Coal tycoon's defamation lawsuit against John Oliver dismissed by judge

Maya Oppenheim
A West Virginia Judge conceded to HBO’s argument that Bob Murray had ceased to demonstrate the late night talk show host legally defamed him: Getty

A judge has dismissed a coal mogul’s defamation lawsuit against comedian John Oliver and American TV network HBO.

Jeffrey Cramer, a West Virginia Judge, conceded to HBO’s argument that Bob Murray ceased to demonstrate the late night talk show host legally defamed him.

Bob Murray, a coal tycoon who is the CEO of coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp, asserted that Oliver portrayed his companies unfairly in a commentary about Donald Trump’s treatment of the coal industry.

Murray Energy Corp told The Independent the company would be appealing the judge's decision.

Oliver, who hosts US show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, devoted a 24-minute segment last June to remarking on the decline of the coal industry and Mr Trump’s pledges to resuscitate it.

The comedian denounced the 78-year-old mining magnate, who is one of the largest independent operators of coal mines in the US, and drew attention to Mr Murray's discussion of Barack Obama’s “evil agenda”.

Prior to launching into his segment he offered a disclaimer explaining Murray Energy had been in touch with the show.

He said: “I’m going to need to be careful here because 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 telling us that ‘failure to do so will result in immediate litigation'.”

“If you even appear to be on the same side as black lung, you’re on the wrong f***ing side,” Oliver said about one of Mr Murray’s lawsuits which was filed against a federal rule meant to reduce black lung disease among coal miners.

Oliver said: “I’m not going to say, for instance, that Bob Murray looks like a geriatric Dr Evil, even though he clearly does.”

In a statement, a representative for Murray Energy Corp said the decision "contains absolutely no legal reasoning, whatsoever, and instead blindly adopts the defendants deeply flawed arguments.

"This is a flagrant disregard of the law, the facts, and the substantial damages intentionally inflicted by the defendants. Clearly, this decision is detrimental to our employees, who rely on Mr Murray and Murray Energy for their continued livelihoods, and to our lenders, customers, and suppliers who depend on our integrity and performance. Accordingly, we will immediately appeal, and we are confident that we will prevail."

In a statement released at the time, the company said: “The false and defamatory statements in this broadcast severely and destructively impact Mr Murray, and all of Murray Energy, particularly our mines in the state of West Virginia, where we are the largest coal mining employer in the state, as well as coal mining itself, one of the primary foundations of that state’s economy.”

HBO, a TV network owned by Time Warner, vigorously fought the claims.

Asking the West Virginia judge to dismiss the case, the company said: “The fact that Murray found this speech embarrassing or disagreeable does not remove it from the broad protection of the First Amendment.

“The Supreme Court has stated time and again that the type of speech at issue here - news and commentary about public figures and issues of public importance - ‘occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to special protection'."

The Independent contacted a representative of Oliver for comment.