NEW YORK -- In a remarkable coup for the British comedian, Sunday’s episode of "Last Week Tonight" featured John Oliver grilling whistleblower Edward Snowden in a room opposite the old KGB headquarters in Moscow, the Birmingham-born satirist hitting the former NSA man with some surprisingly uncomfortable questioning.
Snowden has given countless interviews since he leaked the documents that exposed the British and American surveillance programmes in 2013, however rarely has he looked so unnerved as when taken to task over how many of the documents he actually read before handing them over to journalists.
“I do understand what I turned over,” said the flustered American before Oliver shot back: “There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents... when you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you’d want to do is read them.”
Oliver continued: “So the New York Times took a slide, didn’t redact it properly, and in the end it was possible for people to see that something was being used in Mosul.”
Snowden responded: “That is a problem.”
“Well, that’s a f*ck up,” said Oliver.
“It is a f*ck up, and those things do happen in reporting. In journalism, we have to accept that some mistakes will be made. This is a fundamental concept of liberty,” said Snowden.
“But you have to own that,” responded Oliver. “You’re giving documents with information you know could be harmful, which could get out there.”
The interview took a less tense tone when Oliver offered a new framing for the intractable question of surveillance that he argued Americans would more readily understand –- dick pictures.
Having show a clip of Americans outraged over the government’s access to nude pictures, Oliver said: “This is the most visible line in the sand for people: Can they see my dick? So with that in mind, look inside that folder. That is a picture of my dick. So let’s go through each NSA program and explain to me its capabilities in regards to that photograph of my penis.”
“I never thought about putting it in the context of your junk,” said Snowden before explaining the varied NSA programmes in relation to the comedian's old chap.