.

We are threatened by a nasty cancer
epidemic, it's a danger to our nation.

Political correctness
and multiculturalism.

Words once acceptable in polite
conversation are no longer.

"Handicapped" and "retarded"
are off limits.

There is one step that's proven to
reduce domestic violence. Marriage.

I am now a proud
Washington Redskins fan.

The opinion that only black people
can legitimately have an afro ?

Someone should tell that to
folk singer, Art Garfunkel.

What are you talking about ?
As I believe Paul Simon once said:

"there's no need to involve
Art Garfunkel in any of this."

Hyman is not Sinclair's
only conservative voice.

They hired a man
named Boris Epshteyn,

a former Trump advisor, who you
may remember from TV appearances,

where he made wild claims.

Barack Obama may have won in 2008
North Carolina due to illegal voting.

Where are you getting that from ?
Obama won because of voter fraud ?

5% of voting in North Carolina
may have been by non-citizens

and swung North Carolina
to Mr. Obama.

That is nothing
even resembling a fact.

The claim that he's making received
a "pants on fire" from PolitiFact.

And even if it were true,

Obama still would have beat
McCain by 162 electoral votes.

Do Trump surrogates
even know why they are lying ?

Or are they driven by some instinct,
like when a cat sits inside a box ?

Why are you doing that ?
I have no idea.

There's just something
inside me that tells me I should.

Epshteyn is now Sinclair's
"chief political analyst"

and has a segment
called "Bottom Line with Boris".

Let me show you one, concerning
a retracted story on CNN.

CNN, along
with other cable news networks,

is struggling to stick to the facts
and to be impartial in politics,

in general,
and this president, specifically.

That could not have been more pot
calling the kettle black if he said:

The bottom line is, CNN is a rejected
extra from "The Sopranos"

in a JCPenney's tie whose voice
sounds like Sylvester Stallone

with a mouth full of bees.

Sinclair doesn't just lean
right with its commentators,

even its ad breaks put
a thumb on the scale.

In 2010, Sinclair's Pittsburgh affiliate
pulled a 30-second Democratic ad off,

and found that some claims
in the ad were unsubstantiated.

It is good that they were willing
to take a stand

to ensure nothing inaccurate
made its way on-air.

A few months later,
that exact same station,

aired a 25-minute attack ad
on Democrats,

featuring assertions like this.

During his election, he wound
up with $750 million in his campaign.

To this day, he refuses
to report from whence it came.

One reason might be that some of it
originated from the group Hamas.

Oh my God.

If you are going to make up scary
donors to the Obama campaign,

why stop with Hamas,
keep going.

He won't say where
the money came from.

One reason may be that it originated
with this gang of coyotes

that has made billions selling human
babies to other, hungrier coyotes.

If the opinions were confined just
to the commentary, or ad breaks,

that would be one thing.

Sinclair can dictate the content
of your local newscast as well.

And in contrast to Fox News,
a clearly conservative outlet,

with Sinclair, they're injecting
Fox-worthy content

into the mouths of your
local news anchors:

the two people who you know
and who you trust,

and whose on-screen chemistry can
best be described as "two people".

You may not realize
it's happening.

Sinclair, and its digital
news subsidiary, Circa,

not only produce
and send packages,

they write scripts that local anchors
can use to introduce the pieces.

This Tuesday night,
anchors at Sinclair stations

introduced a story
about Michael Flynn like this.

Did the FBI have a personal vendetta
in pursuing the Russia investigation

of Trump's former
security adviser Michael Flynn ?

Did the FBI have a personal vendetta
in pursuing the Russia investigation

of Trump's former security
adviser Michael Flynn ?

Did the FBI.
Have a personal vendetta.

In pursuing the Russia investigation.
Of Trump's former security adviser.

Did the FBI have
a personal vendetta ?

It could very well be true.

Yeah, but you could say "it could
very well be true" about anything.

Are all peanut M&M's snake eggs
painted different colors ?

Do foxes walk on their hind legs
when no one is looking ?

Is there only one Olsen twin,
who's moving back and forth

to trick the human eye into seeing
two of them ?

All of those things "could"
very well be true,

aside from that one about
the Olsen twins, none of them are.

The story they were teasing
was that Michael Flynn

had spoken up on behalf
of a former FBI agent

in a gender discrimination
suit against the agency.

But it is a huge stretch
to get from there

to an agency-wide
conspiracy to bring him down.

There is real power in hearing
your trusted local newscasters

using "FBI " and "personal
vendetta" in a sentence.

If those same newscasters somehow
used the words "Daniel Stern"

and "explosive ejaculation"
in the same sentence,

you could never watch
Home Alone the same way again.

Sinclair's content
can often not be optional.

They regularly send out
what are called "must-runs",

segments that station managers are
directed to work into their broadcasts.

Boris Epshteyn and Mark Hyman's
segments are must-runs.

And so are some
"news" segments,

let me give you a taste
of a "must-run" story

that ran just a month before
last year's election.

How can Americans, especially
Blacks and Latinos in America,

support Hillary Clinton ?

It's a surprising message
coming from a black pastor,

but bishop Aubrey Shines
is spreading a message

of why he believes
Hillary Clinton's Democratic Party

isn't good for black Americans.

The party that gave this country
slavery, the KKK, Jim Crow laws.

Hold on, just hold on a second there:
Democrats "gave" this country slavery ?

It's more complicated than that.
Someone "gave" me this haircut.

I'm accountable for being
comfortable with it, liking it

and keeping it for a morally
repugnant amount of time.

You can maybe see why that
could be news in Florida.

"Tampa pastor makes crazy video."
But that piece ran in Columbus,

El Paso, Omaha, Syracuse,
Seattle, Green Bay, Tulsa

and stations all over the country.

Sinclair didn't let all that
pastor's assertions go by unchecked.

They had the brief
appearance of balance,

bringing in this political scientist
who fact-checked the video.

He was given less
screen time than the pastor

and the voiceover
undercut him at every turn.

Bullock says that shines
cherry-picked his history.

But if you have the whole context
of history, where they miss pieces,

you would not be persuaded.

So about that history:
when it comes to the KKK,

historians agree it was created
in post-Civil War reconstruction

by Democrats, and later,

Southern Democrats were
behind the Jim Crow laws.

That was the party of the South
and as I've mentioned, over time,

those parties have shifted in terms
of what their membership base is.

I love his frustration
as he tries to explain

that now is
not one hundred years ago.

You almost expect him to say:
"Neither of us are wearing bowler hats"

"and that woman
over there has a job !"

"All of which supports
my theory that, as I've mentioned,"

"now is not
100 years ago."

The must-runs are not
just individual pieces,

they are also recurring features,
like poll questions,

which can range
from benign to pretty leading.

What did you think
of today's Comey testimony:

it was all about substance
or theater ?

Do you think enough is being done
to battle street gangs in the U.S. ?

Do you trust information from unnamed
sources in the Washington Post ?

Why are cable news channels
airing so much coverage

of the Trump/Russia story ?

So here are the options:
it's bias against the President,

for higher ratings
or it's a really important story ?

There is a clear slant
to those questions and answers.

Can't wait for the inevitable poll:

how would you describe the way
Trump looks in athletic wear ?

A. Adonis-like, B. Herculean,
C. striking for a man of his age,

or D. not my thing
but I'd still hit it.

But perhaps the most troubling
thing is that Sinclair has a daily,

must-run segment
called the Terrorism Alert Desk.

They report on terrorism every day,

whether there is something major
to report on or not.

Sometimes, the updates
contain things like this.

The company in charge of security
for the Wimbledon tournament

says the ringleader
of the London Bridge attack

did apply for a job.

He was not interviewed
and no interview was scheduled,

he filled out an
online application.

An ISIS flag was found hanging
in New Hampshire.

It was taken down and police
are looking into who put it there.

From the Terrorism Alert Desk,
I'm Lindsey Mastis.

In other alerts: my grandma
heard a loud noise,

a man with a beard asked me
when the next bus is coming

and Iran still exists.

From the Terrorism
Alert Desk in Washington,

I am just about done
with this shit.

The Terror Alert Desk has also
featured some terrifying stories.

ISIS has carried out a gruesome
public execution in Iraq.

They sliced 9 teens in half
with a chainsaw.

That caught our attention,

it feels like the sort of thing
we'd have seen reported elsewhere.

We tried to track down that story
and it originated

with an anonymously sourced report
on something called Iraqi News.

We weren't able to find any outlet
that had verified it,

and when it was picked up
by British tabloids and Breitbart,

they distanced
themselves with language like

"it has been claimed"
and "reportedly".

I did not know it was possible

to dip beneath the journalistic
standards of Breitbart.

That's like being too bad a chef
to work at a carnival food cart.

Your fried ham is unimaginative
and bland and we cannot have that:

we're Uncle Sticky's discount
ham wagon.

They reported it like it was a fact
and what was perhaps even weirder

was the story that closed it out.

Mayors in 22 French towns are
ignoring a high court's ruling

that says
banning burkinis is illegal.

30 towns outlawed the swimwear
worn mostly by Muslim women.

From the Terrorism Alert Desk,
I'm Michelle Marsh.

What the fuck ?

That is not about terrorism,
it's just about Muslims.

By that definition, "terrorism
is anything a Muslim does."

Tonight: Mahershala Ali
on the cover of GQ,

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sneezed
in an airport

and happy birthday
to Fareed Zakaria !

This has been
your Terrorism Alert Desk.

Now to their credit,

some Sinclair stations fight back
against their parent company.

Their station in Seattle, "KOMO",
has engaged in acts of rebellion,

like airing must-runs at
times of low viewership.

Their only airing of the story
about the New Hampshire ISIS flag

was at 4:54 AM.

So it was basically only seen
by people in hospital waiting rooms,

customers at 24-hour
Seven-Elevens and Craig.

Just go to bed, Craig ! Get your
shit together and go to bed.

If you work at a Sinclair station,
there is so much you can do.

Should this Tribune
acquisition go through,

there are going to be more good
journalists having to see their work

placed alongside
Terror Desk nonsense.

There'll be more unsuspecting
audience members

who'll be getting
a heaping dose of Sinclair's content.

Find out who owns your stations
and bear that in mind as you watch.

For any Tribune station
that could soon be taken over,

we've produced a video
so you can alert your viewers.

Don't think of it
as a "must-run",

think of it more
as a "probably should run."

Hello, I'm Steve Schirripa
from the Sopranos

and I'm probably not
the last guy with an accent,

wearing a cheap tie, that you're
going to see on this channel.

This station could soon be owned
by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

So you might see this
fucking guy, or this fucking logo,

or this fucking desk,
and if you do, just know

that wasn't produced by this station,
because the people at this station know

that local news should never be
about cheap scaremongering

or advancing a political agenda.

It should only be
about weather, sports,

I-Team investigations
and human interest stories

featuring cute animals,
like this potbelly pig.

Look at this little guy.
He's called Pork Chop.

I'm Steve Schirripa telling you,
if this becomes a Sinclair station,

good luck with that shit.

Moving on.
Before we go tonight,

I would like to talk about
America's presidents:

the only group that we know, at some
point, masturbated in the White House.

You think McKinley didn't ?
He's doing it in that photo !

With all the horrors
of our current president,

it can sometimes help to get
historical perspective.

To look at all the people
who preceded him.

A few months ago, one place
where you might be able to do that

was forced to say goodbye.

After 60 years, the Hall of Presidents
and First Ladies Wax Museum,

in Gettysburg,
is shutting down.

You have an opportunity to own
a piece of American history.

Something that doesn't
come up everyday in auction.

Should be a interesting auction
and we hope lots of people come.

So do I ! These wax presidents
deserve a good home !

No one wants to see Benjamin Harrison
having to model culottes at Forever 21.

Here's the thing:
people did come.

Some paid thousands of dollars
to own a wax president.

It turned out there were
some notable buyers among them.

We got
our life-size wax president.

That is President Eisenhower.

Is it ? Is it, though ?
It looks like you may've just bought

a wax sculpture of Bill O'Reilly
covering his erection with a magazine.

It wasn't just Maddow,
Stephen Colbert got one, too.

And now, please rise for your
Late Show President, Zachary Taylor.

Congratulations, Stephen ! Taylor died
of a stomach bug 16 months into office.

He's less of a "president"
and more

a "guy named Zach who shit his brains
out in the West Wing men's room."

Colbert wanted Martin Van Buren,
but unbeknownst to him,

Jon Stewart bought that one,

to add to his ever-expanding
mannequin sex dungeon.

That's the only rational explanation.

I know what you're thinking:
spending good money

on a poorly made wax figure
of a former president sounds stupid !

You're right. And that is why
I am proud to say:

we didn't go down there
and buy one of them.

We bought five of them.
Five. Why five ?

Because we are five times
stupider than any other TV show.

We've been sitting on this for so long
is cause we've been busy

constructing a home
for our horrifying new friends.

I'd like to present to you
the Last Week Tonight

Hall of Dubiously Lifelike
Wax Commanders in Chief !

The whole gang is here !
First, there is Richard Nixon !

He cost us $1 900 and he looks
like a store-brand Mitt Romney !

Next there's Bill Clinton or
to be more accurate,

John Travolta in "Primary Colors"
as Bill Clinton.

Then there's Jimmy Carter !

Looking like the "before" photo
for a jaundice medication !

William Henry Harrison who died
of pneumonia 31 days into office

and this is probably exactly what
he looked like when he did !

And lastly there is
Warren G. Fucking Harding !

This one is actually my favorite,
we've talked a lot about Harding.

He was our 29th president,
and his administration

was nearly brought down
by the teapot dome scandal.

He's perhaps most famous
for his sexual exploits.

After Warren Harding died in 1923,
Nan Britton wrote a book

claiming they'd made love
in a White House closet

and he'd fathered
her daughter, Elizabeth.

Knocking up your friend's daughter
in a White House fuck-cupboard ?

You waxy little pervert.

Harding had
an incredible life story.

It's a shame someone hasn't
made a major motion picture of it.

It would have to be someone
with way too much time on their hands,

way too many resources
and unfettered access

to a life-size wax replica of former
president Warren G. Harding.

If only that person existed,

the movie they'd make
might look a little like this.

He came from humble roots
to rule a nation.

President Warren G. Harding
as I live and breathe.

Let's show these fancy Washington
folk what an Ohio boy can do.

Mr. Speaker, the President
of the United States.

But behind the public face
lived a man of dark ambition.

Raise them up to the 29th President
of these United States

and to our very good fortune.

Driven by hidden passions beyond
his control, and the realm of virtue.

Mr. Harding. I do believe
you're flirting with me.

Consumed by a lust
that would not weaken.

Take me, Warren.

His name was synonymous
with grace and dignity.

Mr. President.

Doomed to pay
the price of power.

Mr. President
I must ask you again to sign

an executive order
about this Teapot Dome matter.

You will sign this document !

Torn between duty and desire.

I demand to see my Warren.

You are in no position
to demand anything.

How dare
you speak to me this way ?

You look me in the eye and
tell me she means nothing to you.

Don't you
turn your back on me, Warren !

He risked all he held dear.

If you don't contain this situation,
this administration is going down.

We will all be finished !
Sir ?

Is that all I am to you ?
A plaything ? I'm not your whore !

Why must my greatest love
also be my greatest trial ?

The New York Times
calls it "A movieý"

The LA Times raves "There are four
Oscar nominees in it. Seriously."

And World of Wax Monthly hails
Hardy as "A triumph."

Campbell Scott. Anna Kendrick.
Michael McKean. James Cromwell.

And Laura Fucking Linney.

You are a great man,
Warren, but heed my warning.

Even great men
may be corrupted.

So... yeah.



Warren !

Did you fall ?

Coming soon.

We don't even know what
we're doing with the other four yet !

That's our show ! We'll be back
on July 30th ! Goodnight !