|The third season of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver premieres tomorrow night on HBO.|
Our world has always been a scary place, but the rise of cable news and the Internet has amplified our sense of it as a hopeless case that’s rapidly falling apart. However, the pernicious effects of our contemporary news media go beyond fostering alarmism and fear; their emphasis on chasing the latest sensational story, and the single-minded focus that media outlets often display once they’re locked in on that story (think of CNN’s infamous infatuation with the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370), tend to crowd out deeper, more detailed analysis of long-term trends and under-reported phenomena.
For much of the 2000s, we at least had two nightly television shows that attempted to counter the hysteria and hype. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert scythed through the triviality, sanctimony, and unacknowledged bias that mars so much of our media coverage, using humor as a means to ridicule these flaws. Stewart launched a frontal assault, especially on Fox News, which he came to call “Bullshit Mountain” for its ugly track record of stretching the truth to whip up controversy where none should have existed. Colbert, on the other hand, was more indirect in his criticism, satirizing Fox News and its ilk by creating a self-involved, ostensibly conservative persona who resembled commentators such as Bill O’Reilly (he was so convincing in this fake role that I can recall at least one friend mentioning that his grandmother believed Colbert was sincere, and admired him for it).
However salutary an effect Colbert and Stewart might have had on political discourse in this country, they couldn’t keep at it forever, and in late 2014 and the summer of last year, respectively, they both stepped down to pursue other gigs. Fortunately, one of Stewart’s former “correspondents” (and, for a time, interim host), John Oliver, launched his own show, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, on HBO in early 2014, and it’s built upon the legacy of The Daily Show to become a worthy successor. The show is now entering its third season, which begins tomorrow night.