John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, has been accused of stealing the idea of “debt-buying” from another organization and using it on his show.
Oliver’s show was the talk of water cooler conversationalists across the country after his Sunday night show, when he purchased and erased the debt of 9,000 Texans, MEDIAite reported on Tuesday. During the show, Oliver announced he had created a debt-buying company and had purchased $15 million worth of debt for these Texans – and then forgiven it.
Here’s our piece on the Debt Buying industry from last night. Your move, Oprah… https://t.co/yhZfbCuY5f
— John Oliver (@iamjohnoliver) June 6, 2016
Oliver purchased $14.9 million in medical debt for just under $60,000, the New York Times reported.
While that is great news if you are one of the 9,000 people lucky enough to have had their debt erased by Oliver’s new company, it is not so great if you are the owner of a company that had allegedly been negotiating with the show to put their company on the air.
In a blog post on its website Monday, debtor advocacy organization The Debt Collective claimed that Charles Wilson, a researcher for Oliver’s HBO program, had contacted the organization eight months ago to inquire about their debt purchasing-forgiveness program, entitled Rolling Jubilee.
“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,” the group wrote. “We spent hours on the phone and email with them explaining how we did our work and connecting them to other experts and resources.”
Then suddenly, all communications stopped, the group claims.
“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,” Debt Collective wrote. “Instead, John Oliver framed the debt buy as his idea: a giveaway to compete with Oprah.”
According to the group’s website, “The Debt Collective is a new membership organization that leverages collective power by offering debtors a shared platform for organization, advocacy, and direct action. Alone, our debts are a burden; together, they make us powerful.”
Strike Debt, the organization heading up the Rolling Jubilee project, says it is a “nationwide movement of debt resisters fighting for economic justice and democratic freedom.
Rolling Jubilee says it has eliminated nearly $32 million in debt. They call the movement “a bailout of the people, by the people.”
The website states that Strike Debt is an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
For its part, the producers of Last Week Tonight issued a statement acknowledging the contribution of Rolling Jubilee, and said the organization had been credited in the program’s end credits.
“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,” the show’s producers said.
Still, the group was upset that it was not featured more prominently in Sunday night’s episode.
“Whether LWT obscured the work of the Rolling Jubilee because it disagrees with our politics or wants to avoid inconvenience of having to acknowledge influence, we are disappointed,” the group wrote on its site. “While we are happy that attention is being focused on the destructive nature of the debt collection industry, we ultimately believe that the only solution is for debtors to join together to challenge the underlying economic system that puts people in debt in the first place.