MOUNDSVILLE – Murray Energy Company is suing HBO and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” Host John Oliver after the June 18 episode allegedly defamed Robert E. Murray.
“On June 18, 2017, defendants executed a meticulously planned attempt to assassinate the character and reputation of Mr. Robert E. Murray and his companies, including Murray Energy Corporation and those in West Virginia on a world stage,” the complaint states.
The defendants, which include Oliver, HBO, Senior News Producer Charles Wilson, Partially Important Productions LLC, Time Warner Inc. and ten unknown and unnamed individuals, did so for their personal financial gain by knowingly broadcasting false, injurious and defamatory comments to HBO’s approximately 134 million paying subscribers, while also knowing that their malicious broadcast would be repeated to countless more individuals through various outlets, according to the June 21 complaint filed in Marshall Circuit Court.
Murray and Murray Energy, along with The Marshall County Coal Company, The Marion County Coal Company, The Monongalia County Coal Company, The Harrison County Coal Company and The Ohio County Coal Company are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“They did this to a man who needs a lung transplant, a man who does not expect to live to see the end of this case,” the complaint states. “They attacked him in a forum in which he had no opportunity to defend himself, and so he has brought this suit to try to set the record straight.”
The plaintiffs claim the callous, vicious and false attack upon Murray and his companies was the defendants’ most recent attempt to advance their biases against the coat industry and their disdain for the coal-related policies of the Trump Administration.
“In carrying out their self-serving attack on Mr. Murray and his companies, however, Defendants ignored facts in their possession that directly contradict the false and defamatory statements about Mr. Murray and his companies that they improperly passed off as truths to the nation and throughout the world,” the complaint states.
The defendants employed techniques designed solely to harass and embarrass the plaintiffs, according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim the defendants childishly demeaned and disparaged Murray and his companies, made jokes about Murray’s age, health and appearance; made light of a tragic mining incident; and broadcasted false statements and incited television and Internet viewers to do harm to Murray and his companies.
Before the June 18 episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the defendants made Murray and Murray Energy aware that they intended to discuss in an upcoming broadcast, the decline of jobs in the coal industry, the political criticism of President Barack Obama’s “war on coal,” the recent regulatory rollback by the Trump Administration and the prospect going forward of a revival of coal jobs, according to the suit.
The defendants specifically referenced the plaintiffs’ mining operations in West Virginia, stating they intended to “mention other pressures on coal jobs outside of regulation — including … the competition that Appalachian coal has faced,” according to the suit.
The plaintiffs claim when the defendants contacted them, they were under the false impression that the defendants would use the supplied information to accurately and responsibly broadcast the facts and circumstances regarding the topics of the upcoming broadcast.
“Mr. Murray and the other plaintiff warned defendants … that their sources of information and the information itself were ‘outdated, and were false and defamatory when they were made, and remain so. You recklessly rely exclusively on previously discredited media reports,’” the complaint states. “At Defendants’ invitation, plaintiffs provided detailed information and facts directly contrary to the injurious, false and defaming statements that Defendants threatened to broadcast.”
The plaintiffs claim they also demanded that the defendants “cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass or otherwise injury Mr. Murray or Murray Energy.”
One subject that the defendants notified the plaintiffs that they intended to discuss was the collapse of and subsequent rescue efforts at the Crandall Canyon Mine, according to the suit.
Murray and his companies warned the defendants to cease and desist from a broadcast of defamatory comments or any misguided attempt at humor regarding the tragic mine collapse and loss of life, which the plaintiffs believed would be cruel and heartless, the complaint states.
In the June 18 broadcast, the defendants deliberately omitted the facts that the plaintiffs provided regarding the mine incident and made no mention of the efforts Murray personally made to save the trapped miners.
“Instead, presumably to boost ratings, line their pockets with profits and advance the show’s anti-coal agenda, Defendant Oliver intentionally, falsely and outrageously conveyed that Mr. Murray has no evidence to support his statements that an earthquake caused the tragedy that took the lives of Murray Energy miners during the course of their work for the organization,” the complaint states.
The defendants also failed to mention, despite having the information, that Murray has pioneered Emergency Response and Fire Suppression Training in the coal industry. Nor did Oliver mention the facts in his possession that Murray has fought for retiree medical and pension benefits for coal miners that never even worked for his company, according to the suit.
“Instead, 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’ and arranging for a staff member to dress up in a squirrel costume and deliver the message, ‘Eat Shit, Bob!’ to Mr. Murray,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim that toward the end of the broadcast, Oliver confirmed that the defendants intentionally expanded their attack against Murray and the plaintiffs as retaliation for the plaintiffs’ good faith efforts to ensure the accuracy of the broadcast.
In the broadcast, Oliver stated, “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,” the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim that after the broadcast, Murray Energy’s Web site was hacked and inundated with the message incited by the defendants: “Eat Shit Bob.” The plaintiffs have also already received numerous harassing telephone calls echoing the defendants’ false and defamatory statements.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages. They are being represented by Jeffrey A. Grove and David L. Delk Jr. of Grove, Holmstrand & Delk.
“The deceitful and damaging statements of Time Warner, HBO, and their operatives were clearly a deliberate attempt to assassinate the character of Mr. Robert E. Murray, a champion of the United States coal industry and patriotic American, and to destroy Murray Energy, a company which Mr. Murray founded nearly thirty years ago and built into the largest underground coal mining company in the United States,” a statement released by Murray Energy said. “Allowing these false statements to stand unrefuted would be a disservice to the Company’s employees, who rely on Mr. Murray and Murray Energy for their continued livelihoods, and to the Company’s lenders, customers, and suppliers who depend on our integrity and performance.”
HBO stood by Oliver in a statement reported by 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," HBO said.
The plaintiffs previously filed a defamation lawsuit against The New York Times.
On April 24 and 25, first online and then in print, NYT falsely stated that Murray had lied about the cause of the collapse at a mine that tragically killed six people, according to the suit. The plaintiffs claimed the defendant also falsely implied that Murray’s organization acts outside the norms of industry regulatory compliance.
Marshall Circuit Court case number 17-C-124