John Oliver, HBO Sued for Defamation by Coal Magnate

After Oliver denounced Robert Murray for putting his miners at risk, coal baron accuses comedian of character assassination

Coal magnate Robert Murray sued John Oliver and HBO after an episode of 'Last Week Tonight' honed in on Murray's unsafe mining practices.
John Oliver, HBO Sued for Defamation by Coal Magnate

Coal baron Robert Murray filed a lawsuit against John Oliver, the writers of Oliver's show Last Week Tonight, HBO and Time Warner on Wednesday, The Daily Beast reports

The legal action came quickly following Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, which focused on the struggles of the coal industry and singled out Murray for failing to protect the safety of his miners after one of his mines in Utah recently collapsed, killing nine workers. 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, according to the Washington Post.

Oliver predicted that this would happen during his Last Week Tonight segment, noting that Murray has a history of suing media outlets who write unflattering stories about his business enterprises. In addition, Oliver said that when his show reached out to Murray for comment before airing Monday's episode, the coal mogul responded immediately with a cease-and-desist letter.

When that failed to work, Murray – self-described as "one of the staunchest defenders and most ardent champions of the United States coal industry and America itself" – followed with a suit. The complaint portrays Oliver as a bully kicking an injured man, "likely further reducing [Murray's] already limited life expectancy due to his Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis," reports The Daily Beast.

The complaint also suggests that Oliver is pursuing a partisan assault against Murray, a Trump supporter: "The "defendants' broadcasts have vigorously supported and advanced Mrs. Clinton's agenda," the complaint reads. More substantively, Murray accuses Oliver of ignoring evidence that the Utah mine collapse was caused by an earthquake, though a government report concluded that the root of the tragedy was unauthorized mining practices.

Ken White, a First Amendment litigator at Brown White & Osborn LLP in Los Angeles, described Murray's complaint as "frivolous and vexatious" in a conversation with The Daily Beast. "Any core of merit is buried in nonsense," he added.

An HBO spokesperson appeared similarly unconcerned by Murray's suit: "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."