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John Oliver sued by coal CEO claiming 'character assassination'

25 June 2017

If, like New Matilda, you believe some of the best journalism on the planet is now being done by a show that has no links to journalism, then you'll be interested to know that "journalist" is being sued for defamation, in what's set to be a closely watched trial.

St. Clairsville-based coal executive Robert Murray is suing HBO and its parent company, Time Warner Inc., as well as The New York Times, over what he claims are "false and defamatory statements" made about him, his company and the coal industry as a whole. Murray had been made aware of the segment before it aired, and sent both a cease and desist letter and his own research to Last Week Tonight in anticipation of the episode.

Oliver also discussed the deadly 2007 collapse of Murray's mine in Utah, and said Murray claims it was caused by an quake despite a government conclusion that cited unauthorized mining practices.

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In a statement, HBO said that they were not concerned by the lawsuit: "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".

During the 20-minute segment, Oliver looked at Murray's record on safety, opposition to mine safety legislation and relations with workers (including a miner sending back a bonus cheque with "kiss my ass, Bob" written on it).

Oliver said on air that he would "proceed with caution", and then he launched into a monologue comparing the 77-year-old coal exec to a "geriatric Dr". But, you know what?

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Oliver ignored statements sent from spokespeople, the suit says, which show an natural disaster triggered the collapse - and then neglected to mention "the efforts Mr. Murray personally made to save the trapped miners". "I stand by everything I said". Stating that Mr. Murray and Murray Energy "appear to be on the side of black lung".

Murray has been a prominent supporter of USA president Donald Trump and his mining policies, which he says will bring many jobs back to areas like West Virginia.

Lincoln Bandlow, a Los Angeles media law lawyer at Fox Rothschild, said that Murray's lawsuit is likely to be dismissed by a court because his claims have no legal merit. On the third attempt, Murray Energy said it had to take down its website to implement new security measures. He noted that Murray has a history of filing defamation suits against news outlets (most recently, the New York Times).

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