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John Oliver Tackles Surveillance in Surprise Snowden Scoop

Comedy talk show host John Oliver boldly went where few journalists from the mainstream media have dared to tread, grilling whistle-blower Edward Snowden about his leaking of thousands of NSA documents to the press in an interview that aired Sunday on Last Week Tonight.

Oliver raked Snowden over the coals for not having read every one of the documents, insisting there’s a difference between understanding what’s in documents and reading them.

The documents were “passed to the journalists,” Snowden responded, “and they’re using extraordinary security measures to make sure this is reported in the most secure way.”

Oliver pointed out that The New York Times failed to redact a slide properly, so the redacted line — that something was being used in Mosul on Al Qaeda — still could be read.

“Well, that’s a f*ckup,” Oliver said.

“It is a f*ckup,” Snowden admitted, adding that in journalism, “we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty.”

Oliver retorted that Snowden has to “own that thing,” and the whistle-blower agreed. Later in the interview, Snowden pointed out that the real problem is that the NSA “is using these capabilities to make us vulnerable to them. It’s like ‘I have a gun to your head but I’m not going to pull the trigger. Trust me.'”

Americans should be concerned, said Philip Lieberman, president of Lieberman Software.

Still, “we operate as a society and government of laws, [with] a clear definition of the roles of each branch of the government,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Many a True Word…

Americans do love their comedians — 12 percent of online adults surveyed got their news from The Daily Show, Pew Researchreported last year. Oliver appeared regularly there — including substituting for Jon Stewart during his leave of absence to direct Rosewater — before getting his own weekly “fake news” show.

Americans’ confidence in the media’s ability to report the news fully, accurately and fairly sank to its record low of 40 percent, based on a Gallup poll conducted last year.

What does this say about the political clout of such hosts? Oliver, in particular, grabbed headlines when his diatribe on Net neutrality raised the issue’s profile in the public eye.

Is that an indication that even more people will be looking to comedy show hosts for credible news?

Perhaps not.

“There is so much information coming from so many sources in today’s society — and no filter to really determine what is correct and what is not,” observed Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

Still, “if a comedian can do an effective job of bringing an issue to the forefront of American consciousness, then there must be some value,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Spying, Shmying

Oliver showed Snowden clips of interviews in which New Yorkers on the street were asked if they knew who he was. Most said no.

“People don’t have the level of concern that they perhaps should,” Secure Channels CEO Richard Blech told TechNewsWorld.

“We live in a culture of balances and tensions that require all of us to balance liberty with privacy — versus the survival of the society itself from destruction from outside forces,” commented Lieberman.

Edward Who?

Snowden perhaps is not as much out of the public consciousness as Oliver’s interview clips suggest.

Guerilla artists on Monday installed a 100-pound bronze-colored bust of Snowden in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park.

An Oregon man last week >sent Snowden 33 US cents’ worth of Bitcoin, apparently in response to an executive order banning such acts.

As for the ignorance of Snowden professed by New Yorkers in the clips, only 36 percent of Americans could name the three branches of government in an Annenberg Public Policy Center poll conducted last year.

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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