On Sunday night’s episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver targeted the coal industry. Now they are striking back. In the episode, he pleaded with President Trump to “stop lying to coal miners” about his ability to revive the shrinking industry. Oliver also targeted Bob Murray, the notoriously litigious CEO of Murray Energy, even though he knew he was likely to be sued for doing so, as the company sent the show a cease-and-desist order before the episode even aired.
Murray runs the country’s largest privately owned coal company, Murray Energy Corporation, and has sued media companies in the past, including recently filing a libel suit against the New York Times. Despite that cautionary tale, on the June 18 episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver said Murray doesn’t do enough to protect his miners’ safety. He illustrated that point with a government report that concluded that the collapse of one of Murray’s mines in Utah, which killed nine people, was due to unauthorized mining practices, while Murray claims the collapse actually happened because of an earthquake.
A legal complaint filed on June 21 in the circuit court of Marshall County, West Virginia, states that Oliver and his team “executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies,” They called the segment a “callous, vicious, and false attack” that “childishly demeaned and disparaged” Murray, “a 77-year old citizen in ill health,” which they claim caused “emotional and physical distress and damage.” The complaint also says Murray’s legal team tried to share studies with Oliver’s staff that proved an earthquake was responsible for the mine collapse, but were ignored.
HBO, however, stands by Oliver and his team. “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 to Fast Company.