This past weekend on John Oliver's Last Week Tonight, he took on the issue of "coal" and some politicians' obsession with coal jobs as the only true "American" jobs. The whole segment is interesting, but obviously not the kind of thing we'd normally write up. What we do frequently write about, however, is censorious threats, often from wealthy execs, designed to try to silence people from commenting on issues regarding those doing the threatening. And, it appears that's exactly what happened with coal exec Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, when he found out that John Oliver was doing a segment that included some bits about Murray.
I recommend watching the whole thing, but the parts about Murray include a brief bit around 4:45 in the video and then a much longer section starting around 12:30 in the video, where Oliver notes:
I'm going to need to be careful here, because when we contacted Murray Energy for this piece, they sent us a letter instructing us to "cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass, or otherwise injure Mr. Murray or Murray Energy" and telling us that "failure to do so will result in immediate litigation..."
Oliver notes that this is the first cease & desist his show has received (which he agrees is incredible). Oliver also points out that Murray has, in fact, been known to follow through on these threats -- suing the NY Times, a contributor to the Huffington Post and more. Many of these lawsuits appear to be fairly classic SLAPP suits, in which the lawsuits against reporters and journalism outfits are designed to try to silence them. Thankfully, Oliver and HBO have good lawyers who clearly know Oliver's rights to talk about, criticize and satirize Murray -- and Oliver then spends the next ten or so minutes doing so (hilariously), even to the point of involving a talking squirrel (you need to watch it yourself to understand why it makes sense). He also notes this at the end:
Bob Murray, I didn't really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kinda forced my hand on that one. And I know you're probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said.
Kudos to Oliver for taking a principled stand here for free speech on an important issue. Of course, Oliver has HBO and its lawyers to back him up, but it sure would be a hell of a lot easier if we had strong anti-SLAPP laws to protect him. So, once again, this is why we need a strong federal anti-SLAPP law, not to mention better state-level anti-SLAPP laws. Bob Murray appears to be based in Ohio, which (lucky him) appears to have no anti-SLAPP law, while I believe John Oliver is in NY, which has an incredibly weak anti-SLAPP law.
Perhaps, sometime soon, John Oliver can take on the need for stronger anti-SLAPP laws.