Coal company CEO Robert Murray has filed a lawsuit in West Virginia claiming he was subjected to “ruthless character assassination” on a recent broadcast of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
On the June 18 broadcast, Oliver devoted more than 20 minutes to an examination of the plight of the coal industry. Murray and his company, Murray Energy Corp., were prominently featured on the broadcast. Beforehand, the company sent a cease and desist letter and had an extensive conversation with HBO’s lawyers.
On the show, Oliver took issue with Murray’s claim that a mine accident that killed nine people was caused by an earthquake, citing a Mine Safety and Health Administration report that faulted the company’s mining practices.
Murray’s attorneys allege that Oliver quoted from an executive summary of the report, which “obviously and grossly overstated the actual conclusions.” The company accused Oliver’s show of displaying a “reckless disregard” for the accuracy of the quoted material.
“Allowing these false statements to stand unrefuted would be a disservice to the Company’s employees, who rely on Mr. Murray and Murray Energy for their continued livelihoods, and to the Company’s lenders, customers, and suppliers who depend on our integrity and performance,” the company said in a press release. “Murray Energy filed this lawsuit, in part, in order to protect these lives and family livelihoods from the further damage by people who do not want to see coal mined, and want all of those lives destroyed, and will stop at nothing, including lying and fabrications, to accomplish their goal.”
In a statement, HBO defended the show.
“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,” a spokesperson said.
The suit, first reported by the Daily Beast, accuses HBO of being motivated by bias against the Trump administration, and notes that parent company Time Warner Inc. “is widely reported as a top ten donor to Hillary Clinton.” (The Center for Responsive Politics notes that the ranking is based on contributions from company employees and their families, not from the company itself.)
The suit accuses Oliver of misrepresenting the facts of the mine disaster “presumably to boost ratings, line their pockets with profits, and advance the show’s anti-coal agenda.” Murray filed the suit for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.