When John Oliver spoofed West Virginia coal magnate Bob Murray he was following in a tradition in our country that pre-dates the founding fathers. Embedded in our constitution is the right to criticize public figures on important. Lawsuits shouldn’t be used as a weapon to quash such speech. Below is a photograph from a recent West Virginia ACLU brief attacking Murray for his use of allegedly frivolous libel lawsuits as part of a long running campaign to quash media criticism of him.
The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was specifically designed to allow for the free and open discussion of public figures – notably politicians, but all public figures (celebrities, entertainers, influencers, etc.) are subject to a certain amount of public scrutiny.
Because the law recognizes that talk can do real damage, defamation is still a punishable offense, but it’s the responsibility of the plaintiff to prove the statement was false, the person/entity making the statement knew it was false at the time the statement was made/published, and that the plaintiff suffered actual damages as a direct result.
That’s a lot to prove, and yet many public figures continue to file often baseless defamation lawsuits for large amounts of money, apparently just in the hopes of getting the other side to shut up.
Bob Murray, who owns Murray Energy Corp., a coal company, has responded to a monologue John Oliver did on his show, Last Week Tonight, by suing Oliver, his writers, HBO, and Time Warner. Although the company insisted it does not file anti-speech lawsuits, Oliver pointed out on his show that, in addition to suing large media corporations, such as The New York Times, Murray Energy has also sued local newspapers, such as the Akron Beacon Journal, for as much as $1 billion. Continue reading