COAL

John Oliver claims victory as Murray drops lawsuit

Late-night show host John Oliver took a musical victory lap around New York City last night to announce now-bankrupt Murray Energy Corp. has dropped its defamation lawsuit against him.

In 2017, the private coal company sued network HBO and "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" over a segment that sharply criticized former CEO and founder Bob Murray. Oliver said Murray, among other things, looked like a "geriatric Dr. Evil."

"We did, and he does," Oliver said last night, adding he fully expects to be sued again.

"It is yet another Bob Murray attempt to bully people into silence."

Murray Energy, which last month filed for bankruptcy and demoted its founder to chairman of the board, declined to comment.

Last night's main story used Murray to make the case for nationwide laws to stop "strategic lawsuits against public participation."

Twenty states still lack anti-SLAPP laws, including West Virginia, where Murray used a subsidiary to sue HBO and Oliver.

"We'll pursue it to the fullest. This is a tragedy, and American businessmen had better take note as to what they are trying to do with me. ... These people are evil," Murray said on Fox Business at the time.

In 2018, the local judge dismissed the case, but Murray appealed to the West Virginia Supreme Court (Greenwire, Feb. 26, 2018).

Then, "out of nowhere," Oliver said, Murray dropped the lawsuit. Oliver connected it to the company filing for bankruptcy protection.

"Winning the case was never really his goal," Oliver said. Murray has sued numerous news organizations and private individuals over the decades, not all capable of fighting back.

According to Oliver, HBO paid more than $200,000 to fight the case, and its libel insurance premiums have tripled, even though it prevailed in court. In response to requests for comment on last night's segment, Murray sent letters to HBO parent company AT&T Inc.

"Lawsuits like his make people think twice before reporting on his business, or pointing things out like Bob Murray's general facial expression answers the question, 'What would it look like if an egg was mentally undressing you?'" Oliver said.

For comments like that, Oliver said, the Supreme Court has repeatedly defended "'loose, figurative' language that cannot reasonably be understood to convey facts" — otherwise known as jokes.

To drive home his point, Oliver then led a Broadway-style number featuring the "Suck My Balls Bob" dancers and Mr. Nutterbutter, the staff member dressed up in a squirrel costume from the 2017 segment. They danced in Times Square beneath an explosion of fireworks reading, "Eat Shit Bob!"

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