Even as Trump’s America encourages comedic outlets like SNL and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to ridicule the president on the way to boosted ratings, the same system seems to embolden business magnates to attack those same programs. After John Oliver’s recent attempt to expose the problems surrounding the coal industry on HBO’s Last Week Tonight, 77-year-old coal baron Robert Murray—along with Murray Energy and other associated coal companies—decided to sue the company for defamation, per a THR report.
The suit alleges that Murray’s reputation was harmed when Oliver claimed there was no evidence that an earthquake caused a 2007 mine collapse, with the implication that Murray had lied about the circumstance surrounding the deadly incident. The complaint further takes issue with Oliver’s implications that Murray Energy sacrifices safety and employee health for monetary gain.
Of course, since we’re talking about a humor program here, the suit mentions how Murray also didn’t love how, “Defendants continued their ruthless character assassination and attack on Plaintiffs’ business reputations by describing Mr. Murray as someone who ‘looks like a geriatric Dr. Evil’ and arranging for a staff member to dress up in a squirrel costume and deliver the message ‘Eat Shit, Bob!’ to Mr. Murray.” To be fair, it’s now impossible to not think of Murray as a geriatric Dr. Evil who is followed by foul-mouthed, human-sized squirrels. It’s like a real-life Conker’s Bad Fur Day.
This isn’t the only defamation lawsuit being leveraged against media companies. ABC is dealing with a $5.7 billion lawsuit because they referred to a company’s beef product as “pink slime.” Similarly, Murray himself is already suing the The N.Y. Times for libel.
For their part, HBO doesn’t seem worried about the complaint, telling The Daily Beast:
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.
The company has successfully defended itself against similar suits before, like the 2015 case where HBO was sued for allegedly tarnishing the reputation of a company that used child labor in India to stitch soccer balls.
It’ll be interesting to see how the case develops, as it could set a dangerous precedent while comedy and politics continue to overlap more than ever before.
Revisit Oliver’s coal industry story here.