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Only John Oliver Could Make Net Neutrality So Sexy That TMZ Wanted To Cover It

from the wait,-what? dept

So this has been a bizarre week on the net neutrality front. There’s been plenty of legitimate concern that such a serious issue is hard to explain to the public in a way that they would “get” the seriousness of it. However, comedian John Oliver seemed to do the impossible by summarizing it simply as the fight to prevent cable company fuckery. And, of course, the final call to action in his broadcast was to get people to go send their comments to the FCC. And, while no one seems willing to officially say that his call to action resulted in the mess over the next few days, the FCC’s server appeared to melt down under some sort of pressure.

Oliver himself has mostly stayed quiet since then (the show is only broadcast once a week, on Sunday nights), but on his podcast, The Bugle, (which too few people seem to have discovered despite it’s incredible level of awesomeness for many years), he addressed the issue… and how “odd” the reaction has been, in discussion with his co-host Andy Zaltzman:

It’s right at the beginning, but here’s my quick transcript:

I’ve had a slightly… weird few days to be honest, after finding myself at the center of a minor technological tornado. We did a piece, on Sunday’s show, about net neutrality; an issue that is, quite simply, the single most important issue that is too boring to give a shit about. We ended the segment by reminding everyone that the FCC was now accepting comments, and pointing out an email address, at which those comments would presumably be welcomed. At which point, all hell appeared to break loose. The comments page at the FCC soon went down, and they sent out a Tweet saying “we’ve been experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system due to heavy traffic. We’re working to resolve these issues quickly.” And they seemed to experience technical issues for the next few days, which became a bit of a story in and of itself, giving more attention to the issue, driving more people to the comments pages, making them crash again.

Now, my role in this is not entirely clear. But, it definitely led to one of the strangest encounters of my life. Yesterday morning, I was walking to the CBS studios to do an interview on CBS This Morning, just to generally promote the show. As I walked up the road, I saw a TMZ reporter with a camera in his hand and I thought: “Ooh! That’s exciting. Someone like LL Cool J must be on the show. I wonder if I’ll get to meet him.”

Then, the TMZ reporter started walking towards me, and I thought: “Oh, he must want to know what door LL Cool J is likely to come out of.” And then he lifted up his camera and pointed it at me, and I thought: “Oh shit!” Because, I’ve never been interviewed by TMZ before, Andy. That was a streak I was very happy with. I should, frankly, not be pinging anywhere near their radar. But I’m afraid that streak has now emphatically come to an end.

The guy said to me: “You crashed the FCC website. Can you tell us quickly what net neutrality is all about?” To which I basically said: “No, I can’t tell you that that quickly. It’s a lot more complicated than we have time for here at the side of the road.” To which he said: “Well, can you tell me what the biggest problem facing America right now is?” To which, I replied: “To be honest, you’re pretty much embodying it at the moment.”

Now, I’m not proud of that, Andy. He was just doing his job. Although, lots of people have used that as a defense in the past for doing some pretty appalling things — so I’m not quite sure that’s an excuse enough. And, I certainly think it was an unusable enough answer, that it is unlikely to appear on TMZ. Meaning, technically, my streak continues, Andy!

From there, they go onto a discussion about a bee and Andy’s miso soup. So that’s about the extent of it. Neither net neutrality, nor the FCC are mentioned again. But, still, just the idea that “net neutrality” has become an issue even barely on TMZ’s radar, even if Oliver is correct and it does not appear they posted anything about his “interview,” is a good sign. (Update: As noted in the comments, it appears that TMZ did put the video on their website — I’ve embedded it below, though it mostly talks about his status as a non-American, rather than net neutrality). As Oliver said in his original report, the best way to do something evil, politically, is to make it sound mind-numbingly boring. And net neutrality has been in that category for a long, long time.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I look forward to TMZ-level (i.e., so clueless you’ll want to punch your screen) analysis of the ins and outs of the issue, but it at least gives me hope that this is an issue that can actually get some mainstream interest as being incredibly important. Either that, or we’ll start hearing stories about drunken orgies at the FCC and poor fashion choices by AT&T lobbyists, because that seems more along TMZ’s usual fare.

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Comments on “Only John Oliver Could Make Net Neutrality So Sexy That TMZ Wanted To Cover It”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: TMZ Video of the encouter

I don’t think they liked his response based on their byline:

Comedian John Oliver?s bringing down of the FCC?s website makes him a powerful American!
Only problem is he?s not an American yet.

Their response to “You embody the problem with America”:
“Is that so? Well… you’re not an American, so there!”

Ignis (profile) says:

That’s an epic comment by Oliver. However, on the whole, I don’t think it’s net neutrality itself that got TMZ interested at all. I mean, of course an entity like TMZ would sensationalise headlines, but in my view, the way they titled the interview (“Comedian John Oliver?s bringing down of the FCC?s website makes him a powerful American!“) shows what they’re really interested in.

It’s as Oliver himself says. “Net neutrality”? Boring. But a comedian taking down a government agency’s website? And what are the odds TMZ’s readers won’t misinterpret that headline to mean that Oliver DDoS’d the FCC’s website?

“What, his call to action brought about the downtime of the FCC’s website? So he mobilised a bunch of people which resulted in that downtime? Does that mean he’s part of Anonymous?”

Or maybe I shouldn’t be giving them ideas.

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