Remember when HBO got sued because John Oliver and a giant talking squirrel told a coal baron to “eat shit”? It’s been almost two years since a judge ruled that Oliver did in fact have the right to criticize Bob Murray over his handling of the 2007 Crandall Canyon Mine collapse—and to hire someone to dress up as “Mr. Nutterbutter” to tell him off. But as Oliver revealed on Sunday, the case was dragged out on appeal until just recently. Now that it’s finally resolved (at least for the moment) Last Week Tonight celebrated in the most Last Week Tonight way possible: with an instructive segment about SLAPP lawsuits, which abuse the legal system to intimidate journalists, activists, comedians, rodents, and other critics.
Oliver dished on the details of the Murray case, explaining the strategy behind filing the suit in West Virginia, a state with more lax protections against SLAPP suits, and revealing that one of the justices involved actually appeared in a different Last Week Tonight segment in a less-than-flattering context. (“As far as things to say about a judge before he makes a ruling on your case goes, claiming that he calls his penis the gavel was maybe not the best choice.”) Oliver also strongly doubled down on his criticism of Murray during the new segment, unearthing disturbing accusations of sexual harassment against him—which Murray denies—and speculating that the subsequent lawsuits haven’t received much coverage in the press precisely because Murray is so litigious.
According to Oliver, the case involving Mr. Nutterbutter cost a whopping $200,000 in legal fees despite HBO winning in the end. “Even though our insurance covered part of it, and we were lucky that HBO stood by us, this lawsuit is infuriating, took up a lot of time and resources, and resulted in a tripling of our libel insurance premiums,” Oliver said, calling for stronger anti-SLAPP laws nationwide and reiterating his faith in both of Last Week Tonight’s segments about Murray. “I know that after tonight Murray will probably sue us again, even though everything I’ve said has been rigorously vetted by our lawyers.”
Lest you think that Oliver’s impassioned speech standing up for all the small outlets and independent activists bullied into silence by SLAPP lawsuits means that Last Week Tonight has matured even a little bit, Oliver then led an elaborate musical number featuring multiple talking—and singing—squirrels with a very important message for Murray.