The CEO of the nation’s largest coal company on Thursday filed a defamation suit against comedian and HBO star John Oliver, claiming the “Last Week Tonight” host “demeaned and disparaged” him, his miners, and the entire coal industry during a segment that aired last Sunday.
In the segment, Mr. Oliver — who in the past has taken on the oil industry and vehemently opposed President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. from the Paris climate accord — critiqued the coal sector as a whole and specifically took aim at Robert Murray, a 77-year-old former miner and the country’s most vocal coal champion.
“An honest conversation about coal and its miners needs to be had,” Mr. Oliver said during the segment, before going on to question the way Murray Energy responded to a 2007 mine collapse that killed six miners.
Expecting a lawsuit, Mr. Oliver closed the segment by holding up a fake check that read “Eat sh*t Bob!” and included the phrase “kiss my ass” in the memo.
The HBO host also referred to Mr. Murray as a “geriatric Dr. Evil,” and more broadly questioned whether Mr. Trump had made false promises to revive the coal industry during his 2016 presidential campaign.
In its lawsuit, Murray Energy charged that the segment was both unfair to the coal industry and hurtful to Mr. Murray, whose health is declining.
“They did this to a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case. They attacked him in a forum in which he had no opportunity to defend himself, and so he has brought this suit to try to set the record straight,” reads the lawsuit, filed in Marshall County, West Virginia, court.
“Worse yet, Defendants employed techniques designed solely to harass and embarrass plaintiffs, including Mr. Murray, a seventy-seven year-od citizen in ill health and dependent on an oxygen tank for survival,” the suit continues, “who, despite the foregoing, continuously devoted his life, including by working seven days each week, to save the jobs and better the lives of the thousands of coal miners that he employs in West Virginia and elsewhere.”
The company specifically cited Mr. Oliver’s “jokes about Mr. Murray’s health, and appearance,” and how the comedian “made light of a tragic mining incident” as reasons for the legal challenge. It also said that the segment may have “incited” viewers to do harm to Mr. Murray.
In response, an HBO spokesperson told USA Today that the company does “not believe anything in the show this week violated Mr. Murray’s or Murray Energy’s rights.”
Mr. Murray wants financial damages from HBO and a court order preventing any rebroadcasts of the segment, which has already racked up millions of views on YouTube and elsewhere.
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