Robert E. Murray, CEO of Murray Energy Corporation, has launched a defamation suit against comedian and political satirist John Oliver, HBO, and Time Warner over a Last Week Tonight segment that covered the coal and mining industry under the Trump administration and discussed Murray’s business. According to Vulture, Murray and several of his coal companies filed the suit in West Virginia earlier this week, coming just days after Sunday’s Last Week Tonight segment. Murray is suing for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
While Murray was not the only CEO discussed in the twenty-minute segment, Oliver did pay special attention to Murray in the later half of his coverage, discussing the history of his company and his relationship to Trump. Oliver acknowledges in his clip that he has to tread lightly when talking about Murray on the show (“I’m going to need to be careful here,” Oliver begins with a knowing smile), due to the fact that when Last Week Tonight reached out to the CEO and his Murray Energy, they responded with a cease and desist letter that stated the HBO show must “cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass, or otherwise injury Mr. Murray or Murray Energy.”
The cease and desist letter did little to dissuade Oliver from discussing Murray on the show – in fact, it did just the opposite. After reading excerpts from the letter, Oliver surges forward by stating, “As we have been explicitly told to cease and desist, let us do neither of those things, and let’s talk about Bob Murray.” The British host later goes on to describe Murray as looking like “a geriatric Dr. Evil”.
Notably, Murray has a history of suing media outlets, having also sued The New York Times and the Huffington Post, amongst others, in the past. The complaint accuses HBO and John Oliver of “broadcasting injurious, false, and defamatory statements to millions of people” and launching a “meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation” of Murray and his companies. HBO responded to the lawsuit, stating, “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.”
This lawsuit occurs during an age of highly critical, biting political satire where virtually nothing within our political landscape goes unseen by hosts like John Oliver, Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee, and The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. It remains to be seen where this case will end up, but considering Last Week Tonight’s insistent tendency for shrewd, cutting commentary, its doubtful that something such as a defamation suit will stop John Oliver from covering stories in his amusing yet astute manner.
Last Week Tonight airs Sunday nights at 11pm EST on HBO.