A U.S. coal company is firing back at John Oliver after the Last Week Tonight host slammed its CEO in a June 18 show.
On Wednesday, Murray Energy filed suit against Oliver, HBO, and Time Warner for defamation. The lawsuit accuses Oliver of hosting a “false and malicious broadcast” and of carrying out a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Bob Murray, the Ohio company’s chief executive.
Oliver’s show also skewered President Trump’s pro-coal platform and promises to revive the long-suffering industry. The Trump administration has made a big spectacle in recent months of championing coal while sidelining efforts to address climate change.
President Trump and Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, have often invited hardhat-wearing miners on stage to celebrate the rollback of key federal regulations including orders to reduce carbon emissions and toxic air pollution from coal plants and limit water contamination from surface mining operations.
Like Trump and Pruitt, Murray has frequently accused the former Obama administration of waging a “war on coal” that’s led to steep losses in mining jobs and waning coal production. The 77-year-old magnate has blamed his industry’s troubles including widespread bankruptcies and mine closures on President Obama’s “evil agenda,” though energy experts say coal’s misfortunes have more to do with cheap natural gas.
On his HBO show, Oliver poked holes in Trump’s claims that his administration can erase the coal industry’s broader economic problems and revive thousands of jobs. He also stressed the serious, and sometimes fatal, harm that coal miners can face while in the mines including those owned by Murray Energy.
In 2007, safety lapses at Murray Energy’s Crandall Canyon mine in Utah resulted in the “needless deaths” of nine miners and rescuers, the U.S. Labor Department found. Federal regulators in 2015 accused Murray Energy of attempting to silence miners who filed confidential safety complaints to regulators.
The coal company in recent years also terminated health benefits including medical, prescription drug, and life insurance for hundreds of its employees, a decision it largely blamed on Obama-era policies.
Oliver, in his characteristically over the top way, called Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil” who is “on the same side as black lung.”
The talk-show host pointed to a satirical article in the United Mine Workers of America’s journal describing a squirrel hopping onto Murray’s porch and telling him, “You shouldn’t be operating your very own mines.” To drive home his point, Oliver brought out a person in a giant squirrel costume.
“Bob Murray, I didn’t really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kinda forced my hand on that one,” Oliver said.
He clearly anticipated the suit, saying: “And I know you’re probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said.”
Murray Energy took him up on that offer. The lawsuit, filed in a West Virginia circuit court, seeks financial damages and a court order barring rebroadcasts of the Last Week Tonight segment.
“The false and defamatory statements in this broadcast severely and destructively impact Mr. Murray, and all of Murray Energy … as well as coal mining itself,” Murray Energy said in a press release.
An HBO spokesman told the Associated Press that the show didn’t violate Murray Energy’s rights or those of Murray.