Last Week Tonight won a big victory over the coal industry last week when a West Virginia court declared that host John Oliver has a First Amendment right to call coal king Robert Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil” and use a giant squirrel named Mr. Nutterbutter to ridicule his Murray Energy Corporation.
In a segment on his satiric news show, Oliver slammed Murray, alleging that a mining accident that killed nine people was partially the result of improper practices, not an earthquake as Murray’s company had claimed. He also had a giant squirrel write a check telling him to, “Eat shit, Bob!” After the segment aired, Oliver knew that the notoriously litigious Murray was likely to sue. “I know you’re probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said,” he said on the show. Murray couldn’t resist the bait, apparently, and did indeed sue. He filed a defamation suit in West Virginia against Oliver, HBO, and Time Warner, calling the segment a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of the coal baron and his business.
Judge Jeffrey Cramer of West Virginia’s second judicial circuit dismissed the suit. In the eyes of the court, calling Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil” couldn’t be proven true or false, as it was satire and thus protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Murray Energy told The Hill it planned to appeal, so for now re-visit the delight of Oliver and a giant squirrel teasing a coal baron.