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Article

John Oliver responds to accusations 'Last Week Tonight' copied debt-forgiveness stunt

UPDATED: ‘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’

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Eric Liebowitz/HBO

UPDATED: Last Week Tonight host John Oliver and his production team has responded to claims made by the Debt Collective that the popular HBO series borrowed its works and ideas for a segment on debt forgiveness, but defaulted on giving proper acknowledgment.

“As we do for every show, we spoke to dozens of people and groups for Sunday’s segment. 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,” representatives for Last Week Tonight said in a statement provided to EW. “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.”

On Sunday night, Oliver aired a segment that ended with the host purchasing and forgiving nearly $15 million of medical debt — granting relief to some 9,000 people. In a statement released by the Debt Collective on Monday, however, it was alleged that a researcher for Oliver’s HBO show first contacted the group eight months ago to ask about its project of buying and canceling debt, which ran from 2012 to 2015 and erased more than $30 million in medical and tuition debt.

“We spent hours on the phone and email with [Last Week Tonight] explaining how we did our work and connecting them to other experts and resources,” the statement read.

At the 11th hour, the group says, the LWT researcher said the show’s makers “did not want to associate themselves with the work of the Rolling Jubilee due to its roots in Occupy Wall Street. 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.”

According to the statement, the Debt Collective found the explanation “ironic given that the show has expressly claimed not to be doing journalism.”

Watch Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment above.

This post has been updated since it was first posted to include a statement from HBO.