On the latest episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver wants to have a word about lawsuits. You know, lawsuits, “the reason that the sentence ‘Greta Thunberg allegedly killed Jeffrey Epstein’ has the word ‘allegedly‘ in it,” the comedian explained.
The reason lawsuits were on Oliver’s mind is because the suit coal tycoon Bob Murray had filed against him had been dropped, and according to Oliver, “It’s a crazy story.” As you may recall, Murray had sued Last Week Tonight over a 2017 segment in which they joked that he looked like “a geriatric Dr. Evil” — “which we did and he does,” Oliver doubled down — and that the show arranged “for a staff member to dress up in a squirrel costume and deliver the message, ‘Eat sh**, Bob,‘” which they also did.
In addition to seeking a giant sum of money, the lawsuit also sought a gag order to prevent the network from rebroadcasting the show or having the episode available online. The case was initially dismissed, but Murray appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. In a surprise twist, one of the judges set to hear the case was Allen Loughry, whom Oliver happened to have skewered in a 2015 episode of his show. But luckily for Oliver, Loughry, along with three other state Supreme Court justices, were impeached over inappropriate spending and never heard the case. Murray later offered to drop the suit, which Oliver notes was just around the same time that Murray’s coal company, Murray Energy, was reorganizing into bankruptcy. Although the suit was dropped, Oliver noted that the lawsuit ended up costing over $200,000 in legal fees and resulted in a tripling of the show’s libel insurance premiums.
Oliver told the audience that he believes “winning the case was never really [Murray’s] goal.” Instead, it was a so-called SLAPP suit, with SLAPP being an acronym for a “strategic lawsuit against public participation;” in other words, a lawsuit intended to punish and intimidate critics. “The whole point is to put the defendant through a difficult, painful experience,” Oliver said. Such suits can be used as a scare tactic to silence journalists as well as citizen activists.
SLAPP suits are a scourge, according to Oliver, so 30 states have anti-SLAPP laws that require plaintiffs to justify their claims early on, and if they can’t, suits are dropped and defendants can be awarded attorneys’ fees. “Unfortunately, 20 states don’t have those laws,” Oliver said, including West Virginia, which is where Murray sued Oliver, despite the fact that neither of them live there. “Lawsuits like his make people think twice before reporting on his business or pointing things out like the fact that Bob Murray’s general facial expression answers the question, ‘What would it look like if an egg was mentally undressing you?” Oliver joked.
As the Last Week Tonight team was researching Murray again, they uncovered what they believe are serious allegations of sexual misconduct against Murray. Murray denies the allegations, and Oliver admits that by airing them Murray will most likely sue them again, but they felt it was in the public interest to do it anyway.
“Here we go again,” said Oliver. “It is yet another Bob Murray attempt to bully people into silence and he has been doing this for decades. I will stand behind our first piece and I will stand behind this one.”
Since Murray was most likely already going to sue the show, Oliver decided to go out in a blaze of glory. Specifically, with an outrageously bawdy, hilarious song filled with lewd jibes at the coal boss. And yes, there was a giant squirrel involved once again.