Last Week Tonight host John Oliver began his show by lamenting the current state of Republican politics in the country.
Oliver pointed out several GOP candidates across the country (e.g. Andrew Giuliani, Larry Krasner) with crude personalities and highlighted the latest efforts by the Republican party to dismantle Roe v. Wade. The British-American host railed against the aftereffects of the Trump presidency and how it empowered a new generation of cartoonish people to run for office. “If the last few years has taught us anything, it’s that ridiculous people can end up getting elected,” Oliver said.
“These people look like clowns. They are clowns,” Oliver continued. “It’s important to remember that clowns, while funny, are also f**king terrifying. This week gave us another reminder that if you’re not very careful you can wind up with a clown car full of them making incredibly important decisions about your life.”
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After showing a montage of quirky San Francisco City Council general comments moments, Oliver transitioned to his main segment of the night: sponsored content.
Sponsored content is the practice of folding in commercial advertisements into journalistic mediums. E.g. ExxonMobil paying for a story in the New York Times on the future of energy. However, in the case of local news, stations have faced a challenge.
“Local news programs need to both inform the community and also make money. That has been tricky to reconcile,” Oliver said.
This practice of sponsored content has led news stations towing the line with SEC regulations and “doing just enough to not get in trouble.”
There is an industry of lifestyle experts who pay a fee to appear on daytime television segments to peddle for different brands. He points to the example of a woman named Michelle Yarn, who bills herself as a lifestyle expert and gabs on-air about products such as a cheese fountain.
While that may not be harmful, the issue with sponsored content becomes murkier when it involves other products and services. Oliver pointed to a financial consultant who pushed misleading advice and a medical expert who shared glowing reviews of a electric-shocking product that makes your “penis harder.”
Though he pointed to only a couple examples on his show, “the problem is [that] segments with dicey medical claims are everywhere,” Oliver said.
To prove how easy it is to get a questionable medical product on-air, Oliver bought time from unsuspecting local news programs to solicit the Venus Veil, “the world’s first sexual wellness blanket.”
Oliver set up a fake company named Venus Inventions, made a website (venusinventions.com) and hired an actress to show the bogus blanket that uses “magneto-genetics pioneered in Germany 80 years ago” to “fix erectile issues and improve vaginal lubrication.” The actress got reporters during interviews to smile and nod after making obviously fraudulent medical assertions.
He managed to get segments aired on local stations in Utah, Austin and Denver to advertise his sex blanket and bragged it only cost him $7200 to bag the three shows. The whole ruse, Oliver said, was to establish the waning credibility of television news.
“As we have said for years now, the integrity of local news is crucially important. There is real harm for everyone if that integrity is damaged. To the owners of these stations who are selling them out at a depressingly cheap price I have a simple question. The f**k are you doing?,” Oliver ended.