John Oliver Sued by Coal Company CEO He Called ‘Geriatric Dr. Evil’
Bob Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, has filed a lawsuit against John Oliver over a Last Week Tonight segment that Murray claims defamed him. According to the suit, Oliver "executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character of and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies."
The piece aired this past Sunday night, June 18, and in it Oliver focused on the difference between what Murray says on TV about coal miners -- how he feels horrible about laying even one of them off, etc. -- and his actions as a coal company CEO.
Those actions include strongly resisting new mine-safety regulations and trying to get his employees to work longer hours by offering them tiny bonuses, which many of those workers angrily rejected. One of them even sent his check for a paltry $3.22 back to Murray with "EAT S*** BOB" scrawled across in huge letters.
But the incident Oliver spent the most time on was the 2007 collapse of one of Murray Energy's mines in Utah, which killed nine people. Murray and his company have insisted that an earthquake caused the tragedy, rather than anything his company did wrong. Independent government investigations concluded there was no naturally occurring earthquake on that day and that management could have prevented the collapse.
Murray continues to this day to stand by his earthquake defense.
Oliver anticipated the lawsuit, telling viewers toward the start of the segment, "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 that 'failure to do so will result in immediate litigation'."
Murray is aggressively litigious, having also recently sued The New York Times for libel, two local Ohio newspapers and a writer for the Huffington Post. A spokesperson for HBO dismissed Murray's claims, telling the Daily Beast, "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."
Part of the complaint Murray's lawyers filed addresses a particular joke Oliver made: "Defendants continued their ruthless character assassination and attack on Plaintiffs' business reputations by describing Mr. Murray as someone who 'looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil'." We'll leave it up to you to determine if Murray looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil, but that sounds like a standard late-night-comedian insult, not "character assassination."
After laying out the case against Murray, Oliver concluded by saying, "Bob Murray, I didn't really plan for so much of this piece to be about you, but you kind of forced my hand on that one [by sending the cease-and-desist letter]. And I know that you are probably going to sue me, but you know what? I stand by everything I said."
Following that, a giant squirrel came out onstage to offer Murray a check for three apples and 22 cents. (You'll have to watch the piece to understand the squirrel bit.) The check is made out to "EAT S*** BOB."
Which, in our esteemed legal opinion, is exactly what HBO's lawyers should say.
You can read the entire (ridiculous) complaint below:
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