After taking most of July off, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” came back Sunday night. And boy, did he have to catch up on a lot.
Though the show could have dedicated its entire half hour to what happened in the past week – Jared Kushner’s prepared speech at the White House, the explosive interview that new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci gave to The New Yorker, and the ouster of White House chief of staff Reince Priebus – Oliver instead looked at the radio host Alex Jones.
The “Infowars” host has climbed to conservative media prominence through explosive claims that go viral, such as that chemicals in our water are turning frogs gay, or ones that have made him infamous, such as that the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 was a hoax.
But Oliver looked past all that to delve into something else Jones does a lot on his show: shill merchandise. Oliver said that in one week of Jones’ recent broadcasts, he spent nearly a quarter of the time either talking about or playing ads for his products. And he has a lot of them.
The “Infowars” store has survival gear, organic shampoo and soaps, and even a Bill Clinton rape whistle. (“Last Week Tonight” bought this item, and Oliver said it came with a complimentary “9-11 Was an Inside Job” bumper sticker.)
Radio hosts doing ads is nothing new, but Oliver said that since 2013, Jones had been focusing on his vitamins and other supplements. Two-thirds of his funding reportedly comes from marketing his products, which range from vitality drugs to “Caveman,” a paleo-formula chocolate drink with bone broth. It sounds awful, and Oliver bought it, tried it on air, and confirmed it tastes awful, too.
Jones even has a doctor come on his show to hock the merch with him. Jones claims that Dr. Edward Group III has a degree from MIT, but “Last Week Tonight” did some digging and learned he actually attended Texas Chiropractic College. When the show asked MIT about him, it responded, “Calling him an alumni would be inaccurate and misleading.”
The show played a clip of Jones saying “Infowars” costs $45 million to $50 million to run and that any money from his store goes back into the show. But Oliver also noted that Jones had sported at least three different Rolex watches on his show.
Jones often says his critics focus on things he says taken out of context. But Oliver said on Sunday’s show that in context, what Jones does was chilling.
“At the start of this piece, I promised Alex Jones that I would put his statements in context, because he is right – that if you play small clips in isolation, he looks like a loon,” Oliver said. “But if you play them in context, he looks like a skilled salesman spending hours a day frightening you about problems like refugees spreading disease and then selling you an answer.”
Perhaps the best example of this is that after Jones’ “gay frogs” video went viral, he did a follow-up claiming that chemicals were being put in the water to feminize society and reduce the population, then segued to an ad for water filters.
Watch the “Last Week Tonight” Alex Jones piece: