Liberal Group: John Oliver’s Debt Forgiveness Stunt Was A Big Fraud


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Blake Neff Reporter
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John Oliver grabbed national headlines for his stunt on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, in which Oliver announced that he had purchased and then forgiven $15 million worth of medical debt. But now, a liberal activist group is accusing Oliver of wrongly taking credit for the idea, and for not doing enough to promote left-wing views with his segment.

 The Debt Collective is a non-profit activist group that advocates on behalf of debtors by promoting debt strikes and other collective action. One project of Debt Collective’s operators is the Rolling Jubilee, which started in 2012 and raised money to purchase and then forgive random debts at a price of pennies on the dollar. Through 2015, when the project ended, the group raised about $700,000 and forgave almost $32 million of debt.

On Monday, The Debt Collective released a statement accusing Oliver of learning their tactics, and then using them without giving the group any credit.

“Eight months ago, Charles Wilson, a researcher from John Oliver’s HBO show, Last Week Tonight, contacted us to ask about our project of buying and cancelling debt,” the group said. “Wilson told us Last Week Tonight was interested in reproducing our feat. Because LWT has previously done a good job of highlighting the outrageousness and injustice of various issues, we were under the impression they were interested in highlighting the mechanisms of oppression used by the creditor class as well as our ongoing organizing work to challenge these unjust arrangements. We spent hours on the phone and email with them explaining how we did our work and connecting them to other experts and resources.”

But instead of focusing on the issues Debt Collective cares about, the group said Oliver used their methods as a simple publicity stunt, and took credit for the idea.

“At the last minute Wilson told us LWT did not want to associate themselves with the work of the Rolling Jubilee due to its roots in Occupy Wall Street,” it said. “Instead John Oliver framed the debt buy as his idea: a giveaway to compete with Oprah. The lead researcher who worked on this segment invoked the cover of journalism to justify distancing themselves from our project.”

Besides being angry at having their debt forgiveness scheme copies without credit, The Debt Collective also slammed Oliver for eliminating debt without doing enough to advance broader leftist goals. The group said Last Week Tonight’s journalism justification doesn’t fly, because the show has repeatedly engaged in activism by touting specific policy changes, telling viewers to contact elected officials, and more.

“Apparently our activism–or our message–was beyond the pale,” the group said. “Apparently our position that NO ONE should have to go into debt to secure the basic necessities of life, and that any debt incurred to pay for health care or education is morally illegitimate is too radical for LWT.”

The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to HBO for comment, and received only a brief statement.

“The piece speaks for itself,” the show’s producers said.

Update: Last Week Tonight’s producers followed up with another statement Tuesday afternoon, offering further defense of their approach.

“As we do for every show, we spoke to dozens of people and groups for Sunday’s segment,” they said. “For the ending giveaway, we spoke to an array of experts, three outside law firms, and non-profits specializing in debt forgiveness, including the one we referenced in the piece itself and the Debt Collective’s affiliate Rolling Jubilee. We’re happy to acknowledge the helpful advice Rolling Jubilee provided us—which is why we made a point of giving them on-screen credit, along with our other advisers, at the end of Sunday night’s show —and we’re happy to thank them again now.”

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