HBO, John Oliver Sued by Energy Company Over Segment on Coal Mining

John Oliver- Studio shot at desk  - Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of HBO

HBO has been hauled into court over a June 18 broadcast of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, which covered President Donald Trump's generous treatment of the coal industry. The plaintiff in the defamation case is conservative coal baron Robert Murray, Murray Energy and other associated coal companies.

In a complaint filed in West Virginia Circuit Court, first obtained by The Daily Beast, Murray alleges his reputation was harmed when Oliver stated that there was no evidence an earthquake caused a deadly 2007 mine collapse and implied that Murray had lied about it. The lawsuit also cites alleged implications that Murray Energy sacrifices safety and the health of its employees for profits and takes issue with the refusal of Last Week Tonight to regard information supplied or pointed out by Murray.

Then, there's the humor.

"Instead," reads the complaint (read here), "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."

This is a dangerous time for media companies to poke at corporate interests. Murray's lawsuit was filed as ABC is engaged in a $5.7 billion trial in South Dakota for calling a company's beef product "pink slime." ABC is being represented by attorneys who previously handled for HBO — and won — a 2015 trial over a Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel report alleged to have tarnished a company that used child labor in India to stitch soccer balls.

A spokesperson for HBO told The Daily Beast, "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."

Murray has been legally aggressive against media companies. He is presently suing The New York Times over an editorial that discussed the deadly mine collapse and engaged in an important case with Reorg Research over the identity of anonymous sources informing a report about collective bargaining and negotiations with debt holders.

The latest lawsuit talks about how Oliver created a "villainous" portrait of Murray, 77, who "needs a lung transplant" and who "does not expect to live to see the end of this case."

According to the complaint, "this callous, vicious, and false attack upon Mr. Murray and his companies was Defendants' most recent attempt to advance their biases against the coal industry and their disdain for the coal-related policies of the Trump Administration."