A West Virginia judge dismissed a coal mogul’s defamation lawsuit this week against cable television host John Oliver and HBO.
In a decision dated Wednesday, West Virginia Judge Jeffrey Cramer accepted HBO’s argument that Bob Murray, CEO of coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp., failed to show that Oliver had defamed him according to the law.
Oliver dedicated an extended segment in June to criticizing the coal industry, with a focus on Murray, including his frequent criticisms of former President Barack Obama ’s “evil agenda,” his lawsuits challenging regulations and his closeness with President Trump .
“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 Murray’s lawsuit against a federal rule meant to reduce black lung disease among coal miners.
Murray sent Oliver a cease-and-desist letter before the show aired and threatened to sue him, taking the case up to the Supreme Court. Instead, Oliver dug in.
“I’m not going to say, for instance, that Bob Murray looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil, even though he clearly does,” he said.
Oliver made extensive use of Mr. Nutterbutter, a squirrel character inspired by a report — which Murray denied — that Murray once said a squirrel told him to start a coal mining company.
Murray and his company made good on the threat to sue.
“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,” the company said in a statement at the time.
HBO strenuously fought the claims.
“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 company said in asking the West Virginia judge to dismiss the case.