Send In the Clowns

This is amazing: John Oliver’s speech about Miss America pageant that he delivered in his weekly Last Week Tonight show yesterday on HBO.

Apart from being utterly hilarious on their own, these 15 minutes once again challenge our notion of who journalists are — and who we can call a journalist. I mean, would I describe John Oliver with that term before seeing this video? Probably not. Well, that’s maybe partly because I only stumble upon fragments of his show on YouTube once in a while — and, therefore, I definitely have no expertise in defining mr. Oliver’s profession. But somehow I believe Wikipedia (well, English wikipedia at least). And the word “journalist” is mentioned only once in the Wikipedia article about Oliver — turns out he played the character of an “oleaginous journalist” in some at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2001. Oh, the irony.

Otherwise, Wikipedia calls Oliver a comedian, a political satirist and an actor. Which he essentially is — and I think we can still fairly call him a comedian even when he speaks about politicians’ actions, making them look ludicrous and unacceptable at the same time.

With this video, however, it’s different. Yes, there is a bunch of jokes about innate sexism of this kind of pageants and, specifically, Donald Trump. But the most striking part here is the actual reporting work that Oliver and his team did. They decided to check if the information that the contest provided $45 millions of dollars in scholarships to women annually (that information is spread by the Miss America organizers) was true. They managed to prove that it wasn’t by looking into the organization’s tax records. Moreover, they pulled tax forms from almost every state-level Miss America competition in the country and showed that the information about the total amount of scholarships was, to put it mildly, deliberately misleading. Moreover, Oliver acknowledged the fact that even though Miss America pays a lot less money to women than it pretends to, the organization still has the right to say that it is the largest provider of scholarships for women, because it in fact is (other scholarships being even less generous) — and made another, even more important point out of this argument.

Now, considering that we’re in the United States, and not in Russia, I assume that Miss America will have to respond somehow to this investigation. At the very least they wouldn’t be able anymore to assert that they give this immense amount of money in scholarships. At best, Oliver’s speech might spark a discussion about the fact that the biggest provider of scholarships for women in America requires those women to be unmarried and not pregnant to be eligible to a scholarship.

It has been said many times that nowadays everyone can be a reporter. Well, John Oliver is not everyone, of course. But I was still impressed to see such a good journalist work from a comedy show. Applause.


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