Adam Conover of Adam Ruins Everything on Seeking Truth in the Post-Truth Era

The host of TruTV's hit show has lost some faith in the power of rational discourse. And he has some ideas for how to fix the problem.

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Since 2015, when Reason first sat down with Adam Conover, host of TruTV's hit show Adam Ruins Everything, a new president has taken office, a new media landscape has emerged, and some would say we're inhabiting a new reality.

What's it like to make a show that seeks to uncover hidden truths in the "post-truth era"?

"I guess what's happened is that I've a little bit let go of the idea that we can reach everybody," says Conover, who's about to go on a live tour and is gearing up for the premiere of his show's third season. "Certain people…the informational world they live in, it's so distorted that it's hard to get through."

But most people still have a "deep down desire to learn, to know the truth," he says.

In a wide-ranging interview with Reason's Zach Weissmueller (full disclosure: Weissmueller is married to the show's casting director), Conover shares his thoughts on the "response videos" to his work proliferating on YouTube, how he contends with the psychological defense mechanisms that prevent viewers from changing their opinions, the "de-platforming" of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and how big tech companies are changing our perceptions of reality.

The new season of Adam Ruins Everything premieres on November 27, 2018.

Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Camera by Paul Detrick, Justin Monticello, and Alexis Garcia.

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    1. Let’s assume for a moment that the truth was in perfectly good health during the Obama years.

      What would the Bush years qualify as then? The Post-Truth Period? The Post-Truth Epoch? The idea that the Trump administration is uniquely hostile to the truth is ridiculous. Granted, its showiness about its hostility is unique, but the fundamental idea that Trump is special in his hatred of the truth is dishonest. If anything, his openness about his scorn for the truth is helping libertarianism.

      1. I think it would be more accurate to call this era the post-unified-narrative era. That’s a discussion worth having.

        1. That would be called Postmodernism in the classical sense of the word. That is, Modernism, particularly Hegelian style Modernism, posits a general unifying trend of history progressing to a single goal. That is, history is moving forward and all of it is progressing towards some specific end-state of history. Marx has a lot of this in him, as he was VERY Modernist.

      2. To coin a phrase, all these have been favoring different truths. Trump is the first President in ages to favor the truth that political correctness has run amok, but he has disfavored many economic truths that previous administrations at least paid lip service to.

        It all comes down to bureaucrats with power. The in-crowd pushes the pendulum one way and becomes the out-crowd.

        No one wants to just leave people be.

        1. Any era where people don’t believe what I want them to believe, it’s the post-truth era.

  1. If you like your doctor, you can keep him. Period.
    If you like your healthcare plan you can keep it. Period.
    It is not a tax.
    The DOJ does not discriminate.
    The IRS is fair to all.
    The attack was due to that video.

    Dude, we been post truth since Billy Jeff said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”.

    1. “Totes tried to lifeguard Mary Jo but couldn’t get her out of the car.”

    2. Then there’s “Iraq has WMD,” “torture works,” and everything that ever escapes the lips of Donald Trump.

    3. Post-truth means something else from just lying. I don’t believe we’re post-truth as I think truth exists. And do get kind of irritated that “post-truth” has come to mean that people don’t trust the media.

      1. *Post-truth should mean something else from just lying.

    4. “Not even smidgen of corruption”
      “What we can’t establish is that she acted with the necessary criminal intent.”

  2. I’ve watched his show and his truths are often outdated as in true one time but not now and sometimes never truths in the first place.

  3. There is a cottage industry on youtube of channels that debunk ‘Adam Ruins Everything’. They use plentiful cites and verifiable outside sources that make plain that what Adam is ruining is the idea of television shows that impart facts.

    Adam is so bad that not only does he bring nothing to the table, but he breaks the table on his way out.

    1. ^This. I’ve seen a few episodes of his show. A few are spot on (the one I can think of is how the Academy Awards function as a political enterprise), but most are full of single-sourced “facts” from “experts” that are nothing but opinions.

      1. Side note: Penn and Teller’s Bullshit is a far superior version of Adam Ruins Everything.

    2. It’s questionable that they said ‘Conover shares his thoughts on the “response videos” to his work proliferating on YouTube’ with scare quotes around response videos. First of all, whether the videos are good or not, they’re still response videos. Second, it makes it seem like that he thinks he has presented indisputable truths, and that responding to it is just silly or something.

      1. Every scientific area I have ever studied (especially the social sciences) has revealed to me that there are no “indisputable” truths (yes, I know I just gave an “indisputable truth” but just go with it). Instead, there are a variety of lenses, perspectives, and frameworks that can be used to analyze an issue. Some lenses have overlap and some do not. This is even more complicated when you get into the weeds with how we conceptualize, operationalize, and measure things. For example, you can come to wildly different conclusions about crime depending on whether you operationalize “crime” as the number of people arrested for a crime (i.e., the Uniform Crime Reports; FBI) vs. operationalizing “crime” as the number of people victimized by crime (i.e., the National Crime Victimization Survey; BJS).

        While I haven’t watched a single response video to his shows, I would be willing to bet that many of the more intelligent responses to his shows are likely speaking to this idea (at least implicitly) by citing papers that use different theoretical lenses, different measures, different methods, etc. This is precisely why its really difficult to get a good bead on anything without massive quantities of studying, reading, thinking.

  4. Adam Conover has a show where he debunks the bad data that people use to construct their invalid notions, then proceeds to use good data to construct his own invalid conclusions.

    1. This is fair. Although, I’d argue that he rarely uses actual “data”.

      1. ***From the handful of episodes I’ve seen

  5. He occasionally has had an entertaining, or even accurate rebuttal. Most commonly, he’s among the worst examples of the modern “well, ACKSHULLY…” trope.

  6. So he’s not popular with this crowd of mostly dogmatic conspiracy theorists, what a shock.

    1. If by “dogmatic” you mean “interested in facts, not the cherry-picking bullshit of a biased comedian”…. then yes.

      1. Care to give an example or two? Genuinely curious. His shtick goes fast and he generalizes, but he does cite his sources, which is rare if not unique for a television show.

        1. I thought he was funny and thought provoking, even when I disagreed

          1. I thought that as well sarc. His episode on the prison industrial complex was pretty good.

        2. Sure I’ll bite. In season 1, he did a show on internships and wages and hiring. His conclusions were all leftist dogma about how wage negotiations should be complete open, and given out equally based on pointless things like sex and gender and race, and not on actual merit of the workers. Also, all internships are just so rich fat-cats can bilk people out of work for free. His entire source for this episode was Robert Reich. No matter where you stand on these issue, Robert Reich is barely a scientist at this point, and certainly not an unbiased expert.

  7. I have seen prob. 7-8 episodes of the show, and generally I enjoy it, although certainly a good bit of it is subjective and other points of view can equally apply.

    Let me also say that I SSOOOOOOOOOOOOO much more prefer Zach’s interviews over Gillespie’s. Zach will actually let his subjects talk and finish sentences, and the interviewee is guaranteed to say more than the interviewer. Quite a concept!

    1. interviewee is guaranteed to say more than the interviewer. Quite a concept!

      That is the Brian Lamb style of interview, and I agree that it is preferred so long as it is a long-format interview.

      However, Gillespie is a good and knowledgeable interviewer. He has had some great interviews on reasontv recently, notwithstanding the interrupting. The Ken White and Steven Pinker interviews, for example. Nick is always great on the weekly podcast, too. If he toned down his obnoxious interrupting (or talking-over the interviewee), he wouldn’t be Nick.

      Zach did a decent job in this interview with the ruining guy, but it was a little soft-bally. Didn’t Zach mention that his wife is the ruining guy’s gardener or something?

  8. This ruining guy seems to make somewhat of a good-faith effort at ruining things.

    He fails at times, but this should be expected.

    He now has three years of ruining experience. The gun episode is on tomorrow. If he doesn’t bring it in this episode, his ruining may be ruined.

    This is entertainment comedy programming. I think it is better that tru-tv gave up “reality” shows about pawn shops and tow trucks, and replaced it with comedy programming. I’d still rather have court tv back, but the current stuff on tru-tv is less worse than in the “reality” days.

  9. His Columbus episode got everything wrong except that he sailed west.

  10. Adam doesn’t ruin enough, actually. He usually stops his analyses short of skewering his ideological brethren, which is in his financial interest but still leaves him in the pile of sophistic talking heads.

  11. Please tell me that Reason didn’t post a puff piece about Adam Ruins Everything. At least the title of Adam’s show is correct. He ruins everything?including the truth.

  12. “Truth is a social construct of the white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy used to oppress marginalized peoples”

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  14. Adam is a Leftist TV celebrity. What on Earth does he know about truth?

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  17. Adam made a strong point that platforms shouldn’t be able to make money (ads, etc) off hosting talkers with objectionable content (Alex Jones, etc.) This idea has been bothering me all afternoon, and it’s not just the obvious observation that nobody will ever be able to agree on what’s objectionable.

    Everybody makes money off others’ objectionable actions. If Ellen hosted a neo-Nazi guest on her show just so the audience could spit on him, she’d be making money off those ads. The Daily Show practically prints money from all the material Donald Trump gives them. For that matter, that police make a living because criminals exist is problematic, if we’re that worried about conflict-of-interest scenarios.

    1. Adam is a good person who works to present entertaining and informational videos, but after watching several I’m concerned about the silent implications he drops into his videos, without actually stating the words and thus not having to cite his source. When he talked about AirBnB and how landlords are gradually letting out more and more of their apartments to them (verbalized and sourced) but accompanied by a graphic that showed a loud party in every AirBnB unit while the perm units showed a silent family covering their ears. No words, no sources, just a heavy dose of subtext implying that every short-term renter is an unrepentant partier (not true, from personal experience) while every long-term renter is quiet and polite (definitely not true). Sneaky cheats like that make me feel like I can’t trust him as much as I did when the show started, which is a disappointment.

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