Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

John Oliver exposes the one news outlet Trump turns to when even Fox won’t back him up

John Oliver
John Oliver
Screenshot: Last Week Tonight

If anyone out there has been self-administering the Ludovico-style torture of sitting through Donald Trump’s now-daily press briefings about the government’s criminally inept response to the coronavirus, you’ve really been getting your money’s worth, self-abuse-wise, from the probing questions of one One America News. As John Oliver explained on Sunday’s audience-less Last Week Tonight, OAN is Trump’s new favorite, a truly damning description of anything, but absolutely chilling when referring to a news organization with a standing invitation from the White House. While one could quibble with the label of “news organization” when it comes to OAN, we’re not here to split hairs or use conspicuously deployed sarcastic quotation marks to describe the outlet that Trump calls on when he thinks those Fox News eggheads are being just too darned principled and diligent.

Oliver noted that the last time America thought something loud, wrong, and unrelentingly laughable wasn’t worth worrying about, that that thing became president. He then delved into OAN’s admittedly rinky-dink propaganda outfit with the stern warning, “Toxic things that start small can get big fast, and it’s dangerous to ignore them.” And while his rundown of OAN’s on-air talking heads indeed made them look like a first-pass Fox News cloning experiment, Oliver suggested that its “almost Anchorman-like parody of right-wing news” is “incredibly dangerous at a time like this.” You know, since, as Oliver showed, OAN is home not only to babbling, empty-eyed, destitute-man’s Bill O’Reillys like Graham Ledger (with his too-on-the-nose for parody catchphrase, “Even when I’m wrong, I’m right”), but also to perilously reckless conspiracy theories, empirically racist sloganeering, and, these days, gorge-rising levels of televised Trump-fluffing.

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Focusing on OAN’s most (?) shamelessly pandering reporter—the smugly sycophantic Chanel Rion—Oliver explained that “perilously reckless” isn’t just on-point when discussing how Rion’s specious queries continually downplay the Covid-19 threat. She’s also posed a physical threat to other, real journalists: The White House Correspondents’ Association had to boot Rion from the briefing room when she wouldn’t follow the agreed-upon social distancing rules. Rion’s questioning about, say, abortion being a worse killer than the coronavirus might be the single dumbest false equivalency in the history of Earth (“By all means, come back to that question once abortions become involuntary and wildly contagious,” advised Oliver), but you can still find her lobbing up softballs to Trump, as she’s been personally invited back to the press room by none other than press secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Oliver was unsparing in sounding the alarm, comparing the spread of OAN’s sub-Fox level of journalistic malfeasance and downright deadly pandemic dumbassery to the pernicious virus currently infecting millions around the world. He noted that OAN’s objectively risible content is being “actively spread by the White House” like the coughed-up leavings on an unwashed handshake, and cautioned that the combination of Donald Trump and a news organization “with even less shame and fewer scruples than Fox News” is “going to end up getting people killed.”

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.

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