John Oliver lobbed harsh criticism against Dick Wolf on Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” arguing the producer’s long-running TV series “Law & Order” was more interested in mythologizing the criminal justice system than pointing out its corruption.
Oliver said the series “makes a lot of choices that significantly distort the big picture of police,” like using an endless roster of rich white characters the police can abuse without repercussions. He argued this stealthily normalized police brutality, and noted it was an intentional decision by Wolf.
“Another reason that we have so many rich, white perps is that there are no rich, white guy pressure groups,” Wolf told The Baltimore Sun in 2003. “You can do anything you want to rich, white guys, and nobody cares. Really.”
Oliver said “Law & Order” essentially served as propaganda for the police because “instead of depicting a flawed system riddled with structural racism, the show presents exceptionally competent cops working within a largely fair framework that mostly convicts white people.”
He cited a May 2021 study from Mass Mediated Representations of Crime and Criminality, which concluded that the show’s fictional “offenders were disproportionally White, male, older, and from the middle or upper-classes.”
Oliver said the series is “never going to grapple with the reality of policing in a meaningful way.” Wolf himself previously admitted he was “unabashedly pro-law enforcement,” as Oliver showed in a clip.
He also showed an interview in which Wolf said he didn’t want to use his show to “do Abner Louima,” referring to a Black man who NYPD officers beat and sodomized in 1997. Louima suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized for two months. Five officers were charged for their roles in the assault, and two were sent to prison, with the principle assailant sentenced to 30 years. (The other three officers had their convictions reversed due to insufficient evidence). Louima received an $8.75 million settlement from the city for the attack.
Wolf dismissed the assault as a result of “one or two bad apples in a police force of 35,000.”
Oliver said Wolf had a “close, behind-the-scenes relationship with the NYPD,” which distorted public perception of the group.
“One study found ‘viewers of crime dramas are more likely to believe the police are successful at lowering crime, use force only when necessary, and that misconduct does not typically lead to false confessions,’” said Oliver. “Which would be great if it were true.”
See more from Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” below.