Last year, shortly after the UK had voted to leave the European Union, I saw a clip on YouTube of a crazy Englishman on an American TV show telling his audience and the nation what the British had done. It was hilariously brilliant.
It distilled a matter of enormous complexity to something the average American could understand.
That was my first introduction to John Oliver. Honestly, if you’re not already a fan you need to get watching this guy. YouTube is full of his stuff. If Brexit isn’t to your taste, try his segments on the World Cup, where he lays into FIFA for their corruption.
You will be pissing yourself.
He is a huge football supporter – a Liverpool fan – and his show Last Week Tonight is a monster hit over there, particularly for his constant baiting of Trump.
John Oliver is a funny guy, but his show also has a serious purpose.
He covers a lot of social and political issues – he picks one every week and goes into exhaustive detail on it, but in a way that is informative and hilarious; the audience never flags – and the US right takes him very seriously. He goes after them with real ferocity, and is tenacious and brave and not afraid of a fight.
During the last season he was threatened with legal action by a coal mining magnate; he basically dissed the cease and desist letter whilst on the air and basically pulverised the guy’s reputation.
The show is on hiatus right now, but last week Oliver proved that he was the Real Deal when he was a guest at a commemoration of a movie; it was the 20th anniversary for Wag The Dog, a brilliant satire on US politics, where an American President, caught in a scandal, uses a big-time Hollywood producer to fake a war against Albanian and distract the people long enough for him to get himself re-elected. It’s a sharp movie, bitterly funny and prescient.
Oliver was there to talk about the cultural impact of the film and the way it echoes down into the modern world of “fake news” and political lying. Appearing opposite him was Dustin Hoffman, one of the stars of the movie. Hoffman is mired in his own current controversy; over the way he has treated women through the years. He’s caught, in other words, in the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein revelations … with his pants down, as it were.
Hoffman had released a statement on the matter, essentially denying everything but offering up an alibi about how he has learned his lessons from past mistakes. Nobody seemed to want to bring the matter up. No-one except John Oliver, who took the opportunity to thoroughly grill him over it. There is video of it, which is quite extraordinary.
At one point, Hoffman offers up a feeble excuse that even if he was guilty, that behaviour “is not reflective of who I am.”
Oliver is plainly disgusted with that line of defence.
“It’s that part of the response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “It is reflective of who you were. You’ve given no evidence to show that it didn’t happen. There was a period of time when you were creeping around women. It feels like a cop-out to say, ‘Well, this isn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
It is a superb moment, one where one of these powerful Hollywood men is pinned against the wall, his own words turned against him by a sharp and brilliant mind, but more … a fearless interrogator who refuses to be cowed by either the man or the moment.
Oliver later admitted that he could have kept silent, ever conscious that it might not be the right time to raise these issues and that the audience might not like it (around half of them didn’t, the other half was ecstatic, including, I’d guess, all the women in the room).
Later on, he spoke about why he had done it. “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed,” he said. “The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why didn’t I say something?’”
That’s a journalist talking. A real journalist.
At around the same time as this was going on, a Scottish sports journo attempted to defend their obvious shilling for Sevco on the McInnes issue by saying “when a journalist is presented with a story like this we have to write it.” You could almost get behind the sentiment, except that none of them are journalists and none were being presented with a story … they were being spoon fed spin and PR guff, to unsettle another club’s manager and they presented that stuff knowing full well that they were being used and for what purpose.
That is not journalism. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I am sick of these people masquerading under that title.
Last night, Tom English, of the spineless BBC Scotland Sports team, decided to throw his two-bob into the debate over Chris Froome failing a drug test. Cycling is not a sport English or the team he works on covers or ever has. Froome is not someone he’ll be bumping into any time soon, so it was perfectly easy for him to take shots at a guy he doesn’t know, who’s circumstances he doesn’t fully understand, about a subject he knows the sum total of nil about except what he read in reports elsewhere.
He lauded the journalism of The Guardian journalists who broke the story; hey, we all do. Some of us can recognise good work when we see it. There is a difference between recognising great journalism and being able to do it, and English personifies that beautifully. He is restricted to fawning over those in his profession who have done big things because he is wholly incapable of doing some of his own. That would be too much like real work.
On top of that, he might have to offend people who he might see around on a regular basis. That would never do. It would require something beyond skill, which he hasn’t got. It would require a backbone. It would require courage. He doesn’t have that either.
Real journalists do real work when there’s work to be done. English and his people have spent years now hiding away from that concept. This week Fans for a Judicial Review broke the news that they’ll be unable to take a case to court challenging the SFA on their failure to set up an inquiry; I haven’t commented on this before but let me say only that the news comes as no surprise to me, and that there were other paths that could have been followed and still might be. But that will depend on the clubs, one in particular, getting its act together.
I expected no sympathy from the media, who stood back and sneered whilst ordinary supporters were putting their backs to the wheel. I expect nothing from them except their continuing contempt for the paying customers, those who keep the game alive. When the SFA was taking its decision I know for a fact they canvassed the media to see what the response in the press would be and when they found out there would be none that’s when they went ahead.
The media has played a full role in wrecking sporting integrity.
It is astounding that English believes he is in a moral position to comment on another sport’s.
He recognises cheating, it seems, only when it’s not in the game he actually covers, in the actual country where he does it.
His regard for journalists who do get it and who know what the job is supposed to involve isn’t the reflection on he and his colleagues he seems to think it is … it shows them up for the worthless worms they are, wholly unwilling or incapable to ascend that plane themselves.
Was there but one of them with the balls and the desire for truth of someone like John Oliver, guys like King wouldn’t be able to talk the worst kind of nonsense to hand-picked toadies without fear of having his words ripped apart. Fans would never have had to contemplate handing over their own money to lawyers to pursue the just settlement their clubs could not be bothered with. Instead of supporting those guys and praising them English and his ilk disparage us.
That’s what our sports media is. A shower of cowardly charlatans whose contempt for the fans is more than mirrored in our contempt for them. These people believe that a press card elevates them above the rest of us, when in fact the card itself means nothing if all it means to you is a free pass into sports events and a cheap round at the bar.
They also think it entitles them to live off the glory of those who take it more seriously than they do, as if they are part of a brotherhood; but there are many types of “journalist” out there and calling a horse a fish won’t make it swim underwater. The press card becomes nothing but a backstage pass. The job title is nothing but camouflage for a wasted professional life.
Last night, English was trying to bask in the reflected light of somebody else’s work, claiming for himself the mantle of the guys who went out and got that story. When was the last real story he broke, one that wasn’t handed to him on a PR plate?
What body of work do he and his colleagues leave behind them when they retire?
Their legacy will be a shattered industry living in the shadows of the bloggers, tainted by the mess they left behind and the sport who’s integrity they helped to destroy.