Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Argentina vs. Elliott Management and Native Advertising
August 4, 2014 5:51 AM - Season 1, Episode 13 - Subscribe

Uganda anti-gay law invalidated due to improper procedure. Obama comments on torture. The New York Port Authority sues local New York kitchenware maker Fishs Eddy. Argentina defaults on debts due to machinations of hedge fund Elliott Management. Newscasters telling you about the things that will kill you. And a look into "native advertising," or, ads made to look like news, presented in news contexts. Bonus: The resolution of last week's space sex gecko story.
posted by JHarris (13 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
News Recap
"Gaza: horrific, Ebola: spreading, Syria: presumably still fucking awful."

Uganda anti-gay law invalidated due to improper procedure. We return to Martin Ssempa, covered previously, and shown vigorously gesticulating with fruit. Who does he blames for the law's overturning? Barak Obama. Of course. John Oliver points out: "If you believe that President Obama has the power to influence legislation anywhere on earth, you are a complete idiot."

Obama comments: "We did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but... we tortured some folks." Oliver: "....What?? 'Folks?!' When you're admitting one of the darkest chapters of American history, it's maybe best not to come off like an old man in a Country Time Lemonade commercial."

Some time back Diane Feinstein accused the CIA of hacking into Senate computers. CIA Director John Brennan said of that "nothing could be further from the truth," and that it was "beyond the scope of reason." CAN YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS GOING GO ON GUESS. CBS News: "CIA Director John Brennan apologized today after an internal investigation determined the agency had spied on staff members of the United Stated Senate." Oliver: "So it wasn't so much beyond the scope of reason as nestled all up in the scope of reason. How does Obama still have confidence in John Brennan?

Finally... "Fishs Eddy is a local, independent kitchenware store." They use a silhouette of the New York City skyline on their plates. For this, they received a letter from the New York and New Jersey Port Authority complaining that the image interferes with their ability to control their reputation. Oliver: "The Port Authority reputation is terrible. Because the only thing people think of when they hear its name is the Port Authority Bus Terminal, also known as the single worst place on Planet Earth." It's so laughably bad that it was the focus of an episode of the sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, a clip of which is shown. Oliver presents a commercial for their own Port Authority plate, "made from official Port Authority bathroom tiles," which, let's say, probably won't help their image much. Featuring "all the most famous Port Authority sites: an old woman throwing up in a garbage can, an unattended child, a rat orgy, a man relieving himself into a water fountain, a used condom and three loose teeth, and two pregnant women fistfighting. The Official Port Authority Dinner Plate: 'Eat Shit!'"

Argentina Defaults On Its Debts
It's the seventh's time in total, and they're blaming the US -- or more accurately, some US hedge funds, who refused to take a discount on owned money after the last default and have sued to get paid. Oliver says: "Now I know that you're on the edge of your seat at this point. Hedge funds, foregin bonds, and court-ordered debt restructuring? You don't often get a single story with all three active ingredients in a bottle of NyQuil."

How does a hedge fund wield such power over a nation? Felix Salmon, "a hyper-excited financial reporter from Reuters," fails to explain it. (To be honest, I was unsure of the context of this clip.)

So, Oliver tries to explain it himself. "In its most basic form, this is what happened. Argentina's economy collapsed in 2001. Their government run a bunch of IOUs to bondholders that it later decided not to pay. 93% of those bondholders eventually decided to accept Argentina's offer to pay the debt back at around 30 cents on the dollar. But the remaining investors, led by a hedge fund called Elliott Management, listened to Argentina's kind offer of 30 cents on the dollar and counter-offered by telling them to go fuck themselves."

"And then two years ago, Elliott Management, who by this point were acting like an international collection agency, went full repo man on Argentina."

CNBC: "A court in Ghana today ruling that this Argentine Navy ship, the Libertad, cannot leave port. Elliott Management, run by secretive hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, sued...." (Further reading: Forbes -- suffice to say, this isn't the only thing Elliott Management has tried to do to collect on Argentina.)

Oliver: "Just think about that! A secretive billionaire's hedge fund managed to essentially boatnap a warship like a Somali pirate in an Armani suit!"

Oliver reminds us that Argentina isn't blameless, but continues, "Is anyone else a little uncomfortable that a hedge fund with 300 employees has the power to seize the ship of a sovereign nation of 41 million people?"

Hedge funds only exist to make money, and this isn't the first time that this particular one, Elliott Management, has engaged in these tactics. Oliver "They reportedly made a 400% profit on Peruvian debt in 2000, and then in the Republic of Congo, invested less than 20 million dollars and got 90 million back. Give them credit, that is skilled secondary market investing. And it also make great small talk at parties: 'Hey, nice watch Brian!' 'Thanks! I paid for it by shaking the Congo until ninety million dollars fell out!'"

Naturally hedge funds are anxious about public attention, and Singer has stated in the "Elliott Management Corporation Confidential Quarterly Report," that "Obviously, our lives would be easier if the press cared less about this particular position."

"So, is that clear to everyone? All Paul Singer wants [photo appears] -- this Paul Singer here -- is for people to respect Paul Singer's demands for Paul Singer's privacy at this very difficult, potentially profitable time for Paul Singer. Okay?"

Oliver notes that the fact that a small hedge fund's ability to drive a G20 nation into default is not against the law, but feels like it probably should be, "like being drunk on a Segway, or watching porn on an airplane, or naming you puppy Cunty McGee. You're technically allowed to do all of those things, but isn't humanity supposed to be a lot fucking better than that?"

And Now... Newscasters Vastly Overstating The Dangers Of Everyday Life
Fox News: "Stop what you're doing and listen to this! Your face wash could kill you!"
MSNBC: "Too much sugar can actually kill you!"
Fox News: "Binge watching TV could kill you??"
CNN: "Your digital life may be killing you!"
ABC: "Is you purse killing you slowly??"
(unknown): "Is your shoes killing you??"
Fox News: "Nagging spouses can kill you!"
NBC: "Your desk job may actually be killing you!"
Fox News: "Daytime snoozing might be killing you! Oh boy!"
ABC: "How can a necktie kill you??"

Native Advertising
Oliver opens up by telling us that they're very lucky to be on HBO, because they don't have advertisers. "So if I want to say that, for instance, Cadbury Creme Eggs are filled with dolphin sperm, or that Old Navy clothing makes you look like a tacky murderer, or that Snickers only satisfies you for about eight minutes and makes you hate yourself for the rest of the day, I can! I can do all of those things! It's because of HBO's business model, which no one has been able to adequately explain to me yet."

The dangers of advertiser meddling with news has been with us a long time, as demonstrated by a clip from the 50s from the "Camel News Caravan," "produced for Camel Cigarettes by NBC!"

The separation between news content and advertising is sometimes called "the separation between Church and State," although Oliver likens it more to the separation between Twizzlers and Guacamole; separately they're good, together, well, no.

It's been hard keeping them separate everywhere in news, but especially in print, where news moving on line has produced financial challenges. "Mainly because news is like porn. People don't want to pay for it on the internet even though, somewhere in a dimly-lit room, Paul Krugman worked very hard to make it. He worked hard! He put his heart and soul into that!"

Part of the problem is that traditional banner ads are extremely ineffective. So they devised a new form of ad called native advertising, which New Yorker contributor Ken Auletta describes: "native advertising is basically saying to corporations who want to advertise, we will camoflauge your ads, to make them look like news stories. That's essentially it."

So people will recognize what they've seen of it so far, an example of what "native advertising" looks like is presented: the words "Sponsored Comedy Piece" appear at the top of the screen, a Mountain Dew logo appears in the corner, and Oliver takes a moment to enjoy a sip of Mountain Dew Code Red. "And then it's at this point that you usually realize, this isn't the thing I was looking for, you're just advertising the most disgusting fucking drink ever manufactured. Although I will say: it does undeniably taste... of red."

Native advertising is so lucrative that some organizations have built their business model around it. Like Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed's founder Jonah Peretti, on Bloomberg: "100% of our revenue comes from branded content, so we have a lot of partners who are marketers, and major brands, 76 of the top 100 brands now." Oliver: "That's the CEO of Buzzfeed Jonah Peretti, his face is like Buzzfeed itself: successful, appealing, and yet somehow, you want to punch it." Some examples of their native advertising are presented, like "10 Lifechanging Ways To Make Your Day More Efficient," sponsored by GE. (Oliver here notes that HBO itself advertised Last Week Tonight on Buzzfeed. "Very cleverly realizing, 'We'd better promote this show or nobody's going to give a shit about it.'")

The success of organizations like Buzzfeed has convinced Time's CEO Joseph A. Ripp to create a native advertising team, claiming that, so long as viewers could tell the difference between native advertising and news, he didn't have a problem with it. The thing is, viewers generally can't: "A recent study showed that less than half of visitors to a news site could distinguish native advertising from actual news. And of course they can't! Because it's supposed to blend in! You're like a camoflague manufacturer saying 'only an idiot could tell the difference between that man and foilage! Look, the camouflage clearing states NOT FOLIAGE on the collar! It's clear! And besides, I'm sure the deer knows the difference between the two things. Deers are so smart! You have to respect deer." Another quote from Ripp informs us that now, at Time, the editors are "working for the business side of the equation," and claims that they're "happier" and "more excited" about it.

It's not just Time blurring the lines. The Atlantic last year published a native ad for the Church of Scientology. (Does this sound familiar? Apropos of Something made a Metafilter post on it last year.) It was taken off of the Atlantic site quickly after public outcry, but we're shown a screenshot of it by Brian Williams. The title of the page was "David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year."

Even the New York Times has gotten in on the act, presenting an article on their website, "Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn't Work," that was actually paid to promote the Netflix show Orange Is The New Black. Oliver: "As far as native advertising goes, that's about as good as it gets: the reporting is real, the sponsored branding was minimal. But it is still an ad. It's like hearing the one Katy Perry song that you like."

That's the best possible scenario. A more common scenario? Chevron sponsoring a piece in the Times entitled "How Our Energy Needs Are Changing." Oliver: "Spoiler alert: the notion that they're changing because we fucked up the Earth thanks to companies like Chevron is not the conclusion of the article."

Oliver: "You might think all of this might seriously damage trust in a news organization. But a Times advertising executive would like to vigorously refute that."
Times Advertising Vice President Meredith Levien, on stage: "Let me start by vigorously refuting the notion that native advertising has to erode consumer trust or compromise the wall that exists between editorial and advertising." "Native advertising is simply not meant to be trickery, it's meant to be publishers sharing its storytelling tools with the marketer."

Oliver: "Exactly! It's not trickery, it's sharing storytelling tools. And that's not bullshit, it's repurposed bovine waste!"
posted by JHarris at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yep, I said I wouldn't be doing this again. And look, I've done it again. I didn't spend as much time on it this time though, honest.
posted by JHarris at 9:06 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is this the end of the "season" for this show, or are they scheduled to do more? I thought I heard this was the tail end of the pilot season of Last Week. I really hope they make these regularly, there's still something super amazing about how funny and thought provoking they are in a way that nightly late shows can't keep up with, or go as deep.
posted by mathowie at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Didn't see the show, but a feature of the Argentina situation is that the Hedge Funds didn't own any Argentinian debt at the time of the default. They bought it from other creditors for pennies on the dollar and *then* turned around and wanted 100%.
posted by idb at 10:49 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Aah, so is this how it went?

- Argentina defaulted, and offered ~30 cents on the dollar.
- Some creditors, instead of taking that, sold their debts to Elliott Management at a slightly higher price.
- Elliott Management played collection agency against an entire country to get as much back as they could.

And considering how this isn't the first time Elliott Management is in this situation, it would seem that they're purposely seeking out those situations where they can throw their weight around, to collect on debts others can't. Quite despicable when the futures of 41 million people are on the line.
posted by JHarris at 1:06 PM on August 4, 2014

I don't think this is the end of a season in that Oliver said at the end they'd be back next week. But I have no idea what their production schedule looks like. (This also means I have no idea when to bump up the Season counter on the FanFare posting interface.)
posted by JHarris at 3:48 PM on August 4, 2014

At first, native advertising made me worry about the media's role as a check on misinformation and social corruption. But then I remembered that, in my adult life, the media have not taken their role very seriously. Now, instead of pandering for Nielsen ratings or page views, they can just sell their services directly to their customers. I wonder which will be a worse guide for news: the mindless remote clicking of the uninformed masses, or the calculating amoral manipulation of businesses.

I'd subscribe to The Dish, but I don't have a job.
posted by Hume at 10:02 PM on August 4, 2014

Nice "Women struggling to drink water" reference during the credits.
posted by Pendragon at 11:20 PM on August 4, 2014

John Oliver is getting a pretty great show to FPP ratio here on Metafilter. How many has it been?
posted by Start with Dessert at 11:44 PM on August 4, 2014

I think this show will be following the Bill Maher (or Daily Show) model i.e. year-round with breaks in between and no 'seasons' as such. Can check for latest scheduled dates here.
posted by Gyan at 5:33 AM on August 5, 2014

Sorry JH if I knew of this post I would have referenced it in the blue FPP. This is the first time I've read FanFare.
posted by stbalbach at 7:10 AM on August 5, 2014

I was reminded of this episode's bit on advertisers influencing the news when Jon Stewart commented that they changed a Domino's logo on some Panzers for a joke last night (at 6:25).
posted by chinesefood at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2014

Do not worry stbalbach, my purpose here is mostly to provide a place to talk about an episode, and recap it in comments. Sometimes I do try to track down original sources and references, that's to help viewers out.

It came up in the most recent post on the Blue yesterday, and there's been so many LWT-related FPPs lately, that maybe I should make this explicit: I have no problems with people making Last Week Tonight-related FPPs that cover the same material or even links I present in LWT FanFare posts.

Since I try to recap most of the episode (I did leave the final produced bit, the fake Diet Coke commercial, out this week), to think otherwise would effectively be making claim to Last Week Tonight as some kind of personal stomping grounds, and I don't think I have quite that much ego. By the same token, if you want to make a LWT FanFare post yourself, go ahead! I have no ownership here.

I think it's a good thing that people think the show is relevant enough to feature in FPPs. In fact, feel free to steal anything you want from my LWT posts in making them, they're mostly quotes anyway. You might want to link to the FanFare post -- but that's because people might find the context interesting, not due to any rights I have in making posts. Connectedness is good, linking is good. It is the World Wide Web; hyperlinks are what it's about.
posted by JHarris at 11:10 AM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Masters of Sex: Dirty Jobs...   |  The Strain: It's Not for Every... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments