John Oliver was sued by coal giant Murray Energy.
John Oliver was sued by coal giant Murray Energy.

A hearty congratulations to John Oliver, the late night cable host who eschews celebrity guests for 30-minute deep-dives into shit that actually matters in the world. Last week, a West Virginia judge dismissed a defamation suit brought against Oliver and HBO by Robert Murray and Murray Energy, a West Virgina coal giant that was the subject of a 2017 segment on Oliver's show, Last Week Tonight.

The segment, which you can watch below, looked at Murray's treatment of his company's workers. Oliver 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. ... So I'm not going to say that Murray looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil even though he clearly does. "

Oliver added: "As we have been explicitly told to cease and desist, let's do neither of those things and talk about Bob Murray. He often speaks on TV in defense of coal workers, but let’s take a look at his actions shall we? Because Murray’s company recently unsuccessfully sued to block a rule aimed at reducing miners' exposure to coal dust that causes black lung, a disease which killed as many as 10,000 people between 1995 and 2005. Murray insisted that the rule was illegal, destructive, and did nothing for miners, er, nothing for their health. Although last year with the rule in effect, government reports indicated that respirable dust levels fell to historic lows. If you even appear to be on the same side as black lung, you’re on the wrong fucking side."

Support The Portland Mercury

The judge in the lawsuit against Oliver said that Murray failed to demonstrate that Oliver has falsely defamed either him or the company, and dismissed the suit without prejudice, which means Murray can't attempt to re-file in the same court. However, Murray Energy said in a statement that they will appeal to the state Supreme Court. "This is a flagrant disregard of the law, the facts, and the substantial damages intentionally inflicted by the defendants," the statement said. "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."

Murray, no surprise, is a supporter of Donald Trump, the reality TV star-turned-POTUS who made his fortune on daddy's name and who has repeatedly promised to bring back coal jobs even though job automation (not to mention black lung) makes a resurgence of coal jobs an economic impossibility. As Oliver pointed out on his show, while Scott Pruitt (the current head of the EPA and a great friend of the fossil fuel industry himself) has said that during Trump's first year, almost 50,000 jobs were added in the coal sector, the actual number is... 1,300.