Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver knew he was inviting a legal battle when he used his show Sunday to lambaste one of the country’s largest coal mining companies and mock its chief executive.
But it had to be done, he said.
In a 24-minute segment on the decline of the coal industry and President Donald Trump‘s tenuous promises to bring it back, Oliver railed against the mining giant Murray Energy Corporation and chief executive Robert E. Murray, who has blamed the industry’s troubles on an “evil agenda” by former President Barack Obama.
Before he got going, Oliver offered up a proviso. “I’m going to need to be careful here,” he said, “because when we contacted Murray Energy for this piece, they sent us a letter instructing us to ‘cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass, or otherwise injure Mr. Murray or Murray Energy,’ and telling us that ‘failure to do so will result in immediate litigation.'”
Then he tore into the 77-year-old coal magnate.
Murray was a “geriatric Dr. Evil,” he said, who mistreated his employees and tried to weaken coal safety regulations through litigation. He suggested Murray was “on the same side as black lung” and criticized his response to a deadly 2007 mine accident in Utah found to have been caused by safety violations.
He called up a satirical article in the United Mine Workers of America’s journal that described a squirrel hopping onto Murray’s porch and telling him, “You should be operating your very own mines” (the company said this was not, in fact, a true story).
Finally, in a stunt fit only for late-night television, Oliver brought out a man in a giant squirrel costume and paraded him around the stage.
“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. “And I know you’re probably going to sue me over this. But, you know what? I stand by everything I said.”
On Wednesday, Murray did sue Oliver for defamation, along with HBO and Time Warner.
The lawsuit, filed in West Virginia circuit court, accuses Oliver of carrying out a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray and broadcasting false statements about his company to HBO’s 134 million paying subscribers.
The goal is to allow Murray, who is said to be gravely ill, to “set the record straight,” the complaint says.
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