I have two items about this inedible defamation lawsuit coal magnate Bob Murray brought against John Oliver. The first is from the ACLU, which filed an amicus brief in support of Oliver. The brief is brilliantly funny.
And then Kevin Underhill, at his LoweringtheBar, picked up the story and wrote his own brilliantly funny piece about the brilliantly funny ACLU brief.
You’ll love it and will laugh a lot:
A category entitled “Asking for It” might be a good idea, or maybe a “Streisand Effect” sub-category of Free Speech. Those come to mind when thinking about Marshall County Coal Co., et al., but really just Robert E. Murray v. John Oliver, which coal executive Bob Murray filed after Oliver made fun of him on the June 18 episode of Last Week Tonight. Murray accused Oliver, his producers, and HBO of defamation, and even demanded a temporary restraining order preventing further dissemination of Oliver’s statements.
Is that going to work? Nope. Is it going to have the opposite effect? Yep.
On July 21, HBO (represented by Williams & Connelly) filed an excellent brief opposing the TRO request. Is it funny? Well, kind of, but there aren’t that many opportunities for intentional humor in legal briefing, I’m sorry to say. Amicus briefs are a different story, though, and the brief the ACLU filed this week in support of Oliver et al. is pretty great.
To be honest, any brief that includes a heading like, “Anyone Can Legally Say ‘Eat Shit, Bob!’” is going to get a good review from me. Doesn’t really matter what else it says. But it’s a great brief overall.
Kevin gives you the link to the John Oliver segment. Then he goes on:
In general, the episode was about the coal industry, the challenges it’s been facing, Donald Trump’s claims that he just loves coal miners, and some things that, according to Oliver, suggest that perhaps Trump and/or coal-company executives do not always make miners’ best interests a top priority. Murray was just one of the executives mentioned, but he ended up being featured, Oliver said, because a request for comment yielded only a threatening cease-and-desist letter. This meant the episode was even less flattering to Murray than it might have been.
For example, “Eat shit, Bob,” was not a phrase Oliver coined. According to him, it was a phrase one of Murray’s employees wrote on a $3 “bonus check” he sent back because he was insulted by it. Oliver also said that Murray continues to blame a deadly 2007 mine collapse on an “earthquake,” though a report by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration found there was no evidence of that and blamed it instead on “unauthorized mining practices.”
Oliver also suggested that Murray “looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil,” and had a giant squirrel named “Mr. Nutterbutter” come on the show to insult him. (The episode explains that one.)
Again, as an amicus, and as the ACLU, the ACLU was willing to go further, and it offered plenty of good quotes in its brief. “This case is about [Bob] Murray not liking a television program and somehow believing that is a legally actionable offense,” for example, is a pretty good summary.
“And with regard to the Dr. Evil remark,” the brief notes at page seven, “it should be remembered that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of defamation.”
And the end:
The case is “beyond meritless,” the ACLU charges (which is not technically possible, but that’s being picky). Or, put another way, “[i]t is apt that one of Plaintiffs’ objections … is about a human-sized squirrel named Mr. Nutterbutter, because this case is nuts.” Finally, it asks the court to sanction Murray et al. for filing yet another a bogus case.
“John Oliver was mean to you, Bob,” the brief concludes. “So what?” Also a pretty good summary of the case.