The April 5 edition of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight on HBO may be the best 30 minutes that will appear on any network this year. Not only does it deal with one of the most pressing issues facing our country – at least one that should be – but does it with humor that left me with tears running down my face. It is a brilliant work of genius.
The issue is the surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency disclosed by Edward Snowden. It is an urgent matter because the Patriot Act under which the spying took place expires on June 1. If it is again renewed without amendment, the deep intrusion by the government into our personal lives will continue.
I know there are those who will say, “If you have nothing to hide, why are you concerned?” For starters, I do not care to have the government or anyone else invading my privacy without my consent. More significantly, however, is what the government could do to political opponents with unfettered access into personal matters. We do not need a technologically powerful J. Edgar Hoover using such information against his adversaries. Some may think that requiring citizens to have health insurance is tyranny. But real tyranny is what is made possible by the intrusion into our personal lives by the NSA’s surveillance.
Oliver makes the point that Americans do not care about this issue, using “person-on-the-street” interviews in Times Square to show that people do not even know who Edward Snowden is. Oliver went to Moscow to interview Snowden. The interview took place across the street from KGB headquarters, a fact that puts the NSA behavior in a most unsettling context.
Oliver, now in the second season of his program following his departure from Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, has the ability to take complex issues and not only explain them, but to leaven the serious topic with great humor. We are talking someone who was able to make the subject of civil forfeiture by the police both entertaining and alarming – another topic, incidentally, that should inflame anyone concerned about liberty.
Oliver extended his standard 30 minute broadcast to 45 to accommodate the Snowden interview. The NSA portion of the program is about 15 minutes in. It can be seen on YouTube, on demand, or HBO GO. It may well turn out to be the most important 30 minutes that will be anywhere on TV this year.