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.
Oliver pointed all this out in a monologue he did in his show about Murray after receiving a cease and desist letter from Murray Energy. According to Oliver, it was the first cease and desist letter the show has ever received, and rather than shut up about Murray, Oliver took the opposite approach and made Murray the focus of his monologue. Towards the end, he said he hadn’t even planned on Murray playing such a large role in that section of his show, but he told Murray, “you forced my hand.”
In his monologue, Oliver made comparisons between Murray and Dr. Evil, the fictional villain from the “Austin Powers” movies.
The monologue ended with a giant squirrel coming on stage and presenting a check for “three acorns and eighteen cents” to “Eat My Sh*t, Bob.”
Murray sued for defamation, citing the reference to Dr. Evil, as well as the giant squirrel and his check.
In addition to HBO and Time Warner both saying they would stand by Oliver, the West Virginia A.C.L.U. responded with an amicus brief in Oliver’s defense. The brief included section titles such as “You Can’t Sue People For Being Mean To You.”
It’s worth noting that, in the same monologue to which Murray took so much offense, Oliver also made at least as much fun of Donald Trump, of whom Murray is a big supporter. Oliver poked fun of Trump’s miming of how he thinks mining works, pointing out Trump has likely never done a day of hard labor in his life and has no idea what the life of a miner is actually like. He then went on to point out how Trump’s policies are actually harming miners and other workers, despite the administration’s claims to the contrary.
Whether Murray was offended only by the personal attacks against him, or equally upset by the negative portrayal of the candidate he so heavily supported, is unclear. The A.C.L.U.’s amicus brief using satire makes the point that urray doesn’t like those who disagree with him as much as he doesn’t like being made the butt of jokes.
The brief is an articulate, and well-reasoned but also employs the same humor as Oliver to mock Murray and what the ACLU effective portrays as his attack on First Amendment rights. You can view the brief here.
Our Schaumburg libel and slander lawyers concentrate in this area of the law. We have defended or prosecuted a number of defamation and libel cases, including cases representing a consumer sued by a large luxury used car dealer in federal court for hundreds of negative internet reviews and videos which resulted in substantial media coverage of the suit; one of Loyola University’s largest contributors when the head basketball coach sued him for libel after he was fired; and a lawyer who was falsely accused of committing fraud with the false allegation published to the Dean of the University of Illinois School of Law, where the lawyer attended law school and the President of the University of Illinois. One of our partners also participated in representing a high profile athlete against a well-known radio shock jock.
Our Chicago defamation attorneys defend individuals’ First Amendment and free speech rights to post on Facebook, Yelp and other websites information that criticizes businesses and addresses matters of public concern. Our Chicago Cybersquatting attorneys also represent and prosecute claims on behalf of businesses throughout the Chicago area including in Glen Ellyn and Hinsdale who have been unfairly and falsely criticized by consumers and competitors in defamatory publications in the online and offline media. We have successfully represented businesses who have been the victim of competitors setting up false rating sites and pretend consumer rating sites that are simply forums to falsely bash or business clients. We have also represented and defended consumers First Amendment and free speech rights to criticize businesses who are guilty of consumer fraud and false advertising.
Super Lawyers named Chicago and Oak Brook business trial attorney Peter Lubin a Super Lawyer in the Categories of Class Action, Business Litigation, and Consumer Rights Litigation. Lubin Austermuehle’s Oak Brook and Chicago business trial lawyers have over thirty years of experience in litigating complex class action, consumer rights, and business and commercial litigation disputes. We handle emergency business law suits involving injunctions, and TROS, defamation, libel, and covenant not to compete, franchise, distributor and dealer wrongful termination and trade secret lawsuits and many different kinds of business disputes involving shareholders, partnerships, closely held businesses and employee breaches of fiduciary duty. We also assist businesses and business owners who are victims of fraud or defamatory attacks on their business and reputations.
Lubin Austermuehle’s DuPage County defamation and slander lawyers near Barrington and Park Ridge have more than three decades of experience helping business clients unravel the complexities of Illinois and out-of-state business laws. Our Chicago business, commercial, class-action, and consumer litigation lawyers represent individuals, family businesses and enterprises of all sizes in a variety of legal disputes, including disputes among partners and shareholders as well as lawsuits between businesses and consumer rights, auto fraud, and wage claim individual and class action cases. In every case, our goal is to resolve disputes as quickly and successfully as possible, helping business clients protect their investments and get back to business as usual. From offices in Oak Brook, near Wheaton and Naperville, we serve clients throughout Illinois and the Midwest.
If you are the victim of a defamatory attack on your business or a consumer who has been sued to stop you from posting criticism of a business online at Yelp or anywhere else, contact one of our Oak Brook and Chicago defamation lawyers for a free consultation at 630-333-0333 or online by filling out our contact us form.