Brow Beat

A Coal Baron Is Suing John Oliver for “Character Assassination” Over Last Week Tonight’s Talking Squirrel Segment

The defendants.

Via YouTube

On Sunday, John Oliver predicted that his Last Week Tonight segment on the coal industry would probably result in a lawsuit, and voilà: His Last Week Tonight segment on the coal industry has resulted in a lawsuit. Robert Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, is suing Oliver and others after Oliver used Murray as an example of “the divide that can exist between a coal company’s interests and those of its workers” during Sunday night’s show.

During the segment, which was critical of the coal industry and Donald Trump’s promises to revive it, Oliver explained that Last Week Tonight had contacted Murray Energy for comment—and received the show’s first ever cease-and-desist letter in reply. In response, Oliver doubled down on criticism of Murray and his company, even seizing on a satirical article in the United Mine Workers of America journal, which attributed Murray’s inspiration to a conversation he held with a squirrel—yes, a squirrel. (Murray Energy denies this.) At the very end of the segment, Oliver brought out a giant talking squirrel of his own. “Hey, Bob! Just wanted to say, if you plan on suing, I do not have a billion dollars,” said the aptly named Mr. Nutterbutter. “But I do have a check for three acorns and 18 cents.” The check was then revealed to be made out to “Eat Shit, Bob!”

Murray Energy is now making good on its threat to sue, filing a defamation lawsuit that stresses Murray’s ill health, calling him “a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case” and claiming that Oliver’s segment has been detrimental to both his business and his physical condition. While the meat of the lawsuit regards Oliver’s claims about the collapse of the Crandall Canyon Mine in 2007—Murray claims it was the result of an earthquake, Oliver says there’s no evidence to support that claim—fans of general absurdity will be thrilled to learn that this legal document also addresses that very important squirrel incident.

51. Instead, Defendants continued their ruthless character assassination and attack on Plaintiffs’ business reputations by describing Mr. Murray as someone who “looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil” and arranging for a staff member to dress up in a squirrel costume and deliver the message “Eat Shit, Bob!” to Mr. Murray.

52. If that were not enough, after the live taping, Defendant Oliver exclaimed to the audience that having someone in a squirrel costume tell Mr. Murray to “Eat Shit” was a “dream come true.”

The suit also alleges that Murray Energy’s website was “hacked and inundated with the message incited by Defendants: ‘Eat Shit Bob.’ ”

Murray Energy has a long track record of suing outlets critical of the coal industry. The company is currently suing the New York Times over claims similar to Oliver’s (minus the squirrel part, of course). In addition to naming Oliver, his production company, and Time Warner, Inc., the lawsuit also names a number of fictitious defendants, who are basically participants that the plaintiffs can’t immediately identify. In this case, these could conceivably include the segment’s writers, or even Mr. Nutterbutter himself.

HBO is standing by the segment, with a representative telling the Daily Beast, which first reported the lawsuit: “While we have not seen the complaint, we have confidence in the staff of Last Week Tonight and do not believe anything in the show this week violated Mr. Murray’s or Murray Energy’s rights.”