Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Government Surveillance, Interview with Edward Snowden
April 6, 2015 5:39 PM - Season 2, Episode 8 - Subscribe

This week: An extra-long episode of Last Week Tonight. Iranian nuclear talks, with John Kerry, the Beau Rivage Hotel and the Inglorius Fonkers. Real democracy makes inroads in Nigeria. President Obama goes to Utah, but hasn't been to South Dakota, so LTW produced a tourism video featuring "hobo George R.R. Martin." Main story: Government surveillance (YouTube 33m), plus interview with Edward Snowden. (Oliver: "HO-LEY SHIT. HE ACTUALLY CAME. EDWARD FUCKING SNOWDEN!") MeFi
posted by JHarris (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Yes. I miss Hot Pockets very much."
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

The first part of the interview was cringe-inducing. It's the same feeling I got from watching The Office (UK). I get Oliver's tactic but, man, I hope somebody gave Snowden a drink afterwards. That must have been painful. Oliver did a good job.
posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 6:27 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oliver did a terrible job. His questions were mostly stupid and confrontational in a way that didn't make much sense. If I was Snowden, I would have told him to fuck off and left.
posted by Falconetti at 7:25 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you guys are looking for a Meet the Press interview on a Daily Show kind of format, which seems like a recipe for disappointment.
posted by Justinian at 7:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

"The entire state of Florida?"


Seriously, I'm sure Snowden knew exactly what he was getting into, which is why John did the whole Will I Be Stood Up schtick. It was a real possibility.

But Snowden was a good sport and in the end, John was leading him like a pied piper leading on a small child, to see the real thing Americans care about. And the magic was that it was really visible in Snowden's eyes. There was a point where he got it, and he wasn't pissed off at all; he saw that Oliver really had a point. Gears started to turn.

It wasn't anything like the humiliation game Colbert staged for representatives foolish enough to appear for Better Know a District. Snowden lives in a sketchy space and that had to be met head-on. But then, sketchy or not, do you know where your dick pics are? Because Snowden has some ideas on that.
posted by localroger at 7:41 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Rorgy's comment about the show from the Metafilter thread. Definitely worth reading.
posted by ericthegardener at 8:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]

I thought that putting this debate in terms of dickpics was actually brilliant, and yeah, I agree with localroger that Edward Snowden understood the value of that. "I guess I never thought about putting it in the context of your junk." It's another example of John Oliver using his platform not just to make you laugh at the political process, the way Jon Stewart does, but to try to push it forward one small step.

I thought it was a lot of fun as well to see John Oliver doing some classic, Daily Show style correspondent work.
posted by malapropist at 8:29 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Who needs Hot Pockets when there are peroshki ?
posted by ShooBoo at 8:56 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

When Oliver says it's totally believable that Snowden would want to show the pic to the camera...insanely funny joke right there.
posted by dogwalker at 9:49 PM on April 6, 2015

Oliver did a terrible job. His questions were mostly stupid and confrontational in a way that didn't make much sense. If I was Snowden, I would have told him to fuck off and left.

I think he held Snowden's feet to the flames really very well and for things that made sense. Like if he didn't read everything before turning them over to journalists, how can he be sure that what he's handing over can't hurt America? It's a fair question. If he gets the credit for the good, he has to accept accountability for the bad.
posted by inturnaround at 10:15 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Telling Snowden he has to have read every single page of the material he stole is as silly as when people attacked representatives that voted for the PPA because they did not read every single word of the bill. It is not possible for a single human to read and process everything, which is why reasonable people understand that you sometimes need a team of reliable and informed individuals to help, act as your proxies, summarize material for you, etc. That is what Snowden did when he passed off the materials to a team of responsible journalists.

Oliver's damning piece of evidence was the NYT published one slide that wasn't redacted properly. Do you think that Snowden should have been personally overseeing whoever prepared that slide at the NYT? One mistake out of a mountain of material that has been slowly and deliberately released isn't much of a "gotcha," despite Oliver's crowing.

Oliver's rants seem to be shifting from attempting to move the viewership to react to a problem, to now instead pandering to his viewership. That is fine, if Oliver just wants to be an entertainer, but if he wants to be something more, which I think he is capable of, then he needs to lead and educate people, not cater to them.
posted by Falconetti at 9:39 AM on April 7, 2015

Telling Snowden he has to have read every single page of the material he stole is...silly...sometimes need a team of reliable and informed individuals to help, act as your proxies, summarize material for you, etc. That is what Snowden did when he passed off the materials to a team of responsible journalists.

This was actually my favorite part of the interview, and a pretty reasonable question, especially in light of Snowden's prior statement(s) -- for example, in a June 2013 interview with the Guardian, he claimed -- in differentiating himself from Chelsea Manning -- that
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he said. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is." He purposely chose, he said, to give the documents to journalists whose judgment he trusted about what should be public and what should remain concealed.
Snowden repeats that claim during the interview with Oliver:

Oliver: How many of those documents have you actually read?
Snowden: I have evaluated all of the documents in the archive.
Oliver: You've read every single one?
Snowden: Well, I do understand what I turned over.
Oliver: There's a difference between understanding what's in the documents and reading what's in the documents

Is is silly to think that Snowden could or should have read every single page of material he took? Yes. So what exactly is the 'evaluated' claim saying? Is 'evaluated' equivalent to 'read'? Probably not. Snowden stresses repeatedly how he 'evaluated' the documents before leaking them to the press because of the need to balance transparency and the potential for harm. He's evaluated the documents, and thinks on balance it was worth leaking them. Indeed:

Snowden: I recognize the concern --
Oliver: When you're handing over hundreds of thousands of NSA documents, the last thing you want to do is read them.
Snowden: I think it's fair to be concerned about -- did this person do enough? Were they careful enough?
Oliver: [something] -- when you're handling material like you're handling.
Snowden: In my defense, I'm not handling anything anymore, that's been passed to the journalists. They're using extraordinary security measures to make sure this is handled in the most responsible way.

Okay: he evaluated them, but he set it up so that's not the last step; other people are also evaluating them. But given that the NSA itself presumably had some fairly good security measures, that just leads to --

Oliver: But those are journalists with a lower technical skillset than you.
Snowden: That's true, but they do understand, just like you and I do, just how important it is to get this right.

But they don't always get it right:

Oliver: 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 in Mosul on al Qaeda.
Snowden: That is a problem.
Oliver: That's a [bleep] up.
Snowden: It is a [bleep] up and these things do happen in reporting. In journalism we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty.

This is where we get around to Oliver's main point with this line of questioning: if harmful material has been released (even some), then harmful material must have existed, and must have been passed on after Snowden's own evaluation. If Snowden has evaluated them, and if Snowden believes that even the stringent journalistic review isn't perfect, then surely he must also believe that releasing the documents -- even to journalists to review -- has the potential to cause harm. In other words, it's not simply a case of transparency being universally good -- it's one of balancing the good and the bad. And thus:

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

Which Snowden admits:

Snowden: Yes.[pause] If people act in bad faith --
Oliver: -- we're not even talking about bad faith, we're talking about incompetence.
Snowden: We are, but you will never be completely free from risk if you're free.

And, honestly, I think that's a pretty interesting snippet that gets at Snowden's thinking without actually condemning his actions: "But you have to own that, then" isn't 'but you have to admit that you're an awful person' -- it's, 'but surely, if we're to give credit to the disclosures for good, should we not also give credit for bad, if it transpires?' At the same time, it lets Snowden suggest that there being a bad outcome -- or several bad outcomes -- doesn't mean that the leaks were intrinsically bad, because -- in his view -- you're always balancing potential good and bad outcomes anyway. Contrast that with the lead-in about people believing his disclosures had harmed America: it's giving Snowden a chance to respond to that, indirectly, by pointing out that this needn't be the end of the story (even if you think it's true).

A surprisingly good interview overall, but that really was a stand-out part of it.
posted by cjelli at 2:29 PM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

I found the interview surprisingly enlightening. I was surprised with how well considered Snowden's actions were, or at least came across in the interview. Which says to me that the media has done a terrific job of making Snowden seem like kind of a schlub who released the documents without really thinking things through. I have been in support of Snowden's actions all along, but had been under the impression he was at least somewhat hapless and in over his head. While the latter may still be true, I feel like the media led me astray in who was the person behind the leak.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:05 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bonus clip: Snowden and Oliver discuss password security
posted by Gary at 8:34 AM on April 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

ARGH I just noticed now I posted the wrong link! Here is the Government Surveillance piece from the official channel, with Snowden interview: YouTube.
posted by JHarris at 6:31 PM on April 11, 2015

The first half of that Times Square footage is just gut-wrenchingly depressing, especially when Jon showed it to Snowden.
posted by schmod at 9:03 PM on April 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

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