Today, we filed an amicus brief in The Marshall County Coal Company et al. v. John Oliver et al. The lawsuit involves coal baron Bob Murray (the CEO of the Murray Energy Corporation, which owns the Marshall County Coal Company), who has a history of violating mine safety regulations and financially supporting politicians—including President Donald Trump—who will advance an agenda that enriches coal executives while leaving miners in harm’s way. Murray also has a history of suing media outlets that call out his unethical practices, which is where these this case come into play.
On June 18, John Oliver—the host of HBO’s satirical news show Last Week Tonight With John Oliver —blasted Murray, his relationship to Trump, and his history with mine regulations in even harsher terms. Throughout the episode, Oliver claims that coal jobs are in decline, that the Utah mining accident was the result of the company’s safety violations, and that Murray generally disregards the well-being of his employees. Oliver, a comedian, also criticizes Murray with more creative language: he calls Murray a “geriatric Dr. Evil” and makes multiple references to an instance in which one of Murray’s employees wrote “Eat Shit Bob” on a returned check for an unwanted (small) bonus. Murray is suing John Oliver and HBO over what he insists are false claims about the coal industry and his company. His lawsuit also references hurt feelings over the personal insults.
We have a strong interest in this case. Freedom of speech should always be defended, and with the context of a White House administration that routinely undermines the press in alarming ways, we feel a particular urgency to repel attacks on First Amendment rights. John Oliver is free to insult Murray no matter how much Murray dislikes it. We are eager to help defend these freedoms by filing this brief. You can read our full press release—including statements from ACLU-WV Executive Director Joseph Cohen and ACLU-WV Legal Director Jamie Lynn Crofts—here.
Follow the links below to read the ACLU-WV Amicus Brief and the original lawsuit.