A lot of people are talking about Netflix’s Tiger King. For good reason, too. The entire series is a thrill ride filled with death threats, government surveillance, criminal conspiracies, fraud, murder for hire, drug addiction, and sex cults, capped off by rumors wherein the alleged victim of the murder for hire conspiracy fed her husband’s body to her pet tigers. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction, which helps to explain why the series is the most-watched in America. The star of the documentary is Joe Maldonado, aka Joe Exotic, the titular Tiger King. For many, the Netflix Documentary is the first time many were introduced to the bizarre man whose bleached blonde mullet, body piercings, magnum revolver, and drug-fueled homosexual conquests, not to mention the 176 Tigers he owned, make him a caricature of libertarianism.
For the millions of people who watch John Oliver’s very funny but left-leaning Last Week Tonight, however, Maldonado was already a household name. In October 2016, Last Week Tonight produced a segment discussing America’s Third Parties that featured Maldonado. The notoriety gained from his first national-level press coverage likely helped Maldonado garner 962 votes in the 2016 Presidential Election and helped him gain sufficient political traction to run for Governor in Oklahoma, where he earned 18.7% of the vote in the Libertarian Party Primary for a third place-of three finish. Granted, Maldonado did not win any elections based on Oliver’s coverage, and there is probably little overlap between Last Week Tonight’s viewers and libertarian party members in rural Oklahoma, so Oliver’s introduction of Maldonado to the world probably had little impact on his personal fortunes. But it was not zero, which is why Oliver’s recent segment blasting One America News Network (OAN) will increase its viewership.
There are many flaws in Oliver’s argumentation, starting with the startlingly transparent admission of Trump Derangement Syndrome when he suggests that “when Trump likes something that much, it’s an immediate red flag,” or his assertion that OAN challenging the mainstream media’s repetition of Chinese Communist Party narratives about the Covid-19 pandemic is “bullsh*t… in the middle of an assh*le sandwich.” Oliver names OAN as a “home for extreme conservatism” due to host Graham Ledger’s relatively mainstream, though certainly not universal, views on Black Lives Matter, gender dysphoria, and immigration.
For many, OAN is not a household name. John Oliver’s profanity-laced rant against OAN actually served as an introduction to a new conservative outlet for these viewers. While Oliver’s audience of conservative viewers is small, it does exist, and for those people, John Oliver just conducted an 18-minute advertisement for the network. While John Oliver’s increasingly partisan attacks may be driving conservatives away from his program, he may have inadvertently pushed them to OAN instead.