John Oliver is funny, but is he a journalist?

October 6, 2014

JOHN OLIVER: Oliver has created a new form
of comedy.

Oh, he’s funny. Really funny. A Brit who’s now being credited (wrongly) with resuscitating long-form journalism here in the U.S. and along the way creating a new form of comedy. I love his show, and laugh at it. I also disagree with a growing number of media critics who contend that John Oliver is a journalist. He’s not, and here’s why:

  • Doing research doesn’t make you are a journalist. Yes. Journalists do research. No. Doing research does not make you are a journalist, even if it’s in preparation for broadcast or publishing. Lawyers research and publish. Doctors research and publish. But they are not journalists. So the fact that John Oliver outted the Miss America Pageant for not being a scholarship organization does not define him as a journalist.
  • Pandering isn’t journalism. Okay. I am going to take a lot of blow back on this one. But John Oliver’s in-studio rants are more akin to Bill O’Reilly and John Stewart than to serious reporting. Again, Oliver is very funny and I love watching the show. But every week, he plays to an echo chamber of frothing fans, who agree with him on the soft targets he chooses to impale. Yes, drones, pay-day lenders, and beauty pageants are bad. Who doesn’t know that? My respect, though, is reserved for journalists who take on and research nuanced, unpopular topics and expose them to the light of day.
  • Real journalism is courageous. Want to see a recent example of journalist courage?  How about Megyn Kelly of Fox News inviting Bill Ayers, a Fox anti-Christ, to appear in studio for a two part debate. There, sitting toe-to-toe, the pair went at it. Kelly had done her homework, read his books, recited chapter and verse the timeline of his career. Ayers was no push over, and was given time to present his case against the U.S. government. You can deny his politics, but you can’t deny his intellect, which would have melted a less-prepared and intelligent inquisitor. By all cards, the segment ended in a draw. It also represented a rare example of offending your own audience in an attempt to get to the truth. In the world of Oliver, Stewart, and  O’Reilly, offending your audience craters ratings and ruins careers. In journalism, it earns you a Pulitzer. And it should win Megyn Kelly an Emmy for having the courage to mortify her own lock-step audience.

All of this is not John Oliver’s fault. He readily admits he is not a journalist. It’s the media — and yes, the left-leaning media — who want to label him a journalist in order to give even more credence to the issues he covers.

Would he be labeled a journalist, for instance, if he presented a more considered debate on how drones have kept terrorism at bay and prevented a larger loss of life on both sides of the war on terrorism? Now that wouldn’t be funny would it? But it would land him closer to being a journalist than the fine comedian he actually is.

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