The single greatest thing about Last Week Tonight has always been John Oliver’s willingness to spend HBO’s money to explore exactly how venal and low-rent American institutions really are, whether that meant founding his own tax-exempt religion to show how easy televangelists have it, buying and forgiving a bunch of medical debt to show how crappy the debt collection industry is, or creating a Supreme Court made up entirely of dogs to show just how much cooler things would be if the Supreme Court was made up entirely of dogs. The pandemic put a stop to most of Oliver’s pranks, which often require in-person interactions, but it seems like the cycle is beginning again. This week, Oliver tricked three local TV stations—KVUE in Austin, Texas; KMGH-TV (Denver7) in Denver, Colorado; and KTVX (ABC4), in Salt Lake City, Utah—into airing a promo for a completely worthless “sexual wellness blanket” called the Venus Veil. All three stations are ABC affiliates, and all three stations will apparently let you go on the air and hawk whatever kind of pseudoscience you want, as long as you can pay their extraordinarily low rates for sponsored content. Check it out:
The shows that promoted Oliver’s bogus product were FYI Austin on KVUE, which is a two-minute-long sponsored content segment hosted by Kim Barnes; Mile High Living on KMGH-TV, a 30-minute show hosted by Gina Belich that airs at 11:30 on weekday mornings; and Good Things Utah, hosted by Surae Chinn, which fills two whole hours with sponsored content from 9 to 11 every weekday morning on KTVX. It’s not surprising that local news channels were willing to sell airtime to obvious charlatans, but it’s a little shocking that their on-air personalities were so willing to smile and nod while the Venus Veil’s pitchwoman babbled on about “magnetogenetics” and “technology pioneered in Germany 80 years ago.”
The stations and on-air personalities who participated in this shitshow will take a PR hit for it, and they richly deserve it, but think about how much bullshit had to be normalized across the industry before this stunt was possible, starting with the idea that companies should be able to disguise advertisements as journalism. It’s going to take a lot more than a sexual wellness blanket to fix journalism, and I wish my colleagues all the best in their efforts. As for me, though, I’m off to America’s heartland to make my fortune selling orgone boxes. Watch for me on your local station!