Sunday on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver went to Moscow to interview Edward Snowden. It was both funny and interesting, yet another example of how Oliver has created something new, a show that can touch on serious topics, but go further than Jon Stewart ever could on “The Daily Show.”
As part of the piece, Oliver’s staff interviewed several people in Times Square, most of whom did not know who Edward Snowden is, or were unclear on why he was famous. Oliver then showed that video to Snowden, who was understandably surprised. But, as Glenn Greenwald points out, he shouldn’t be. Their inability to identify him is less a commentary on his notoriety than on the political indifference of the American public:
The data on American political apathy is rather consistent, and stunning. Begin with the fact that even in presidential election years, 40 to 50 percent of the voting-age public simply chooses not participate in the voting process at all, while two-thirds chooses not to vote in midterm elections.
Even more striking is what they do and do not know. An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.”
A 2010 Findlaw.com poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — were incapable of naming even a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2010 Pew poll discovered that 41 percent of Americans are unable to name the current vice president of the U.S; in other words, Oliver could just as easily (if not more easily) compile a video of Times Square visitors looking stumped when asked if they knew who Joe Biden, or Antonin Scalia, is.