Although John Oliver’s main story on his latest episode of Last Week Tonight was about monkeypox, he couldn’t help but begin with Alex Jones, the odious conspiracy theorist who Oliver very accurately described as “a man who boldly answers the question, ‘What if Grimace were a Proud Boy?’”
Jones was on trial this week after declaring for years that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a hoax perpetrated by the government to justify gun control. The shooting was shocking even by America’s very high standards — 26 people dead, 20 of them 6- or 7-year-old kids — and Jones no doubt figured he could make a lot of money by claiming it was all a fake. He was right, and we have an idea of just how right he was because his lawyer accidentally sent the contents of his phone to prosecutors, which was just one instance of the clownish Jones showing his whole ass during the trial.
Jones made tens of millions of dollars over the years — at some points his Infowars platform was making $800,000 a day — by peddling his Sandy Hook nonsense, and in so doing he inspired some of his wackadoo followers to harass and threaten the families of the murdered kids.
As a result, Jones was ordered to pay about $50 million to one family (he’ll no doubt appeal), and he has two more trials coming up. He is still doing his show, and he is predictably fundraising off of the trials.
Oliver then moved from a virus who spreads conspiracy theories to a virus that’s the subject of conspiracy theories. Despite what your overly online uncle may claim, the current monkeypox outbreak is neither caused by the Covid vaccine nor is it the product of a Wuhan laboratory; in fact, monkeypox has been around and treatable for decades. But because of misconceptions and ignorance, Oliver felt the need to spend a rather dry few minutes laying out facts about the virus, which while not generally deadly can be extraordinarily painful. There are currently fewer than 10,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., but that’s enough for us to lead the world in transmissions, make it a public health emergency, and confirm what Covid already taught us — America cannot handle a virus outbreak to save its, or just about anyone’s, life.
“With monkeypox, we were in the fortunate position of having pre-existing tests, vaccines, and treatments,” Oliver pointed out. “Unfortunately, the rollout of each of them has been painfully flawed…. On a scale of 1 to 100, we scored a ‘No.’”
The speed of testing has been glacial. The tests themselves require the disease to be in a relatively advanced stage. The U.S. allowed almost its entire stockpile of vaccines to expire — vaccines that were desperately needed in other countries that have been suffering outbreaks for years — and waited months before importing more, leading to massive shortfalls. Government red tape has prevented longstanding medicinal treatment from being available.
Which all begs a question that is so often now asked: Why did America fail so spectacularly? The short answer is because the nation’s public health infrastructure has been underfunded for decades. The longer answer also takes into account the populations currently most affected by the virus: gay and bisexual men, particularly those with multiple partners. Oliver noted the obvious parallels with U.S. officials’ willful — and in some cases gleeful — neglect of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
“It seems a spreading virus yet again is bringing out the worst in people,” Oliver said. “But to be fair, indifference to those suffering from a pox virus has been the story of America from Day 1.”