Last week's John Oliver segment on Robert E. Murray, CEO of the coal mining Murray Energy Corporation, noted that Murray had a history of litigation against his critics in the news media, including the New York Times, and predicted that Murray would go on to sue Oliver (Murray's lawyers had sent Oliver a letter warning him about this possibility, and promising to pursue litigation to the nation's highest courts).
The segment ended with a giant squirrel that referenced a story Oliver had heard from Murray's workers, claiming that Murray told his employees he started his company after meeting a talking squirrel. Oliver said he didn't believe the squirrel story was true.
On Wednesday, Murray filed suit against Oliver, HBO, and Time Warner, in a West Virginia circuit court, claiming that Oliver engaged in a "meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation" of Murray.
In an emailed statement, Murray Energy said the company sent letters earlier this month to Oliver, Time Warner and HBO, then held a conference call with their counsel on Saturday to “correct what we knew of their proposed false and destructive broadcast.” The defendants “ignored our communications and, instead, continued to baselessly and maliciously attack the character of Mr. Murray and Murray Energy, with no factual basis whatsoever,” the statement read.
“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.
Murray is known for aggressively suing journalists and media organizations that run critical content about him and his companies. Between 2001 and 2015, he filed at least nine lawsuits against journalists and news outlets that published a negative advertisement from an activist group, claiming they maligned his character and threatened his employees’ jobs, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Most if not all never went to trial.
In 2013, he sued the Huffington Post and a blogger for defamation over a story that called him an “extremist coal baron” and criticized his donations to a gubernatorial candidate. The case was dismissed the following year.
John Oliver, a giant squirrel and a defamation lawsuit by a coal industry titan [Derek Hawkins/Washington Post]