Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corp., a mining company based in St. Clairsville, Ohio, filed a defamation lawsuit against John Oliver, the writers of Oliver’s show Last Week Tonight, HBO and Time Warner on Wednesday.
The legal action followed Sunday’s episode of Last Week Tonight, which focused on the struggles of the coal industry and pointed out Murray and his mining company for failing to protect the safety of his miners after one of his mines in Utah collapsed in 2007, killing six miners and three rescue workers.
Oliver’s segment was also based on how he believes U.S. President Donald Trump has misled much of his voter base about bringing back jobs. He discussed ways Murray often mistreated his employees and described him as a “geriatric Dr. Evil.”
“Bob Murray, I didn’t really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kind of forced my hand on that one,” Oliver said during his 24-minute rant. “And I know you’re probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said.”
The complaint was filed in West Virginia circuit court and accused Oliver’s segment of being “false, injurious, and defamatory.”
It also states that the segment was an attempt to advance [the defendants’] biases against the coal industry and their disdain for the coal-related policies of the Trump Administration.”
The suit also alleges that Oliver is pursuing a partisan assault against Murray, who is a Trump supporter. “The “defendants’ broadcasts have vigorously supported and advanced Mrs. Clinton’s agenda,” the complaint reads.
READ BELOW: Official complaint against John Oliver and HBO (via Deadline)
Murray’s suit alleges that Oliver and his various accomplices “executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies.” Murray has sued for one count each of defamation, false light invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
The host of the show predicted that this would happen during his segment on Monday night. Oliver noted that Murray has a history of suing media outlets that write unflattering stories about his businesses.
Oliver also mentioned that when his show reached out to Murray for comment before airing Monday’s episode, the coal baron responded immediately with a cease-and-desist letter.
When the cease-and-desist letter was ignored, Murray followed with a suit. He portrays Oliver as a bully who is, “likely further reducing [Murray’s] already limited life expectancy due to his Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.”
Murray also accuses Oliver of ignoring evidence that the Utah mine collapse was caused by an earthquake. But reports state that the collapse was due to unauthorized mining practices.
Ken White, a first amendment litigator at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles, told The Daily Beast that HBO and Oliver don’t have much to worry about.
“Overall I’d say it appears frivolous and vexatious,” he said. “Any core of merit is buried in nonsense.”
“It does arguably cite one or two statements (like the bit about earthquakes) that could possibly be defamatory, since they involve fact,” he said. “But for the most part the section describing the purportedly false statements is rambling and semi-coherent, mixing fact with opinion and insult.”
HBO has not yet seen the complaint, according the The Washington Post.
“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,” HBO said in a statement today about the trial jury seeking complaint, obtained by Deadline.
The clip has been removed from Last Week Tonight‘s YouTube channel.
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