On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver gave a Stupid Watergate update, calling Fox out for "actively undermining" special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. In his segment, Oliver suggested that conservative pundits are concertedly working to cast doubt on Mueller's probe — something which he believes could have very significant consequences.
Oliver's segment on conservative media's portrayal of the Mueller investigation constituted the latest update in his Stupid Watergate series. Oliver defines this series as one covering "a scandal potentially on the scale of Watergate, but where everyone involved is dumb and terrible and bad at everything."
Oliver opened this segment by suggesting that it is "troubling" that a recent poll revealed that only around half of Americans (54 percent) want Mueller's investigation, which is examining alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, to continue. Trump has repeatedly denied any allegations of improper ties between his campaign and Russia.
On his show, Oliver suggested that conservative media has played a significant role in helping sway Americans' opinion toward wanting to end the special counsel investigation. As Oliver explained, he believes that conservative media outlets have primarily employed three tactics to convince the public that the investigation should be suspended: redefining the investigation, whataboutism, and building counter-narratives.
First, Oliver asserted that many conservative media outlets are attempting to "redefine the [Mueller] investigation on their own terms." As the host explained, some conservative commentators are seeking to frame the investigation as one that is only looking into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Oliver noted that this characterization of the investigation is off base, as Mueller's appointment did not even cite finding evidence of collusion as one of his tasks. Thus, Oliver noted that he believes that conservative pundits calling for an end to the special counsel investigation if there is no evidence of collusion is nonsensical. As the host put it:
So saying the investigation has to shut down if there is no collusion is like saying that a game of Scrabble has to end because you fit all the letters in your mouth. Well, congratulations, but those aren't really the rules that we agreed to.
Oliver then continued to explain the second tactic he believes conservative media is employing to seek to undermine Mueller's investigation: whataboutism. As the late night host explained, whataboutism is defined as "the practice of shifting the debate to someone else's wrongdoing." Oliver then played a clip of Fox News host Sean Hannity to illustrate his point. The clip featured Hannity sharing a list of 15 different people he considered "waiting to be raided." The Fox host then asked "what about" each of them, seemingly as a means of deflecting attention away from the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign.
As Oliver noted, he believes Hannity's point in employing the whataboutism tactic is to say that "other people did bad things so therefore Trump's bad things don't count." Oliver then noted that he takes significant issue with this argument, saying, "Whether or not someone else did something sh*tty has no bearing over whether you did something sh*tty."
Finally, Oliver explained the last strategy he believes is employed by pundits to try to undermine Mueller's investigation: "building a counter-narrative." In other words, as Oliver put it, "essentially trying to delegitimize the investigation by framing it as part of a grand conspiracy to bring down Trump." For example, as Oliver noted, Hannity often characterizes the investigation itself as "one gigantic scandal, with the Democrats, the FBI, the deep state, and establishment Republicans teaming up to take down Trump."
Moreover, as Oliver pointed out, even when evidence exists to disprove elements of Hannity's supposed Trump takedown theory, he sometimes chooses to ignore it. Indeed, as Oliver reported, Hannity has even indicated that he will refuse to believe possible future evidence that may arise that could prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. As Hannity stated in a clip played on Oliver's show, "Mueller if you got it [evidence of Trump-Russia collusion], come on the show and tell America. And by the way, if ... you have more proof that this is not a witch hunt, OK, I don't believe you."
Oliver concluded his segment by noting that he believes that the three strategies he outlined pose a threat to the future of the Mueller investigation, because they are designed to "sow enough [public] doubt" that the investigation is shut down. As Oliver explained, public opinion will likely very much dictate if and how Congress decides to take any action toward President Trump — and diminishing public support for the Mueller investigation means that Congress is less likely to take any action. Thus, Oliver stated that he thinks the public should aware be of the tactics he identified because while they are "transparent, illogical, and dumb," they are also "depressingly effective."