John Oliver Takes On SLAPP Suits And Anti-SLAPP Laws With A Grand Musical Number

from the eat-shit-bob dept

Ever since coal boss Bob Murray threatened and then sued John Oliver and HBO over their story mocking his supposed concern for coal miners, I've been publicly (and possibly privately*) bugging Oliver and his team at HBO to do an episode specifically about SLAPP lawsuits and anti-SLAPP laws. And I'm happy to say that they listened! This past Sunday, Oliver's big story was all about SLAPP suits and anti-SLAPP laws, and focused again on Bob Murray, who finally dropped his case against Oliver and HBO earlier this year. It is well worth watching all the way up until the end:

While most of the attention is obviously going to that fairly epic final musical number of insults directed at Bob Murray, I wanted to call out a few important points that were mentioned earlier in the piece that might have been passed over by some:

  • Oliver highlights the real chilling effects of SLAPP suits in a variety of ways, including a newspaper that deleted all its coverage of Murray despite winning a defamation lawsuit he filed against it for covering a protest against his companies, and the fact that there are two ongoing lawsuits involving claims of harassment by Murray of employees that have received almost no news coverage at all. The point of SLAPP suits is to create a chilling effect on people talking about things. And it works unfortunately often.
  • The stunning costs of these lawsuits. Oliver notes that their own lawsuit cost HBO over $200k in legal fees and resulted in a tripling of the show's insurance premiums, despite the fact they won the case easily. I note this in particular, because I've heard some people argue that we don't need anti-SLAPP laws (or, relatedly, Section 230) because "private insurance" can fix the problems by protecting companies. Except, as the Murray/Oliver case shows, that's not at all true.
  • How blatant these cases can be. Oliver mentions the fact that long after Trump sued reporter Tim O'Brien for $5 billion for reporting that Trump wasn't actually as wealthy as he claimed to be, Trump admitted he "did it to make his life miserable, which I'm happy about." Oliver also has a clip of the lawyer for a waste disposal company, GreenGroup, literally laughing about suing some people for $30 million, because they raised concerns about the storage of toxic coal ash on Facebook.
Obviously, Oliver's show is first and foremost a comedy show, though done in a way that educates people about important topics. So I can't fault the show for not including everything that would be useful to show. However, there were a couple of points that I wish were better covered in the piece (though I recognize it's difficult to get everything covered in the 25 minutes or so they had, and also to keep things funny). Among them:
  • The wide variance in quality of anti-SLAPP laws. To simplify matters, Oliver just mentioned that they vary in quality, but focused on states with anti-SLAPP laws vs. those without them at all. But the difference in individual states matters quite a lot as we've discussed many times in the past. There are reasons why Devin Nunes filed multiple lawsuits in Virginia despite California almost certainly being the proper venue for his SLAPP suits.
  • The importance of a federal anti-SLAPP law in addition to good state anti-SLAPP laws. Oliver briefly mentions the lack of a federal anti-SLAPP law but mostly in passing to describe why lawsuits can be filed almost anywhere (highlighting how Bob Murray sued him in West Virginia, despite Oliver being in New York and Murray being in Ohio). But a federal anti-SLAPP law also has some importance beyond jurisdiction shopping for better state laws -- including that some courts (incorrectly in my opinion) argue that state ant-SLAPP laws cannot apply in federal court, even in states with anti-SLAPP laws.
  • Also, that you might not always be happy with who anti-SLAPP laws protect. Indeed, while Oliver talked about President Trump wanting to open up our libel laws to file more SLAPP suits, it might have also been useful to highlight that Trump himself used Texas' anti-SLAPP law to get the defamation lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels tossed out.
I'll also admit to at least a tiny bit of surprise that Rep. Devin Nunes suing a satirical cow on Twitter didn't make the cut of cases for Oliver to mention, because it felt so deliciously perfect for Oliver to skewer.

Oh well, I guess there will always be time for Oliver to do a follow up show on SLAPP and anti-SLAPP In the future (sorry guys, not leaving you alone just yet!).

* In full disclosure, yes, I did spend a few hours across a few phone calls talking to people from Oliver's team after they reached out to me saying (I think, jokingly) that they were sick of me constantly writing about how they should do a show about SLAPPs. I have no idea if anything I said to them was even remotely useful but am thrilled to see them cover this issue.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, anti-slapp, bob murray, federal anti-slapp, free speech, intimidation, john oliver, slapp


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 11:04am

    I used to watch him on the daily show and he was on the Colbert report a few times. I wish I had more energy to stay awake to watch Oliver more often.

    Thanks for linking to his stuff. He's actually a lot funnier on his own show. Probably because he has more dedicated writers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 12 Nov 2019 @ 11:28am

    And don't forget...EAT SHIT BOB!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    timlash (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 11:39am

    Full Circle

    Saw this video last night. I should have suspected you had a hand in it Mike. Well done! Keep up the good work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Adam Bjornholm, 12 Nov 2019 @ 12:40pm

    Techdirt ahead of the times again

    I've been providing info about techdirt to anyone who has posted the Oliver piece online. Your anti-SLAPP coverage over the years has always been informative, keep up the good work, Mike!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    MO'B (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 1:50pm

    Just logged on to say...

    Eat shit Bob!

    and good work Mike! I think John does a decent job of trying to educate while keeping it funny too, which isn't easy. Too bad congress can't get their collective crap together to pass a Fed level anti-slap legislation, that should be bi-partisan enough to run the gauntlet. One would hope....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    JdL (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 2:10pm

    Oh right, Masnick

    John Oliver totally did this segment because YOU urged him to. I'm sure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 9:21pm

      Re: Oh right, Masnick

      Jealous much?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 13 Nov 2019 @ 12:31am

      Re: Oh right, Measles boy

      Hey bro. If your brain wasn’t ravaged by the swelling caused by a preventable disease, you would have the reading skills required to actually comprehend the article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 8:34am

      Re: Oh right, Masnick

      You may want to increase your reading comprehension skills.

      In full disclosure, yes, I did spend a few hours across a few phone calls talking to people from Oliver's team after they reached out to me saying (I think, jokingly) that they were sick of me constantly writing about how they should do a show about SLAPPs. I have no idea if anything I said to them was even remotely useful but am thrilled to see them cover this issue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Oh right, Masnick

      If you think that's what I said or implied or thought, then you should ask for a refund on whoever taught you reading comprehension.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 1:19am

      Re: Oh right, Masnick

      Why not? Apparently you think we beat smallpox because we urged the virus to fuck off, not because of vaccines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 12 Nov 2019 @ 2:11pm

    If Republicans are told democrats oppose anti-SLAPP laws, it will pass in record time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 2:34pm

    I'll also admit to at least a tiny bit of surprise that Rep. Devin Nunes suing a satirical cow on Twitter didn't make the cut of cases for Oliver to mention, because it felt so deliciously perfect for Oliver to skewer.

    Dons tin foil hat

    They didn't mention it because the show or someone affiliated with it IS the cow twitter account.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Nov 2019 @ 5:57pm

    Insurance should not be the answer to all lawsuits, particularly SLAPP lawsuits. Just like it shouldn't be the answer to ransomware, data leaks and human stupidity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 12 Nov 2019 @ 7:41pm

      Re:

      'People are weaponizing the court system to silence people that say things they don't like.'

      'No problem, we'll just add in an insurance system to cover lawsuits like that.'

      That's not just 'solving' the wrong problem, it's adding problems, as it means that those that cannot afford such insurance are left facing SLAPP suits that stand to bankrupt them, whereas those with money don't have to worry as much.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        bhull242 (profile), 13 Nov 2019 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re:

        The idea of litigation insurance just seems silly to me. IMO, any civil lawsuit targeting speech should have a fee-shifting provision for when the plaintiff fails.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          CrushU (profile), 19 Nov 2019 @ 10:50am

          Re: Re: Re:

          A youtube channel run by a lawyer, LegalEagle put out a video analyzing Oliver's segment. He also stated that having fee-shifting would help discourage these SLAPP suits, stating that the American Rule that each side always pays their own legal costs, is different from the British Rule where the loser will always pay the legal fees of the winner.

          But, on the other hand, that's part of the point of some of the Anti-SLAPP laws, that they allow this fee-shifting.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 1:23am

    Eat Devine Nunes' Cowshit, Bob.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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