The next Edward R. Murrow wants to remind you to be sure to tip your waitresses.


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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44 Responses

  1. Avatar greginak says:

    Yes Oliver is doing great stuff. In his long pieces he mixes in just enough humor to try to be entertaining but he is really is mostly doing exposes on some serious stuff.

    The links are all messed up btw.

    I’ll throw out a shout out to the podcast Oliver does with another brit comic, andy zaltzman sp?, called The Bugle. They have been doing it for years. Good funny stuff although a lot of british stuff. The Bugle, ask for it by name at your local podcast provider.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Its kind of depressing that people need a dose of sugar in the form of comedy to take in real investigative journalism.Report

    • Avatar Guy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Actually, I don’t mind it, given the alternative. Accepting, for the moment, that journalism is only going to be supported by consumers willing to pay for it (and I can see arguments for this as a good thing), and that information about any given topic is not going to attract enough people to pay for it on its own, there’s a need to have something added to the news to gather an audience. I’d much rather have that additive be a bit of humor than some kind of made up narrative drama, whether that be an overly binarized political spin or some kind of weird political spin or some other biasing. Plus, it’s nice that the comedy news shows that are sometimes (often, even) the only news people get are actually spreading real news. It was good when Stewart did it, and it’s good that Oliver’s doing it now.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Guy says:

        Adding comedy rather than drama is probably the lesser of two evils but investigative journalism is necessary for a body politic. Good investigative journalism led to citizen action and political reforms in the past like how it helped get rid of a lot of abuses in American mental institutions or revealed the Watergate scandal. People talk about John Oliver or Jon Stewart. They share their latest offerings on Facebook and through email but I can’t see any evidence that it leads to action.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Guy says:

        I don’t mind the humor either. The humor is obviously a joke, not convoluted or forced narrative. Some of those stories are sporking harsh to watch so some humor makes them survivable and works at biting satire.Report

      • Avatar Guy in reply to Guy says:

        @leeesq How’s it going to happen, though? For whatever reason, the people getting the news aren’t willing to pay for pure investigative journalism, or at least they’re paying more for journalism-plus. Seems to me like we’ve got to pick what that ‘plus’ is if we want any journalism at all. I’ll take a couple of jokes over a culture war any day.

        As to the action comment, what has John Oliver brought up that you would expect immediate action on? Watergate didn’t result in any public action at all; Nixon just resigned. Reform of mental institutions took decades, and in some ways it’s still an ongoing process.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Guy says:

        @guy, I realize this. Theoretically, I’d like to go back to the days when news was viewed as a public service rather than part of revenue generation. This is impossible though without some immunity from commercial pressures like the ones BBC or PBS has.Report

      • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Guy says:

        People talk about John Oliver or Jon Stewart. They share their latest offerings on Facebook and through email but I can’t see any evidence that it leads to action.

        The flood of attention and comments Jon Oliver inspired regarding net neutrality have been credited as a significant part of the reason for the FCC’s change of position to preventing cable companies from discriminate between websites.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to LeeEsq says:


      I think the problem is that it’s really hard to develop a sustainable business model for investigative journalism. People aren’t willing to pay for it, I suspect the only reason it existed in the mid-20th Century is that media was an oligopoly and the media companies were using some of their competitive slack to overproduce public interest journalism out of a sense of mission. But as media grows more competitive that slack is disappearing.

      The problem is that not-for-profit isn’t much better. A charitable foundation is at risk of capture by its donors. Would you trust a charitable news paper where the Koch brothers were major donors? (for those on the right, replace with Soros or some other rich person you don’t like).

      That leaves government. There is no way to replicate the BBC in the US, any government new service would be utterly in thrall to the President as your country has neither the legal nor the cultural institutions to have politically independent government agencies. Even the BBC is circumscribed, while the government of the day can’t seize editorial control, it can cut their funding. And if funding is cut it won’t be the money-making stuff like Dr Who and Top Gear that gets cancelled.

      And so what are we left with? Subscription TV shows which are entertaining enough that they can slip in investigative content.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Couple thoughts relevant to the comments in this subthread:

      Even if you took the “commercial pressure” out of the investigative journalism, you’d still have the political bias, and folks who don’t agree with that bias aren’t going to be interested in funding that worldview.

      Frankly, we’ve not had real aggressive journalism in a long time in this country. The only hard questions I’ve ever seen an american politician or admin office endure has been at the hands of a FOREIGN correspondent. The americans just want to rewrite press releases and go have drinks with their “contacts” for background. Until we actually get some professionalism is journalism, we’re certainly not going to get much hard investigation journalism.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon says:

        Having committed acts of investigative journalism, I think that much of the issue is not that journalist only want to publish press releases and sip espresso beverages so much as that most media organizations simply don’t want to pay journalists to do other things. By it’s very nature, investigative journalism does not mean there will be a story; it means you’re paying the journalist for the time to thoroughly research something; often, ending up without a controversy or somebodydonesomethingwroing story.

        Also, for politics in particular, there’s a huge gain for media companies to cover the sporting event of who’s up, who’s down, with the horserace always going to the line as a photo finish and not to cover the substance of an issue; as in ACA, almost no reporting on the substance of the bill until after it was passed but reams and reams of reporting on the contest to get the bill passed. This goes to the same financial incentives that discourage investigative journalism; the game of the competition of politics garners eyeballs, the details of policy, not so much.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

        that assumes you don’t have someone inside, leaking stuff to you.
        Investigative reporting gets a much better rate of return when it’s thinly veiled whistleblowing.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Damon says:

        Kim, in my experience, the reporters who have whistle blowers come to them are already on the beat, have a deep knowledge about the topic (and so are ‘investigating’ it,) and have done writing that suggests, to the whistleblower, that they can be trusted. Certainly there are probably exceptions to that, but in general, the tips that lead to great investigative pieces come because the reporter’s already there, digging away to gain comprehension.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon says:

        I’m convinced that a good journalist, who’s been around a while and has decent contacts, could easily come up with a decent sized list of topics to investigate. I think a lot of investigative journalism is actually being willing to write a story that people “know about” but aren’t willing to actually print.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    See… I never thought of Oliver as satire. He’s snarky… It’s different. He’s much more Olberman than Colbert… At least in terms of style. As you say, Oliver delivers real news… He’s just funny and engaging while he does it. So why put him in the “satire box”.

    Also, I think we need to give Whilmore more time. He’s still feeling out the format/segment types and, frankly, the writers they feature aren’t all that funny. My sense is any host would have been milquetoast out of the gate to avoid overwhelming the largely white audience. Whilmore is sharp and you can see his ability to code switch moment to moment, an unfortunate necessity for that particular gig.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy , I stopped watching about two weeks in, and the scattered episodes I’ve watched subsequently don’t seem to have solved any of the problems that were evident in the first few weeks. Are there episodes you think that demonstrate that the show is improving over time?

      I agree, though, that the problem is not that Whilmore is milquetoast. The problem is that the format of five people talking about something for seven minutes is inherently milquetoast, especially when there’s a token opposition viewpoint guy. I think the potential is there to spruce up the format by filming 20 minutes and editing down–but I also think one of the biggest problems is the difficulty of getting four entertaining and articulate guests to be on the show four nights each week.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:


        Tod shared the ‘black fatherhood’ episode a few weeks back. But I agree that they are struggling to get their footing. I’m not sure it is getting better… I just think it is too early to give up on it. The show is ambitious for a few reasons which means, should it reach its goal, it’ll be awesome, but the odds of success are lower and the likelihood of floundering higher.

        I agree that the format isn’t quite right. At least one episode (I forget which) noted that extended panel discussion is available online… similar to what Stewart often does. So maybe they are moving in that direction. But it is clear they are still experimenting. “Keep it 100” seemed like a regular skit until it wasn’t. Some of the ‘games’ simply bombed, which Wilmore seemed to realize within the first minute but they had to finish the segment. I’d like to see them trim the opening segment, focus more on the panel, and limit the games. But that’d make it decidedly more “news” and decidedly less “comedy” and I don’t know if that is what Comedy Central once.

        I guess what I’d say is that I think Wilmore is highly talented but I don’t know if “The Nightly Show” is going to make it. He also helped bring about “Blackish”, which I generally enjoy and has some really sharp commentary on race and other issues, while still being a fun, family comedy.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Alan Scott says:

        @kazzy I have a huge beef with the black fatherhood episode — they said, in defense of black fathers, that they’re (statistically) more engaged in their children’s lives. In passing. Then drop the ball. Nothing about how/when/where/why.

        Drove me crazy. So I googled it, and I couldn’t figure how to google to pull up whatever they’d drawn that from. (Maybe someone here knows?)

        You don’t take the lede to your story, and the most dramatic point that shows it’s not necessarily what it’s cracked up to be, and NOT go there.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:

        I’ve seen the quoted study. I’ll dig it up for you next time I’m on a computer.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Alan Scott says:

        Thank you, @kazzy — because I really wanted to know more.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Alan Scott says:


        The report:
        NYT article:

        It is not quite as clearcut as they made it out to be but, nonetheless, it tears down the myth of rampant absenteeism among black fathers.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy says:

          African Americans appear to do consistently a bit better when looking at the “every day” numbers and roughly the same as whites (sometimes a bit better, sometimes a bit worse) if you look at every day and several days a week together. The numbers are also controlled for residence status.

          Even with those caveats, though, that bucks some conventional wisdom.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Alan Scott says:

        Thank you @kazzy

        Looking at the tables at the end, black father’s pretty much did everything more than other groups, percentage-wise.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Alan Scott says:

        I haven’t seen Wilmore’s show, but I will say that I used to watch Maher’s show pretty regularly, and the panel format can be deadly TV unless you have just the right mix of personalities/people and good moderating skills. If Wilmore is trying to do panels 4-5 nights a week, he is probably going to bomb frequently.Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    He’s good, but he’s not afraid to let the whole truth get in the way of the joke. The bit he did on voting rights in US possessions and territories is a good example.

    “4 million people don’t have voting rights” That’s true, but 80% of those are in Puerto Rico, who have had several opportunities since at least the 1980s to become a full fledged state, but have declined to do so.

    Likewise, is it any surprise that an island of 150K souls 3,000 nautical miles from the nearest rest of America (which itself is 2,000 nm from the rest of rest of America) doesn’t have all the resources that a larger US metro area would have? I’m sure people that live in the Mountain west have similar problems with access to VA facilities, but measured in hundreds of miles, instead of thousands.

    (and it may be just me, but there’s a lot of implicit paternalism in the tobacco bits. I’m guessing he and his audience have no problem with marijuana, but for some reason tobacco makes them latter day Carrie Nations)Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kolohe says:

      I’m also surprise that the elected judge bit didn’t include a reference to this because the overlap between LWT fans and West Wing fans is pretty much every one over thirty who has watched either show.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW in reply to Kolohe says:

      The tobacco issue he talks about isn’t just that it kills people (which it does) – it’s that the tobacco companies are suing and threatening to sue poor countries who don’t have the money for a lawsuit, in order to force them to get rid of tobacco labelling laws that the majority of the population support. And also that the tobacco companies are blatantly lying in a lot of those cases. Plus the issue that free trade agreements that prevent countries from passing public health measures are just plain wrong (and one of the reasons many on the left oppose free trade: it’s not just about protectionism, it’s about free trade agreements being used to increase corporate power).Report

  5. Avatar aaron david says:

    As @kolohe points out, he never lets facts get in the way of a joke. So journalism…no.

    And any comedy that only works if you have the right(left) politics is just pathetic.

    But he does have the preachyness of Bill Mahr down pat!Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I always liked Stewart & Colbert.

    But I have to say the thing where people would just gush about how absolutely sublime they were (whichever being the clear Leading Light; I have heard it either way at different times) and how it was the best news reporting being done on television and on and on?

    I never really got that. It’s funny commentary about the news. It’s good stuff. That’s good enough. I was never on board with making it something it wasn’t.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I get that, and I was kind of bothered when my more non-political but still liberal friends would post up Jon Stewart videos about stuff I’ve known for months.

      But, the thing is, by the nature we’re both on this web site, we’re political junkies by our very nature. For a large, large chunk of the people who watch The Daily Show, that was the first/only time a lot of things were brought up by any kind of news organization, because the various 24 hour news places and even many newspapers were stuck in this faux-BSDI where nobody could ever actually be wrong about something.

      Especially during the mid-Bush years, after 9/11, all the way through right before Katrina and the War went to crap, when it still seemed in large chunks of the country that if you said anything bad about the common consensus being pushed by a Meet the Press panel of Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and for the liberal perspective, Joe Lieberman, that war was good, the economy was roaring, so forth, that you kind of didn’t love America.

      Sure, there was a lot of “Republican says or does dumb thing” during the Obama era, but it isn’t really Stewart’s fault that Obama has some sort of distortion field that makes Republican politicians say incredibly dumb things almost daily?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

        And I get that. But I think it lasted and even intensified into the Obama years. I did hear a lot of relief expressed in the Bush years at the outlet that was Jon Stewart and Colbert. But Colbert’s heyday was during the Obama years (roughly, or in any case extended into them), and I feel like it was his show that really pushed the adulation for this genre over the top in some quarters.Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I think they’re both funny, but I have to say that I can’t think of a better piece of satire in my lifetime than the Colbert Super PAC. If there was a way to buy a collection of just those segments put together, I’d do it in a heartbeat.Report

  7. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Also: I don’t quite get the assessment here. Fake news is stale, except the new venture in fake news, a direct offshoot of the old ventures, is totally great and not at all stale? It sounds, then, like fake news is coming up with new products that are quite good and not at all stale.

    That’s what avoiding staleness consists of.Report

  8. Avatar North says:

    Man Oliver’s bits with Cookie Monster with fishing hysterical and the outtakes were even better!Report