I’ve spent some time in newsrooms, so I feel like I’m a savvier news consumer than most. While watching the local news, I’ve occasionally said to my wife, in reference to a particularly fawning segment about a product, “Yeah, that’s an ad.” (Yes, I’m married. What, do you think I spend my nights curled up in the bathtub clutching an empty quart of Fleischmann’s vodka, moaning like a freshly gelded hyena over the sordid state of the world/my fen-like vegetable crisper, and mentally cataloguing my American Girl collection according to each doll’s emerging potential to come to life at midnight and murder me with a rhino injection full of Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash? No. I don’t do that anymore. Because I’m fucking married.)
So while I’ve known for some time that news outlets air paid content—usually accompanied by a disclaimer in a scarcely legible, Planck-length font—I honestly had no idea it was this bad.
In the latest episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, the sublime John Oliver looked at the devil’s pact many local news stations are making these days with paid advertisers, who would obviously prefer to seamlessly integrate their content with these trusted outlets’ broadcasts rather than just buy a 30-second spot like everyone else.
And you won’t believe what he found.