The ACLU Proves Themselves Masters of Savage Snark (While Simultaneously Protecting American Liberties)

"You can't sue people for being mean to you, Bob."


Earlier this summer, John Oliver dedicated a long segment of Last Week Tonight to the coal industry. During his campaign (and after he took office), Trump often promised to revive the industry, and blamed Democrats for its decline. Coal company CEOs, too, often blame dems for wanting to focus on green energy jobs at the expense of coal miners.

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But as Oliver explored in his deep dive, coal, coal miners, and coal companies are often conflated into one entity, with the expectation that if you help one, you help them all. And that’s simply not true. When Trump says he “loves miners,” what he obviously means, as he’s made clear through his actions, is that he loves mine CEOs. CEOs like Bob Murray, who seems to be doing more to hurt actual miners than solar power ever could.

Oliver knew what he was getting into when he took on the famously litigious Murray. The show received a cease and desist letter while putting the episode together, and after they chose to do neither, Murray sued the show for defamation. Oliver and HBO both stood by the episode, and said nothing in the episode violated Bob Murray’s rights. Not even calling him a “geriatric Dr. Evil” or claiming he’s on the same side of this fight as black lung. And now the ACLU of West Virginia has filed an amicus brief in defense of Oliver, seconding that sentiment.

Now, when I say the ACLU filed a legal brief, you might not think that’s a document you’d need to read. I promise you, you’d be wrong. The whole thing (available here) is deliciously scathing. Just check out some of these article titles:

–A Brief History of Plaintiffs’ Attempts to Chill Speech by Abusing the Legal System.

–Anyone Can Legally Say “Eat Shit, Bob!”

–Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order is Ridiculous. Courts Can’t Tell Media Companies How to Report, Bob.

–You Can’t Sue People for Being Mean to You, Bob.

As the brief describes it, “This case is about Plaintiff Robert E. (‘Bob’) Murray not liking a television program and somehow believing that is a legally actionable offense … Apparently because Plaintiffs’ delicate sensibilities were offended, they clutched their pearls and filed this suit.”

Other notable burns include a side-by-side comparison of Murray and Dr. Evil and the observation that “Bob Murray’s favorite hobby is suing and/or threatening to sue people for making political statements he disagrees with” because the fact that you can’t sue a television show just because you don’t like it “is apparently a difficult concept for Plaintiffs to grasp.”

Oh, and were you worried that maybe the ACLU didn’t make any puns? Rest easy. They wrote, “It is apt that one of Plaintiffs’ objections to the show is about a human-sized squirrell named Mr. Nutterbutter, because this case is nuts.”

In all seriousness, the ACLU-WV knows the weight of this case, of a powerful, wealthy man trying to erode the media’s freedom of speech.

“Although this brief pokes fun at the absurdity of this case,” it reads, “the legal issues raised by it are anything but comical. This lawsuit, and Plaintiffs’ frequent attempts to use our legal system to chill speech, threaten the fundamental right of the media to criticize public figures and speak candidly on matters of public concern. Speech on a matter of public concern ‘occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to speech protection.'”

On their website, the ACLU-WV explains why they’ve filed the brief. (For the unfamiliar, an amicus brief is filed by a party not directly involved in a case, but with relevant knowledge.)

“We have a strong interest in this case. Freedom of speech should always be defended, and with the context of a White House administration that routinely undermines the press in alarming ways, we feel a particular urgency to repel attacks on First Amendment rights. John Oliver is free to insult Murray no matter how much Murray dislikes it. We are eager to help defend these freedoms by filing this brief.”

How do we think Bob Murray is feeling right now?

(via ACLU-WV, image: screengrab)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.