Oliver dug into "the right-wing media sphere" behind the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus.

By Nick Romano
April 20, 2020 at 09:43 AM EDT
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Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

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John Oliver's corona-watch continues on Last Week Tonight, this time with a look at all the misinformation surrounding COVID-19. It feels like a necessary subject. Just this Sunday, Reuters photographer Alyson McClaran captured images of medical professionals who stood in the streets of Denver in counter-protest to those who rallied (without protective masks) against stay-at-home measures. "If you're thinking, 'how could people possibly believe s--- like that?' that's actually our story tonight: the bad information flying around about this virus and the places people are getting it from," Oliver said in kicking off his program.

The main subject of Oliver's segment was "the right-wing media sphere," which he called "the biggest and most robust" of these media bubbles in the U.S. Specifically, he highlighted Fox News and "Not-a-Medical-Dr. Phil."

"Fox News's recurrent pitch to its audience has been that it will tell you the true story that elites and the mainstream media are trying to hide, and that's how some of its hosts played this virus initially, as a hysterical attack by the media to derail the president," Oliver said. The host showed snapshots from Fox News coverage around the time the virus first emerged, one showing Sean Hannity's show with a title card about the "coronavirus hysteria." When people started dying from the coronavirus, Oliver said the network seemingly chose to "pivot from 'downplay the warnings' to 'downplay the deaths.'"

Dr. Phil — and a few other TV doctors — came under fire for doing their part to spread false information and framework on the pandemic. During a more recent Fox News appearance with Laura Ingraham, Phil claimed, "We have... 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don't shut the country down for that." He later apologized for his false claims and inaccurate equivalents.

No, swimming pools are "not killing almost-a-Cleveland every year," Oliver retorted. "The total number of drownings, period, is around 4,000 [each year]. Also, if swimming pools were killing 360,000 a year and you could contract a swimming pool on a trip to the grocery store, we might want to think about shutting them down until we worked out what the f— was going on!"

Oliver then dug in deeper on Fox News. "They only pretend to believe these things on television for money," he said, noting how, behind the scenes, the network suspended non-essential business travel, encouraged employees to cancel in-person meetings, and urged workers to conduct business via Skype or phone.

"And the problem is our current president isn't just the subject of this misinformation," Oliver continued, "he is, as we all know, also the target of it." In one example that suggests President Donald Trump is "pulling his talking points" from Fox News, Oliver showed how personality Steve Hilton mentioned "the cure is worse than the disease" on Fox and then Trump repeated it numerous times on social media and in press briefings.

"If he's gonna do that, the very least he can do is pick a better show than Steve Hilton's The Next Revolution," Oliver said. "Why not go with Below Deck Sailing Yacht? That way we get to hear the president of the United States tell us about how Adam the chef is a tease and how Madison needs to understand her role in the interior pecking order and start listening to her chief stew because Jenna does not need to take her s---."

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