A West Virginia judge scrapped a defamation lawsuit brought against late-night HBO host John Oliver by an irate coal magnate.
Oliver, writes the Los Angeles Times, mocked and criticized Murray Energy Chief Executive Robert Murray in a segment which aired last June. During the episode of “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver shared an anecdote told by his production team. While putting together the script, a producer had tried reaching out to Murray Energy.
Rather than getting a response, Murray Energy’s legal team fired back a cease-and-desist request.
“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,’” said Oliver on-air.
Murray Energy, says the LA Times, ‘has a long history of threatening litigation against its critics.’
“I know you’re probably going to sue me over this,” said Oliver last summer. “But you know what? I stand by everything I said.”
In addition to blasting Murray Energy and the coal industry’s ethics, Oliver called Murray Energy’s chief executive “a geriatric Dr. Evil.”
“If you even appear to be on the same side as a black lung, you’re on the wrong fu*king side,” said Oliver, explaining how Murray sued the federal government over a regulation intended to protect miners from disease.
“I’m not going to say, for instance, that Bob Murray looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil, even though he clearly does,” said Oliver.
Oliver’s prediction quickly became a reality – shortly after the episode aired, HBO and its “Last Week Tonight” show were sued for defamation.
Murray Energy’s legal team wrote a vehement objection to Judge Jeffrey Cramer’s decision to dismiss the suit.
“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,” write the attorneys. “Accordingly, we will immediately appeal, and we are confident that we will prevail.”
HBO struck back against Murray Energy, accusing the company of creating nonsensical legal arguments to suit its own agenda.
“The fact that Murray found this speech embarrassing or disagreeable,” said HBO, “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.’”