"I would want the dickpic program changed."
April 6, 2015 7:23 AM   Subscribe

John Oliver explores the topic of government surveillance in the context of the June 1st deadline to reauthorize the Patriot Act and the ongoing Edward Snowden case.
posted by Kattullus (108 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
This interview was FANTASTIC.

It's Jon Oliver, though, not John.
posted by rorgy at 7:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I love you, John Oliver.

(It's John Oliver, Rorgy)
posted by The Michael The at 7:34 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jon Stewart. John Oliver.

(John Stewart is the Green Lantern.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Oliver Queen is Green Arrow.
posted by grabbingsand at 7:39 AM on April 6, 2015 [17 favorites]


And we all know what happened to the Stewart Queen.
posted by Kattullus at 7:43 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I watched the segment and interview last night, and the dick pics analogy was inspired. When you break the potential issues down into things that people give a damn about, they'll voice opinions.

I also loved that he challenged Snowden's accountability:
Oliver didn’t pull any punches. “How many of those documents have you actually read?” he asked Snowden with a palpable air of skepticism. “I do understand what I turned over,” the ex-CIA systems admin mumbled.

Not good enough. “There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents… because when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you’d want to do is read them,” Oliver said.

He continued, “So The New York Times took a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul on al Qaeda.”

“That is a problem,” Snowden replied.

“Well, that’s a fuckup,” said Oliver.

“It is a fuckup, and those things do happen in reporting. In journalism, we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty,” Snowden said.

“Right. But you have to own that then,” grilled Oliver. “You’re giving documents with information you know could be harmful, which could get out there.”

Snowden is stunned to near-silence, not expecting such a contentious line of questioning from the bespectacled late-night host.

posted by zarq at 7:44 AM on April 6, 2015 [22 favorites]


Yeah, I was damn impressed by this interview for the reasons already brought up. He didn't go easy on him and he hit a home run with the dick pics thing.

It's funny because one of the things I always say I like about the show is that he doesn't waste time with interviews because that is usually when I turn The Daily Show off. But now I realize, oops, he is brilliant at them when you give him the time to really dig into it.

It really does feel like a premium version of The Daily Show at times. Less mass produced and more carefully crafted just because of the schedule, longer segments with no commercials, and now interviews but only when you have a really, really interesting guest lined up.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Not available in Australia.

Would someone please explain a simple way to get around this geoblocking nonsense without getting involved with VPNs and dodgy software?
posted by adept256 at 8:07 AM on April 6, 2015


Any solution will pretty much be using a VPN as a backend.
posted by I-baLL at 8:10 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


How is it Snowden's responsibility to own NYT's fuck up?
posted by five fresh fish at 8:13 AM on April 6, 2015 [27 favorites]


I'm glad that Oliver's brave enough to ask the Tough Questions, like, "By leaking classified information [that contains evidence of HUGE amounts of wrongdoing], aren't you in some vague way endangering The Troops?"

I mean, that's courage, taking the chance that nobody would notice that you're basically parroting the Pentagon press officer's standard line.
posted by indubitable at 8:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


>How is it Snowden's responsibility to own NYT's fuck up?

He took the documents, it's his responsibility to keep them secure. I say that as a 100% supporter, but he owns the consequences that come from what he did.

It's really, really hard to keep sensitive stuff like this secure. See also the Wikileaks/Guardian/Openleaks debacle where stupid mistakes from all of them exposed the unredacted diplomatic cables.

As a practical matter, you justify the government's aggressive stance against whistleblowers when you screw up like this and that is the last thing you should want.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


If the government doesn't want mundane operational details leaking along with the evil shit, then maybe they should stop abusing the classification system to hide the evil shit.
posted by indubitable at 8:28 AM on April 6, 2015 [42 favorites]


Not available in Australia.
This one works in Australia.
posted by hawthorne at 8:29 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


indubitable: "I mean, that's courage, taking the chance that nobody would notice that you're basically parroting the Pentagon press officer's standard line."

haha hm yes John Oliver Pentagon stooge. well done you
posted by boo_radley at 8:29 AM on April 6, 2015 [16 favorites]


FWIW, I'm pretty sure most of the men-on-the-street were confusing Snowden with Manning, not Assange.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:33 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Glenn Greenwald's response to the interview. tldr: yeah, tourists in Times Square don't know who Snowden is, but Americans also are woefully uninformed about other political matters, so that's par for the course.

Unfortunately, I don't think Snowden's actions have inspired the transformative debate (to say nothing of actual reform and prosecutions) that Greenwald sometimes claims they have. How I wish it were otherwise.

There are many aspects of Oliver's interview worth praising, but I was somewhat disappointed with his framing. The NSA and other surveillance creep is not a security vs privacy issue. Privacy has been destroyed, and no security has been gained (the only win that the NSA claims to have gotten -- as is mentioned in the segment -- is laughable). Also, some of his questions did seem disturbingly close to Pentagon talking points (although I'm not claiming he's anyone's stooge). In fairness, he did also grill Keith Alexander.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 8:34 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


boo_radley, do you have anything other than empty snark to offer here? This is a standard argument that Pentagon press officers presented against Snowden, Manning and others. "This careless leaking of classified information has endangered people in the field," often offered without evidence.
posted by indubitable at 8:37 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nice to see Oliver brought the "just a comedy show" fig leaf with him from TDS.
What a massively disappointing and spineless interview.
posted by fullerine at 8:40 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought Oliver was intentionally playing dumb, particularly with the quote about perfect privacy and perfect security. He was saying, it's two years we've been talking about this now and nobody seems to know what the fuck you're saying. Let's put it in terms the American people can understand, while remaining aware that they are ridiculous enough to hang faux testicles off the backs of their trucks.

It's like that poster people would hang when running for student council in high school: "S E X, now I've got your attention vote for me for freshman class treasurer." Only Oliver reversed it. "Now I've got your attention, the freshman class treasurer is watching you S E X."

Obviously, I loved the whole thing.
posted by brina at 8:43 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


Minor nit: Oliver might not have cherry-picked the responses from tourists in Times Square, but "tourists in Times Square" kind of is cherry-picking. If you're found shambling around a suckhole for dumbasses there's a pretty decent chance you're a dumbass.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:48 AM on April 6, 2015 [22 favorites]


The dick pic analogy was great and I've argued before that Snowden should have released information like that. Put it simple terms for people, so they can see how far the surveillance system reaches.

Very few people want photos of their junk ending up anywhere than to people they choose.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:56 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is a standard argument that Pentagon press officers presented against Snowden, Manning and others. "This careless leaking of classified information has endangered people in the field," often offered without evidence.

That's a very small part of this video, and it's not remotely central or integral to the thrust of what is very much an anti-NSA, pro-Snowden piece.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:01 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


Perhaps it is, I am unable to watch the original interview right now. I was responding to the two posters above who highlighted this part and cast that line of thinking as somehow brilliant or original.
posted by indubitable at 9:10 AM on April 6, 2015


I really do not see that Snowden is responsible for redacting anything. He's the delivery boy. The publisher is solely responsible.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I was responding to the two posters above who highlighted this part and cast that line of thinking as somehow brilliant or original.

It's unusual seeing it acknowledged that well anti-NSA, pro-Snowden pieces.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:23 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


That was really, really great. It continues to amaze me to watch the PR machine do its work on the Snowden story.
posted by odinsdream at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2015


indubitable: "boo_radley, do you have anything other than empty snark to offer here? "

Yeah, I watched 15 minutes of a Snowden interview that was maybe just a little bit more nuanced than "John Oliver is a Pentagon stooge". If you're not familiar with the Jon Stewart/ Stephen Colbert/ John Olver interviewing methodology, I'll drop one important definition on you to help you out. Once Oliver gets the question and responsibility out, Snowden owns it and then explains why his actions are still important and ethical. Setting up a softball to let Snowden own the issue and then roll on is not the interviewer acting in the interests of the Pentagon.

Here's why, as a former journalist, I call it a softball: there's no followup on the stinger. Oliver could have pulled out a dozen different incidents and put them in that context. He didn't and that's why you irritated me. You did the weird internet faux-critical-reasoning thing of keyword based argumentation : "But John Oliver said the thing" without being able to put that statement back into the whole. You set up the opposition's argument and then you knock it the fuck down. This is maybe Rhetoric 202 where somebody says "Our opponents say that your choice was dangerous" and then you get to say "no my choice was great and ethical, and it upholds American Values".

indubitable: "Perhaps it is, I am unable to watch the original interview right now. I was responding to the two posters above who highlighted this part and cast that line of thinking as somehow brilliant or original."

Christ on fucking sale, are you literally in Times Square being interviewed by John Oliver's crew right now.
posted by boo_radley at 9:26 AM on April 6, 2015 [28 favorites]


How is it Snowden's responsibility to own NYT's fuck up?

He's responsible for his own actions, and any consequences that might arise directly from them. In this case, he supplied news media with classified information without vetting or confirming it. He explicitly relied on them to do that footwork for him, which in one or two cases seems to have backfired?

So, I supply information to reporters every day, as part of my job. It is my responsibility to make sure that whatever I send to the media is accurate. If something I send is wrong and they reprint it, then I'm the source of that error and that's my responsibility. It's convenient to blame the reporter in such cases, for not confirming facts or being careful enough. But ultimately, the blame should rest with me for failing to confirm what I sent them. And in this day and age, with the field of journalism in it's current sorry state, undermanned and understaffed, it would be the height of stupidity on my part to assume that any reporter would confirm facts for a story, or be knowledgeable enough when dealing with classified documents to know what should or shouldn't remain redacted as sensitive.
posted by zarq at 9:27 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


"This careless leaking of classified information has endangered people in the field," often offered without evidence.

And everyone knows that no evidence is likely to be forthcoming. For obvious reasons, the CIA does not publicize when their agents are killed in the line of duty. That does not mean that agents have not died in the past or won't in the future.

Lack of proferred evidence isn't proof one way or another.
posted by zarq at 9:37 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uh, the fuck up was the NYT not redacting something properly. Just like the Wikileaks unredacted cables fuckup was due to one of the Guardian reporters publishing the password to the encrypted archive in his book.
posted by I-baLL at 9:38 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


1.) great stuff Mr. Oliver

2.) I wish he would have squeezed in the topic that all their terrorists appear to be manufactured by the security agents. For example: Latest FBI Claim of Disrupted Terror Plot Deserves Much Scrutiny and Skepticism.
posted by bukvich at 9:43 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


For obvious reasons, the CIA does not publicize when their agents are killed in the line of duty.

They actually do.
posted by odinsdream at 9:44 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, I supply information to reporters every day, as part of my job. It is my responsibility to make sure that whatever I send to the media is accurate. If something I send is wrong and they reprint it, then I'm the source of that error and that's my responsibility. It's convenient to blame the reporter in such cases, for not confirming facts or being careful enough. But ultimately, the blame should rest with me for failing to confirm what I sent them. And in this day and age, with the field of journalism in it's current sorry state, undermanned and understaffed, it would be the height of stupidity on my part to assume that any reporter would confirm facts for a story, or be knowledgeable enough when dealing with classified documents to know what should or shouldn't remain redacted as sensitive.

Isn't comparing a comfortable job in PR to someone who has to flee the country with the documents they collected before anyone notices just a bit ridiculous?
posted by indubitable at 9:46 AM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


They actually do.

I assume that agents compromised by an intelligence failure would likely be undercover, and those names are not publicized.
posted by zarq at 10:03 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Isn't comparing a comfortable job in PR to someone who has to flee the country with the documents they collected before anyone notices just a bit ridiculous?

According to Glenn Greenwald in multiple interviews, Snowden took his time and released information carefully, to specific journalists. Nothing about the release of information indicates he did so in a hurry because he had to flee the country.
posted by zarq at 10:05 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


About a year and a half ago, the Times had a lengthy article regarding how Mr. Snowden initially reached out to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. It's fascinating.
posted by zarq at 10:12 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I-baLL: Any solution will pretty much be using a VPN as a backend.

This isn't necessarily true. DNS geo-unlocking services spoof your geography by changing the DNS servers that services use to determine your location but they don't use a VPN on all your traffic. This can be preferable because of the bandwidth through VPNs can get congested, especially for streaming video. One such service is AdFreeTime. Another is Unblock-Us.
posted by bluecore at 10:28 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


zarq, from the link:

A black Moroccan goatskin-bound book, called the "Book of Honor," sits in a steel frame beneath the stars, its "slender case jutting out from the wall just below the field of stars," and is "framed in stainless steel and topped by an inch-thick plate of glass." Inside it shows the stars, arranged by year of death and, when possible, lists the names of employees who died in CIA service alongside them. The identities of the unnamed stars remain secret, even in death.

I'm not trying to dog pile or derail-- The repercussions of these acts seem to be pretty central to the discussion, on both sides. The idea that we are unaware of the extent of the repercussions because to share that would further compromise our country is a powerful one, but is not necessarily true.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:43 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I really hated this interview. Jay Leno-esque.
posted by phaedon at 10:44 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"This isn't necessarily true. DNS geo-unlocking services spoof your geography by changing the DNS servers that services use to determine your location but they don't use a VPN on all your traffic. "

Yes, they only VPN some of your traffic to get around the geo-restricting. That's perfectly okay. I was just pointing out that adept256 was basically ruling out all solutions to the problem by saying "without getting involved with VPNs".
posted by I-baLL at 11:06 AM on April 6, 2015


Public Service Announcent: Have all of you watched Citizen Four? If you have not, please do.
posted by nikoniko at 11:37 AM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm not trying to dog pile or derail-- The repercussions of these acts seem to be pretty central to the discussion, on both sides.

No, no. I appreciate your pointing it out.

My point was simply that keeping the names of dead undercover agents' secret means the exact circumstances of their deaths remain secret as well. Drawing direct lines between intelligence failures and their deaths would be difficult for the public to figure out. Without official confirmation, it's hard to know anything for certain.

The idea that we are unaware of the extent of the repercussions because to share that would further compromise our country is a powerful one, but is not necessarily true.

Oh, definitely.

And frankly, it's in the government's best interests to be vague about the facts. But asking the public to take their word that massive violations of public trust were necessary is ridiculously arrogant.
posted by zarq at 11:40 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


For obvious reasons, the CIA does not publicize when their agents are killed in the line of duty. That does not mean that agents have not died in the past or won't in the future.

As others have noted, we could just visit the CIA Memorial Wall to see if that has happened, for that particular agency.

But more generally, I think this line of reasoning is fallacious. Every intelligence agency in the US -- and there's seventeen of them (that we know of) -- hates whistleblowers' guts. If they could trace any harm to the US military or other "interests" to Snowden et al, you can be damned sure that they'd be screaming about it from the rooftops to discredit Snowden personally and discourage future leakers. And yet, when asked, they concede that they can't come up with anything. At best they do their usual song and dance about "we DO have information about it, but for super-secret security reasons we're not telling you." Which, to my mind, is just as good as saying they don't have any information, since that's usually what that phrase translates to, even if we only discover that factually decades later. The tendency of the military-industrial complex to publicize highly exaggerated -- if not completely fabricated -- threats to "national security" (remember the used car salesman terror plot, for instance?) makes the lack of evidence of the Snowden leak's alleged terrible repercussions all the more glaring.

To argue a more controversial point, I would have supported the Snowden leak even if and especially if it did cause harm to existing US clandestine operations. CIA agents aren't leading boy scout camps. They're murdering people with drones in Yemen, setting up false public health programs in Pakistan for information collection, dropping off bags of money at warlords' doorsteps in Afghanistan, etc. Stopping these nefarious operations would be beneficial to humanity, in my mind.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:52 AM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think what Oliver did was important - more than a lot of people are going to initially give him credit for. He made a highly complex issue at least SOMEWHAT relatable and accessible to a large group of people who wouldn't otherwise know (or care) about what the fuck was and is going on.

There were multiple levels to the interview -- it wasn't just, "You are all dumb, let me dumb this down." But for those less intellectually inclined, you could at least understand the gist of it: Your dick pics are now in the hands of the U.S. government.

I was a journalism student at GW for a year and a half before transferring to Temple, and if it's one thing I've learned from BOTH journalism schools, it's that a journalist is most successful when he or she cuts the elitist crap, uses clear, simple, and concise language, and gets the story while also keeping it engaging and interesting.

Oliver did that. And he did it in a way that actually made me laugh, while giving me (and a lot of you, by the looks of it) something to walk away with and seriously consider.
posted by ourt at 12:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [15 favorites]


CanTheySeeMyDick.com
posted by sparkletone at 12:17 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]




This reminded me of what real journalism has the potential to be: informative, witty, sharp, tense, and revealing. Bravo John! Bravo!!
posted by Fizz at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


If they could trace any harm to the US military or other "interests" to Snowden et al, you can be damned sure that they'd be screaming about it from the rooftops to discredit Snowden personally and discourage future leakers.

I highly doubt that. That seems contrary to the way they appear to have historically responded to leaks and speculation, for one thing. US intelligence agencies are usually (not always) careful not to issue specific responses confirming revelations of current field operations or tactics. This gives them plausible deniability, allows them to obfuscate facts, and is a modus operandi that makes sense from a "protect field assets at all costs" perspective. The most they ever seem to do is issue complaints or stern warnings when they feel their methodologies have been compromised in the media. Arrests and threats happen, yes. But I wonder if they only do so when covering up the facts becomes virtually impossible.

This is why the public usually learns about field ops years after the fact. Either through FOIA lawsuits, or someone like former President Clinton spilling the beans about thwarted terrorist plots on Letterman a few years back. A recognizable pattern.

And yet, when asked, they concede that they can't come up with anything.

Cannot release to the public ≠ "cannot come up with anything."
posted by zarq at 12:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


But now I realize, oops, he is brilliant at them when you give him the time to really dig into it.

He managed this from time to time even on the Daily Show with this epic gun control piece. Granted, it was an extended segment.
posted by juiceCake at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am of the opinion that Oliver is the best thing to come out of The Daily Show and of all the alumni with shows, this is the one that I look forward to most. It's the most refreshing and entertaining. I am so glad that this show exists. He is entertaining and brilliant. And yes, I'm fanboying right now but I don't even give a fuck.
posted by Fizz at 1:33 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Unknown Artist Installs Edward Snowden Sculpture in Brooklyn Park

Well, that Snowden statue didn't last long.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 1:47 PM on April 6, 2015


Cannot release to the public ≠ "cannot come up with anything."

If the vociferous public reaction to Wikileaks was any reasonable yardstick by which to measure the real damage of Snowden's whistleblowing, then "cannot come up with anything", in the end, very likely means the government really couldn't come up with anything.

(But as a distraction to a serious conversation about the content of these and past leaks, to the extent that it shuts down discussion, the claim of the potential for risk clearly works its magic, even now.)
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:49 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I think Oliver was right to call Snowden out on the potential consequences of his whistleblowing. I was kind of surprised, because Oliver seemed genuinely angry and combative about it for a moment, moreso than I ever would have expected from him. Oliver was taking him to task for trying to weasel out of full responsibility for the consequences of his actions. Because yeah, it was the NYT's fuckup and Snowden can't control other people's fuckups. But there was a lot of information in those leaks, and some of it could potentially have endangered people's lives without Snowden or any reporter fully knowing how or why. And it's fine if Snowden or others think that the leaks are worth that, just don't be disingenuous about it. The general public isn't in a position to know how or why some of this stuff could endanger lives, and the people who are in that position can't say anything about it lest it do further damage to their work. Skepticism and distrust on our part is understandable and necessary, but I mean, intelligence agencies will not tell us more when they perceive their employees' lives to be on the line because that is part of their job. It kind of leaves us at an impasse.

That said, Oliver was setting Snowden up to defend his actions, to come up with a "Yeah, I understood that I couldn't account for what all this information said and that it might endanger the lives of our agents and troops, but I thought it was worth it because...." speech and Snowden just didn't manage to stick that landing. Because I think John Oliver clearly does think it's important and that he's trying to get across why, and he's frustrated that Snowden has failed to do so. So Oliver brought it down to a relatable level with dick pics.

I appreciate that and thought this was a valuable piece, but I'm frustrated that the likes of Last Week Tonight still rely so much on comedy crutches they don't need. There was enough bitter and confrontational and absurd humor to be mined from this situation and this reporting without Oliver taking the easy way out with jokes.
posted by yasaman at 1:50 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cannot release to the public ≠ "cannot come up with anything."

Well zarq, as you pointed out upthread, "Lack of proferred evidence isn't proof one way or another." So it really comes down to whether you trust the intelligence agencies to be truthful with the American public or not. Personally, I look back on their sordid record of lies, damned lies, and catastrophic lies, and... forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:03 PM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


I thought it was ridiculous that Oliver not only asked Snowden to defend his actions, in what amounts to a terribly nebulous counter-argument to what was arguably one of the most profound and necessary intelligence leaks in the history of this country, but then he follows that up with Jay Leno-style "look how stupid Americans are" interviews that really comes across more like, "look, nobody even knows who you are. How does that feel?"

I don't get how any of it ties into Section 215 and the upcoming extension of the Patriot Act.
posted by phaedon at 2:04 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


@fullerine Nice to see Oliver brought the "just a comedy show" fig leaf with him from TDS.
What a massively disappointing and spineless interview.


@George_Spiggott Minor nit: Oliver might not have cherry-picked the responses from tourists in Times Square, but "tourists in Times Square" kind of is cherry-picking.

I have to agree. There was a lot of brushing by real issues in favor of comedy. The sample of people in NYC was weak and appeared to only illustrate his point. You can believe that the sample was genuine in that it was a wholly uninformed population (and I do believe that), but that does not make it a proper sample of everyone in the U.S.

Oliver wasn't so much playing hardball as much as he was just taking his small sample and using it for evidence to show that "no one cares" about the details of the issues. There is also no direct equivalence between people not caring and people not knowing. He played hardball with his one assertion that Snowden should own the NYT mistake, but that even felt like tension created in the editing room.

Framing the issue with something the public is said to care about -- genitals -- was, in my opinion, smart. It might get people to see the underlying issues concerning privacy, the NSA, and the Patriot Act in a new way and get them to pay attention to future debates. I just wish Oliver would have allowed Snowden to expand on his explanation of how those government entities affect us and why, aside from the penis pics, we should urge our representatives to vote "no."
posted by mr_bovis at 2:06 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


fuck John Oliver for grilling Snowden. And now that new episodes don't seem to be showing up on HBO Go, fuck his show.
posted by aydeejones at 2:10 PM on April 6, 2015


You seem like an unreasonably angry person.
posted by Justinian at 2:12 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


I watched it on HBO Go this morning
posted by InfidelZombie at 2:13 PM on April 6, 2015


Not to mention the totally unnecessary, Jarecki-inspired "Oh my God, this interview might not happen, we're across from the KGB" thing, a tactic which is almost explicitly foreshadowed in the beginning of the segment with his winks and burps Durst joke. It's almost as if the entire point of the interview was to trap Snowden, paint him as a criminal, and watch him squirm. I don't understand how him being an hour late got turned into a bit. Pretty thin stuff.
posted by phaedon at 2:16 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because it was funny. This is a comedy show.
posted by Justinian at 2:17 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well zarq, as you pointed out upthread, "Lack of proferred evidence isn't proof one way or another." So it really comes down to whether you trust the intelligence agencies to be truthful with the American public or not. Personally, I look back on their sordid record of lies, damned lies, and catastrophic lies, and... forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical.

Oh, I don't trust those assholes at ALL. Which is why I said, "But asking the public to take their word that massive violations of public trust were necessary is ridiculously arrogant" upthread.

But yeah, my personal distrust doesn't prove they're definitively doing one thing or another. And I think it's important to... well, not give them the benefit of the doubt, but rather to look at the entire situation as realistically as possible if we're going to speculate. What's likely. What's probably not. What makes logical sense given the US military's, Pentagons', FBI's and CIA's past histories. Etc.

Mr. Snowden released a hell of a lot of classified documents because he believed (and it's a belief I agree with) that the American public had a right to know how badly their government was violating their privacy, endangering their security and engaging in all sorts of shady national and international machinations. While lying to us about what they were doing and capable of. It is very, very likely that information sparked repercussions that the public isn't privy to. Perhaps it affected the way intelligence had been gathered or impacted the people who did so covertly. Perhaps not. But we already know the revelations did have some impact. They kicked off at least one diplomatic crisis between the US and Germany and possibly other countries. In a different era, could the leaks have conceivably kicked off an armed conflict or a ramping up of saber-rattler posturing? I wonder.

Even if we believe (as I do) that the leak was worth potential risks, it's good to be aware of the larger possible and actual consequences. If for no other reason than we might be able to keep the government more honest and transparent. Or because learning from mistakes that were made this time around (if any) related to the Snowden leaks might prevent future occurrences. (Mistakes, not leaks.)
posted by zarq at 2:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]




Why is it OK for the NSA and Congress to state "The end justifies the means", but not Edward Snowden?
posted by pashdown at 3:15 PM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Even if we believe (as I do) that the leak was worth potential risks, it's good to be aware of the larger possible and actual consequences. If for no other reason than we might be able to keep the government more honest and transparent. Or because learning from mistakes that were made this time around (if any) related to the Snowden leaks might prevent future occurrences. (Mistakes, not leaks.)

Hurl.
posted by phaedon at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2015


Whoops got in a facebook argument about how Snowden's asylum in Russia has delegitimized all of his efforts since it's not a democratic nation :-\
posted by Strass at 3:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


aydeejones: "fuck John Oliver for grilling Snowden."

He's not actually cooking him.
posted by boo_radley at 3:47 PM on April 6, 2015


fuck John Oliver for grilling Snowden

lolwut
posted by Sys Rq at 4:00 PM on April 6, 2015


Whoops got in a facebook argument about how Snowden's asylum in Russia has delegitimized all of his efforts since it's not a democratic nation

Heh. Facebook argument about privacy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's disappointing how obtuse some of the commenters here are with regards to John Oliver's method of operation. These complaints that Oliver was either posing Pentagon-sympathetic questions or degrading the subject with his "Leno-worthy" bit about people not knowing Snowden are pretty fucking frustrating, to be honest.

Oliver is doing some of the best journalism in the country right now, and is proving that week after week. Who else could get 3.5 milllion people to watch a 21-minute report on goddamned infrastructure? Nobody, that's who. Literally fucking nobody.

The man descends from the British media traditions of Christopher Morris and Armando Iannucci, whose 90s program The Day Today was about the most brutal critique of ineffective television "news journalism" that could have possibly been stuffed into six 30-minute episodes. He is operating from a mindset that traditional TV reporting is not only flabbergastingly ineffective at informing the public, but it's serving as an active detriment to the cause of keeping the public intelligent enough to make democracy work in the first goddamned place. Sure, our democratic process is flawed, resulting in a two-party system that competes to find the precise political formula which'll yield 50.1% of the vote. But the real failures today involve our media culture, which essentially prevent our nation from thinking about, you know, how our nation ought to actually work.

It's worse than incompetence, in fact — these days, it's outright malevolence. News Corporation changed the game, by tying its own agendas simultaneously to a) not giving a fuck and b) promoting a political party's causes. The not-giving-a-fuck gave them far more leeway to please crowds; the political promotion gave them an opportunity to alienate their demographic from the mildest opportunities to self-educate. Neutral parties like CNN and its incompetent brethren followed along, simply to avoid getting shat on for their supposed "liberal bias" or their inability to "break" the sorts of propaganda stories that Fox would tout as their major stories; left-wing "counter-programs" got so bogged down in things like "facts", "debate", and "refutation" that they never possibly stood a chance in the junk-food demographic that News Corp utterly slays at.

The closest thing we ever had to a popular exception was... wait for it... The Daily Show. With which John Oliver was once affiliated, and which Last Week Tonight now thoroughly surpasses. Seriously, it is a minor miracle of a show, and if you are too thick or stubborn or cynical [check all that apply] to understand this simple fact, I'll break down his technique for you, because apparently his stating it in virtually every video he's ever made (this one's a bit less explicit about it, so I'll maybe give you half a pass) isn't enough to make it painfully obvious.

The first obstacle Oliver faces with these stories is: people just don't fucking give a shit. Which is an issue The Daily Show totally avoided by only ever reporting on other news organizations who didn't give a shit; actually incentivizing people to shit-give was rarely part of its agenda. The crazy thing about Oliver is, shit-giving is seemingly a major part of his show's agenda — he doesn't complain about people's apathy, he devises new ways of keeping them engaged. And a part of his tactic involves bringing people together around how little they instinctively care about a particular topic.

It's brilliant. Rove-ian, really. He takes the greatest disadvantage of his material — that it's not all that interesting — and wins audience sympathy by bringing them together around the one thing he knows they all have in common. (If he's wrong, and they are interested, then either they're more likely to stick around or, well, they don't need Oliver's primer on the subject to begin with.) His stories' weaknesses become their strengths. What's more, his stark declaration of his subjects' lack of surface appeal, beyond just being disarming, gives him the ability to be focused on the subject and vastly informative, without any of the pandering or condescension that frequently accompanies trying to "make learning fun".

Beyond the surface value of this approach, this is how Oliver probes into the material that made Stewart's Daily Show famous: his interrogation into the media structures that prevent information from being effectively distributed in the first place. Make no mistake: this is a systemic failure. Television as a medium is a poor messenger of information in a lot of ways; 24-hour news cycles make education virtually impossible. Stewart has harped on this for over a decade; Oliver doesn't make it the center of his program, but it still contains ample scorn for the same cycles that The Day Today was savaging nearly two decades ago. Which brings us to the Snowden Times Square gag: what people here are criticizing for being a petty swipe against American citizens is actually a swipe against modern reporters. Not just the MSNBC journalist who cut a congresswoman off for breaking Bieber news, either: Oliver critiques the New York Times, bastion of respectable print, for its incompetence w/r/t Snowden, and he critiques Snowden and Greenwald themselves for what he perceives as their blind idealism regarding the effectiveness of their cause.

Look at the structuring of the Times Square gag. Oliver first shows us video directly, to point out what a need there is for a national conversation, while attacking news outlets for their failing the American people. Then he brings it up again, this time to Edward Snowden's face; the camera tracks Snowden's reactions to the video which we've already seen, his face moving from contented optimism to consternation, then to a glum resignation punctuated by a couple of acerbic smirks. Snowden the young idealist is transformed into Snowden who must confront the structural inability of Americans to access this dire news, momentuous as it felt upon its first release.

Jon Stewart confronted Tucker Carlson and Jim Cramer with the failures of this system; but Carlson and Cramer were parts of the system themselves, culpable for the ways in which Americans were being failed and brought down by their very cynicism regarding the process. Carlson wasn't fired for being a hack; CNN knew he was a hack. He got fired because, when confronted with his hackery, he responded with exactly the contempt for the process that Stewart wanted the news to bring about. Americans aren't cynical, by and large; we're naïve. We expect to be treated well by these people. Stewart's assaults revealed, starkly, just how little these people care about doing well by us. They literally don't believe it can be done.

Edward Snowden, by comparison, is an innocent. A victim, even. He's one of the naïves. It hurts, a little bit, to see him brought low.

Which is when Oliver reveals part two of the video, both to Snowden and to us, the audience, from whom this latter half has been concealed. This second video shows the same Americans, so innocent just a minute before, declaring stridently that they're entirely opposed to the government having access to pictures of their dicks. These people, young and old, male and female, black and white, clearly give a shit. They're not apathetic. They're simply uninformed. It takes literally a simple, pre-teen question to get them thinking that the government's done wrong.

That's when Oliver finally lets Snowden explain. Earlier, he cuts Edward off again and again and again, telling him repeatedly how boring all this information is. Now he lets Snowden explain multiple programs, each one related to John Oliver's penis, and the explanations are concise and efficient. They make immediate sense. Of course these programs are wrong. Who'd even want to question that?

By the end, Snowden's cracking jokes. He gets the point. He's no longer trying to explain at Oliver — now he's playing off him, working within this framework to deliver information to an audience of what will certainly be millions. The point's been made. The conversation might begin.

Will it be effective? Who knows. Oliver's been surprisingly successful so far. One can only hope. (At the very least, millions of Americans now have an effective set of talking points; they can even summarize how different government programs are violating their privacies, in ways that are very certainly intrusive.)

John Oliver is very clearly on Edward Snowden's side. He helps Snowden in a way most journalists simply wouldn't know how to. So, uh, why the questions about Edward Snowden's responsibility for the New York Times leak?

Before we get into this, I think it's important to note what John Oliver does before Snowden even walks in the room. That is, he provides us with footage — lengthy fucking footage — of Edward Snowden simply failing to show up on time. By the time he walks in the room, Snowden is less a hero than he is a buffoon.

Why do this? From a narrative standpoint, there are a number of reasons.

First and most obviously, it's funny. But if it was just the cheap joke it plays out as, it would be far less interesting as a gag. Let's trust John Oliver for a second, shall we?

A second reason is, it humanizes Edward Snowden. It makes him out to be less than a hero, thus setting up Last Week Tonight to be a less-than-valorizing interpreter. (This is important, hold on a second.) It also makes him out to be fallible, imperfect, and a little bit less than omniscient — as well as suggesting a certain naïvete, as mentioned before. (Hold on a sec for this one too.) Finally, it suggests that he's not an actively evil man, especially according to the popular fascist-y narrative that has to make its enemies shadowy and unknowable and theoretically all-powerful, so that we can hate them without once listening. This is gonna be important too, but lemme rewind just a little bit — there's one more thing this opening gag accomplishes which is a heck of a lot subtler than the rest.

This gag makes Snowden out to be our story's protagonist. Bwuh? But how come it's totally mocking him? Well, because if you're not in a fucking Leni Riefenstahl propaganda piece, slash the hero of an underdog attempt to mythologize the savior of an unpopular cause — and the left does try to make sacred cows out of its heroes, doesn't it?* — then it's a stock narrative trope to show your protagonist as bumbling or goofy or similarly flawed. That way, they'll be given a chance to rise above themselves a bit later on.

WaitwaitwaitjustgoddamnWAITaminute. PROTAGONIST? But real life doesn't really have PROTAGONISTS, does it? That would make this... by golly... that would make this into an actual NARRATIVE STORY. But why would John Oliver want to do that?

(It's because he likes Snowden! It's because he likes Snowden! It's because he likes Snowden!)

But okay, wait. It's not enough to show Snowden off as a bumbling, tardy goof, is it? We've got to challenge him more than that. We've got to make this goddamn deep. I'm talking motherfucking PHILOSOPHY, people.

Philosophy like: is it okay to do what you think is right if people might get hurt? If your government calls you a traitor? If what you've done might be constructed as potentially hurting the American people?

So Oliver asks Snowden about his responsibility. He asks him about the leak regarding ISIS. And when Snowden immediately responds with a lofty ideal, John Oliver smacks him the fuck down. Calling the ISIS mistake a "fuck-up", shit, that's pretty fucking brutal. And you can tell from Snowden's shocked silence that he was not expecting this. (If you can believe TV editing, which you can't, but let's not go down that alley tonight.)

This raises a legitimate question. It's harder-hitting than I expected, from the clearly-pretty-liberal Oliver. It sets up a particular narrative development (I swear I'm getting to this). But at the same time, it undercuts the counterargument to this entire segment that will inevitably be posed by the right: "Edward Snowden was a goddamn traitor, and John Oliver is a motherfucking commie sympathizer."

It's hard to call Oliver a sympathizer when he's calling Snowden out. But it's even harder to call Snowden a traitor when he's portrayed the way he is in this quick segment: like a well-meaning guy who maybe hasn't thought through all of the consequences of his actions.

Does that make him a traitor? No. But it maybe suggests that maybe he hasn't thought these actions through. Doubt. Uncertainty as to the methods of his cause. All narrative techniques that serve to undermine Oliver's critics, undermine Snowden's potential scariness, and set Snowden up for a future shot at redemption. But wait. First there's more to be done.

Oliver whips out the Times Square video. We've seen it. It adds insult to injury. Snowden's not only irresponsible — he endangered American lives, and no-one even cares. He's already been forgotten, conflated with the more-problematic narcissist Julian Assange.

From a narrative perspective, this adds even further doubt — doubt of an almost-existential flavor. Why did Snowden even bother? Moreover, why did he put any faith in the American people? Look at these people, the everyday folks who News Corp always claims that liberals fail to understand. Clearly Snowden failed to understand as well. His entire cause was worthless from the start, and here's the proof.

(Showing off the huddled, untrustworthy masses is a popular tactic of superhero movies. Here's the villain — Oliver — casting scorn on the common folk. Here are the common folk themselves, and we're made to wonder: are the supervillains correct? Is there a purpose to humanity to begin with? Think the boat scene in The Dark Knight — a film in which the Joker is a self-described anarchist, clearly "left-wing", scornful of society as a whole, and deterred only by Batman's mass surveillance. Man, fuck that movie. Anyway, you get my point.)

I mentioned it before, so we all know the twist: the Americans speak out against the monitoring of dick pics. The talking point has been revealed. But in the context of this little narrative arc, three more things have been accomplished:

1) Snowden has been vindicated. People do care about his cause. What's more, his brash and potentially-harmful actions clearly pale before the vast, systemic, calculated horrors that are our government's surveillance programs.

2) Snowden's dramatic weakness has been defined. It isn't that he was wrong. It isn't that he hates America. It isn't even that he doesn't understand "common Americans." No, specifically his failure's that he thinks in far too lofty terms. He's so damn caring that he assumes people'll follow along. But these people have been done a disservice, by precisely the media outlets that Oliver satirizes, and thus have not been afforded a chance to realize the enemies who Snowden risked his life and future to combat.

3) Crucially importantly, the American people are made to look empathetic, funny, perceptive, and beautiful in their diversity.

This last bit is crucial. One of the unstated objectives of Last Week Tonight appears to be valorizing Americans, lauding them, portraying them as a worthwhile bunch of people. Oliver talks a lot about how proud he is to be an American; he showcases a wide variety of sharp, funny people, local to various regions, and he gives them a bit more of a chance to be themselves than other comedians seem to care to.

Why's that? I have my hunches. Cynically speaking, it's a defensive technique, a rhetorical maneuver to stop his critics from saying Oliver hates America. Less cynically speaking, it feels like an attempt to reclaim "loving America" as a thing which progressive, pro-government liberals can do. Takin' it back. If we want to get Snowden-level lofty, and I'm feeling kind of moved by this tonight, we could say: it's Oliver trying to change the cliché of the American people. As a European, he could lean on mocking us as a default. He doesn't. He portrays our (and his) nation as quirky, stubborn, and memorably and deeply weird. But we're pretty wonderful, too. We're human. We're American, and American can be a pretty terrific thing to be.

And who's our enemy? It's not John Oliver. It's not even our government. It's the media which fails to serve us.

Snowden's failure, in this light, was a trust in journalism which was ill-afforded. It was the assumption that simply doing a good thing would be enough. When Oliver proclaims his boredom, time and time again, he's not playing the role of the American public. He's taking on the part of the media itself: convinced in the futility of Snowden's quixotic quest, so much so that he doesn't even let Snowden talk at all.

It's a magic trick, and a delightful bit of rhetoric. Oliver starts off by telling us how boring this subject's gonna be; he ends by implicating himself, in the symbolic role of Media Representative, as the reason why we find this subject boring to begin with. And then he offers a solution.

That the solution is so puerile, so childish, so simplistic, says so much on its own. It says: this isn't difficult. You simply have to make it human.

Human as Bieber. Come on, that's barely human at all. The bar is pretty fucking low, people. We can collectively hurdle over it.

It feels sometimes as if this site's a lot like Snowden. We're idealists. We're informed. We're left-wing. But that loftiness leads us to critique even the hint of ambiguity, as well as to blame the public for failings which should not be attributed to them.

The failure is detachment. It's apathy. It's cynicism, of the News Corporation and the Tucker Carlson and maybe even a little bit of the Jon Stewart variety. It's the belief that the lowest common denominator invariably involves pandering and condescension.

It doesn't. It simply involves the universally human. We all can get behind a funny dick pic. It's not demeaning to a national hero to ask him what an evil surveillance program means for our collective naked pics.

John Oliver is motherfucking brilliant. He's doing some of the best journalism in Amerca today. That it's funny, that it criticizes the media, that it's so damn popular, and that it virtually dares itself to cover topics other journalists wouldn't bother knowing how to breach... all that shit is just icing on the cake.




_____________

* Not saying that the right DOESN'T do this. Because holy shit do they.
posted by rorgy at 5:10 PM on April 6, 2015 [285 favorites]


rorgy, that was a fucking fantastic comment.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 5:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


He's responsible for his own actions, and any consequences that might arise directly from them.

ARGH okay then how about this -- how SHOULD he have presented this information? Sat on his hands and no leaked anything and left us all in our comfortable ignorance? That argument doesn't just make me sick, it is objectively illness inducing. It sounds a lot like trying to find some way to condemn the man for following his conscience. Sure he could have done it better, but how? No one's really done what he did before, certainly not on that scale. Are people actually arguing it's better that he shouldn't have done it, relative to what we've learned from those leaks?

There is probably no way he could have done this substantively without some negative consequences, some things being leaked that shouldn't have been, because secrecy among these institutions is so fucking pervasive, all the truly sensitive things are drowning in a sea of idiot crap that should never have been classified. It plays right in the hands of officials who stamp TOP SECRET on everything that hits their desk.
posted by JHarris at 5:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


GIVE US A DICK SHERIFF
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:17 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I like John Oliver, I like that his net neutrality campaign crashed the FCC server, I am aware of how fucked up the media landscape is, and I still didn't like the interview. Although I admire your analysis, I sometimes feel that John Oliver picks up stories that are slightly outdated. He goes in deep, but it's a little stale. The question of how to deal with national security operations, almost two years after the leak, should not still pivot emotionally on how we feel about Edward Snowden.

The set-up of the story is that the insufferable Patriot Act is set to be extended in June of this year, of which Section 215 clearly violates the Fourth Amendment, allowing the FBI/NSA to not only search any ordinary person without warrant, without probable cause, and without notice, but furthermore makes it illegal for any associated person or business who has been notified that they have been served by said law from speaking publicly about it. Furthermore, the ACLU also correctly points out that such an order is typically executed as a result of an American citizen exercising their First Amendment right to free speech.

To further restate the obvious, Obama extended this Act without much fanfare and despite his campaign proclamations for a more transparent government, the culture at the NSA changed dramatically post 9/11, and subsequently, the only reason you know the extent of the FBI/NSA's operations under Section 215 is due to Edward Snowden, and there were legitimate reasons he stepped forward.

The suggestion that national security arguments have given way to flat-out apathy is a disappointing one, primarily because it obfuscates a greater problem, which is that, even a well-informed, interested republic (which is what we are by and large today, Times Square idiots be damned) cannot oversee or repeal an executive order that in effect allows a federal organ to spy on and violate the Constitutional rights of its own population in the name of national security.

John Oliver's conversation with Snowden does nothing to expose this problem, nor does he (or can he) mobilize his audience as he has done in previous pieces. The June 15 date looms in our future and we will surely trudge whatever road is laid before us, and here we are once again talking about humanizing Snowden. It's a fucking red herring. It is a colossal disappointment for a journalist who has dared to connect his work to concrete political action, and I say that because I wish to pay him a great compliment. If anything, when Oliver does this, it's what makes his show "better" than TDS.
posted by phaedon at 6:23 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


rorgy, that was seriously fantastic. I kind of think we might be close to done here.
posted by chicobangs at 6:24 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


@phaedon --
The question of how to deal with national security operations, almost two years after the leak, should not still pivot emotionally on how we feel about Edward Snowden.
...which is why (per @rorgy's comment) Oliver's segment spends a long time on the Patriot Act's renewal, then gives us Snowden-the-personality, then closes by reframing the issue around dick pics.

In other words:

START: 'media-figure-I-have-feelings-about makes opaque claims about vaguely-defined-govt-agency messing about with somewhat-abstract-data'

FINISH: 'sheepish-American-guy gives straightforward rundown of specific-govt-programs messing about with my-precious-photographs'

Snowden goes from polarizing TV image to just a guy who did a thing, while -- much more importantly -- the NSA's jarbled 'too-technical' surveillance programs receive what will, for many viewers, be their first clear exposition. The focus of the segment isn't on Snowden, at the end; it's on the consequences of the NSA's domestic surveillance. (Assuming, of course, that folks actually watch the whole segment. Most will not.)

That interview was one of the best things I've ever seen on TV -- even if many of the jokes in the first half were a bit dull. Snowden's heroism, his moral responsibility and courage, come through loud and clear, but it's the actual behaviour of the actual NSA that occupies the spotlight at the climax of the segment. Great, great stuff.

Oliver just weaponized every cock-selfie in America. Brilliant.
posted by waxbanks at 8:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Brilliant! John Oliver reframing NSA surveillance in language we can all understand and care about.
posted by Jernau at 8:55 PM on April 6, 2015


Rorgy, that was awesome. Thank you for such a fantastic comment.
posted by mochapickle at 9:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


for many viewers, be their first clear exposition

I don't get the enthusiasm. It sounds like you are more excited by the narrative than you are by the actual problem. Maybe you really do think what America needed was a really strong dick-pic analogy to wrap our minds around a problem that was, let's be honest, unusually well-covered by the media for months, in large part due to a layer of journalistic heroes that championed the leak in a way that prevented its distortion, marginalization and eventual assassination by mainstream media. Manning's in jail; Assange is "uncumberbatchable;" Snowden's at least interviewable.

To me the premise of American apathy is disingenuous. The "consequences of NSA's domestic surveillance" at the end was an extremely brief and borderline incoherent run-through of all the ways that the NSA taps into data, something that was so well-covered by The Guardian that it was responded to formally by the White House. It was not revelatory in any sense.

The only moment of brilliance to me came from Snowden trying to squeeze something in off-script, like when he defended himself against a particularly aggressive line of questioning from Oliver by stating that the only place where you are truly free is in prison, and when he said we have the right to send dick pics to other consenting adults without worrying if the government is keeping track of it. This really went against the "my secret folder" gag that Oliver was dominating him with at that point, by suggesting that the conversation should not only revolve around privacy, but also free communication.

I have a lot more to say but feel like I shouldn't spend the rest of the night posting about it. Section 215 violates your Constitutional rights. It's up for review. Oliver set-up the interview to be about overreaching government surveillance and then pressed Snowden really hard on Mosul, and questioned whether he read all the documents he leaked, blamed him for the New York Times fuck-up, and doubted his intentions. All very insular arguments by way of an introductory piece.
posted by phaedon at 9:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's completely bizarre that people are working themselves into high dudgeon and morally castigating Snowden for not taking some sort of action (evidently we're analogizing with a corporate PR drone poring over every detail of a one-page press release to protect his employer and 9-to-5 job?) that would have prevented the NYT from accidentally publishing a document containing its CIA employee author's name and the name of a specific branch of Al Qaeda being surveilled with a specific technique, while not also finding fault in his previous line of work as a fucking CIA analyst.

If you're a CIA analyst then failing to carefully consider and omit dangerous parts of the information you're assembling and relaying to your superiors and co-workers is a magnitude greater degree of negligence and irresponsibility and moral turpitude, because those superiors and co-workers you're releasing information to are the ones who directly and actually arrange to kill people based on such information.

And not just kill the individuals whom the analysis may indicate pose a "threat to American interests" or whatever the phrase is that's engraved on the printing plates for indulgences these days, but also kill the ~90% collateral damage victims we accept, the children and other people who get in the way or happen to be standing nearby.

The contrast frankly makes it seem like anyone hyperfocusing on Snoden's post-apostasy ethics in regards to which lines of which slides he should have redacted (along with his non-existent massive personal staff of like-minded people with equivalent security clearances who would have assisted in doing this for thousands of documents before releasing them to the press), or thinking this a material part of the story worth examining alongside any of the other issues, is being stupid and gullible and is swallowing government propaganda hook, line, and sinker.
posted by XMLicious at 12:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Interesting reddit AMA today :

Christo4B : As an average American citizen, what specifically can I do to influence our government to stop the illegal breaches of individual privacy by the US government?

Julian Assange : Nothing. There's nothing you can do. As soon as you do something you'll no-longer be average. Do that. Don't be average.   There's a few really effecient organizations working in this area or projects that promise vast economies of scale. So small contributions can make a big difference. Support them financially, or with your skills. Other than the ones I'm involved in, there's a lot of promising crypto-projects starting. Some are here: https://www.wauland.de/en/projects.html
posted by jeffburdges at 12:25 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oliver set-up the interview to be about overreaching government surveillance and then pressed Snowden really hard on Mosul, and questioned whether he read all the documents he leaked, blamed him for the New York Times fuck-up, and doubted his intentions.

. . . and then let him explain how the various provisions of the Patriot Act would allow the NSA to store pictures of your genitals on government servers, despite their vigorous denials of doing any such thing. I consider myself fairly well informed and passionate on this subject, and I certainly have a vastly greater and more specific understanding of how these provisions compromise my privacy than I used to.
posted by KathrynT at 12:26 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love John Oliver. This interview could have been better. I thought Snowden himself did a good job in it.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:26 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I look forward to the next Bugle, I'm sure he will have a thing or two to say about this trip.

And as for Oliver's singularly stern approach to the New-York Times fuck up? He is married to an Iraq vet, mentioned several times on the Daily Show and the podcast. I'd say he is genuinely angry about this, no matter how much he and Snowden agree in other respect.
posted by Ashenmote at 2:00 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's a really good point, I had forgotten about that.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:13 AM on April 7, 2015


Ah John come on. Long term fan of your stuff - bugler since long time back and usually I tune in easily to your perspective and largely agree but this was a fail. What a wasted opportunity and I cannot help but feel this, rather than inform, has actually harmed the message which is a very important one. John is usually funny but also spot on satirically but this was out by miles. I hate to conclude it but I fear the truth is the only way to make it equitable to the domestic public at large was to infantilize it to such an extent.
posted by numberstation at 2:29 AM on April 7, 2015


evidently we're analogizing with a corporate PR drone poring over every detail of a one-page press release to protect his employer and 9-to-5 job?

That's Mister Corporate PR drone to you. :D
posted by zarq at 4:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


"This one works in Australia."

Not anymore. It's sometimes hard being part of the "global village" when a good proportion of what is being discussed is unviewable in my particular part of the village, without resorting to nefarious means.
posted by Diag at 5:42 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Artist-created Edward Snowden Bust Removed from New York Park
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:55 AM on April 7, 2015


"The materials needed to create a bust of this type cost thousands of dollars, and the pair ponied up the cash. It then took a little over six months to sculpt, mold, cast and ship to New York. Had the sculptor charged market rates, he said it would have cost tens of thousands of dollars. “The amount of work that goes into this kind of stuff, it’s easily a 30 grand project,” said the 30-something sculptor. “If it were bronze, it could be a $100,000 piece of artwork, maybe more.”

The artists are fully aware of the bust’s inevitable destruction and have left themselves a few options, including one that involves deploying an army of mini-Snowden heads. “We have a full size mold that can be poured again and its been 3D rendered, so we have the ability to print smaller ones at scale,” they said."
I wonder what the total cost of a temporary art installation at one of the city's parks would have been. I bet they could have found investor funding pretty easily for a several months-long outdoor exhibition. Assuming they got approval, of course.
posted by zarq at 7:09 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would like to echo my thanks rorgy. Many excellent point well and cogently made.

As a follow up though I'd add that Snowden didn't, exactly, release information. He didn't write, invent, research or produce any of the documents in any way. He simply revealed what had already been collected and produced by questionable means by other actors. If I shout "Hey! Look at this pothole!" and you rush over and fall into the pothole I am not responsible for either its existence or your clumsiness.

Snowden didn't push anyone into any metaphorical potholes. Worse than that he all he (effectively) did was point out that there was one of these metaphors in our collective sidewalks nearly consuming our collective front doors and the response was to blame (possible) miner & engineer deaths on the finger-pointing instead of the shoddy and illegal workmanship. I was going to stretch that to include a bit about failing to procure a work permit and/or call to get the underground services marked first but, well, said metaphor is tired from over exertion.

Snowden didn't steal from the NSA and he didn't spy on the American Defence Inc. He returned to the American People what was rightfully theirs; what they didn't even know was stolen.
posted by mce at 8:34 AM on April 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am a great fan of Snowden, so let me get that out of the way first.

He is responsible for the publication of everything he has given to "the media." Whether the media publishes or not, Snowden is the one on the hook. As far as I know, reporters can't be held liable under the same laws that restrict Snowden from disclosing classified material. When you are read into a classified project, it's terms and levels of classification are made clear. You are required to sign a document that frames the classified material in specific terms. The document has an unclassified page citing the US Code provisions, and a classified section, detailing the level of security and maybe even the project titles to which you are being given access. His disclosures carry penalties for each breach.

If conditions resemble the ones in place when I was debriefed, he is liable to the tune of 10 years imprisonment per transgression. In theory he'll never get out of jail if ever he goes to trial here in the US. It's impossible to get around those things, so there it is. I shudder to think what the Patriot Act may have added to the mix.

Snowden is my hero. I'm in awe of what he did. I consider myself to be fairly well organized, ethically, but I can't imagine having the sand to do what he did.

As I watched Oliver's interview with Snowden last night, I was incensed when Oliver began laying out for Snowden the extent of Americans' stunningly low information base about him. I nearly groaned aloud when Oliver pointed out--in underlined boldface italics--that what he'd done was all for nothing. This seemed to be unnecessary cruelty on Oliver's part. Were I in Snowden's shoes during that part of the interview I would have been crushed.

Then came the dickpic segment of the interview. Brilliant. Perfect. I can't think of a better response to ignorance than what Oliver did.

My secret little fantasy is that the NSA chokes on a flood of dickpics transmitted by the angry unwashed.

Go John Oliver.

Go Ed Snowden!
posted by mule98J at 9:17 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it was surprisingly heartwarming watching the turnaround on Snowden's face between the "no one cares" part and him realizing that John is feeding him a great hook to explain the issue.
posted by straight at 9:22 AM on April 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Going forward, dick pic steganography will be: A) an increasingly favored means of concealing terrorist communication, and B) the name of my new band.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:15 AM on April 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Now I'm just dying to see congressional hearings where the head of the NSA has to answer questions about "the so-called dicpic program."
posted by straight at 11:48 AM on April 7, 2015


I was also impressed by how ruthlessly Oliver insists that nobody cares about international espionage overreach. It's not a convince-me-I'm-wrong straight line; he actually shuts Snowden down when tries to say, "But not even Unicef?"
posted by straight at 12:03 PM on April 7, 2015


Your dick pics are now in the hands of the U.S. government.

Also in the hands of foreign entities given the data is often routed out of the country and then back again.
posted by waving at 12:54 PM on April 7, 2015


Thank you, Rorgy - an excellent explanation there. And I hadn't worked out what the waiting for Snowden before he arrived was about.

And I'd been saying for years that America needed a Chris Morris (Brass Eye) - I'm delighted to see he's one of John Oliver's inspirations.
posted by Francis at 2:25 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]




An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House.

(from the Why John Oliver can't find . . . link ^)
posted by bukvich at 7:08 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


An open challenge to all reporters: I will personally give $1k to the first reporter who asks and receives an answer from a Senator, Chief Justice, or the President, on video, if the NSA has collected and stored pictures of either their own, or their loved ones genitalia.

Who is with me? Any good tools for setting up these sorts of donation drives?
posted by Freen at 7:23 AM on April 8, 2015








margaretthatcheris110%sexy
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 7:59 PM on April 9, 2015


Seems like the folks over at Wikileaks weren't too fond of the segment:

John Oliver’s interview with Edward #Snowden: Pseudo-satire in defense of #NSA surveillance https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/20…
posted by turnips at 12:56 PM on April 10, 2015


As I see it, there are a two main kinds of prevalent fuckwittery.

The first kind, as displayed in the first Times Square segment, is simply not having a clue about stuff that any reasonable person ought to pay at least some attention to, in self-defense if for no other reason. That kind is at least partially fixable using engagement-generating methods like Oliver's.

The second kind, as displayed in that wsws.org piece, and in Dubya's response to 9/11, and Daesh's response to everybody, is the reflexive division of the world into heroes and villains. From this follows inevitable blind allegiance to the heroes such that any questioning of their heroic credentials, whether justified or not, is perceived as the blackest villainy.

I really don't know what can be done about humanity's tendency to latch onto "you're either with us or you're with the terrorists". It's so ingrained and so dismally stupid.
posted by flabdablet at 9:03 AM on April 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


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