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ACLU files sassy brief in support of John Oliver

Pictured: The squirrel that launched a lawsuit. Oh, and John Oliver (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/HBO)

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver earned the wrath of coal magnate Bob Murray back in June with a piece about the coal industry’s (and the president’s) disingenuous rhetoric about how to keep mining jobs alive in this cruel, not-quite-solar-powered world. The Murray Energy Corp CEO sent Oliver and his staff a cease-and-desist letter in an attempt to keep the June 18 episode from airing, which only earned him a giant squirrel’s disdain. So Murray doubled down and filed a defamation lawsuit against the show, the host, the premium-cable network, and the parent company, Time Warner. Oliver and HBO both seem prepared for the legal fight, with the outlet declaring its “confidence in the staff of Last Week Tonight,” while refuting that “anything in the show [on June 18] violated Mr. Murray’s or Murray Energy’s rights.”

Although the matter is far from settled, the defendants just got a bit of a boost from an amicus brief filed by the ACLU of West Virginia. The Hollywood Reporter’s obtained the document, which was filed Tuesday on behalf of HBO, Oliver, and about a dozen Does, i.e., unnamed defendants. In addition to the usual legalese, the brief takes some swipes at Murray, who’s presumably never read a story about his company’s collapsed mines without his lawyers in the room, ready to file suit. The ACLU cites the many legal actions Murray Energy’s taken against various media outlets, and comes to the conclusion that this case is “about Plaintiff Robert E. (“Bob”) Murray not liking a television program and somehow believing that is a legally actionable offense.”


The brief describes Murray and his company’s attempts to “chill protected speech and silence the marketplace of ideas,” while repeatedly addressing Murray as “Bob” throughout, including in the article titled “Anyone can legally say ‘Eat shit, Bob!’” The ACLU admonishes the coal CEO—”You Can’t Sue People For Being Mean To You, Bob”—while meticulously making the case for the defendants’ freedom of speech. There are also side-by-side images of Dr. Evil and Murray, to demonstrate why that comparison was made. But humorous jabs aside, the ACLU’s brief frames all of Murray’s pearl clutching as intolerance for even a whiff of bad press, as well as asks for sanctions against the plaintiff for having the gall to request a temporary restraining order against the show. After reading the whole thing over, we can only assume Murray’s counsel responded to their client’s inquiries about his chances in the court of public opinion with some classic Pete Campbell.

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