This week’s episode of Last Week Tonight was given some litigious gravity when John Oliver revealed that the HBO show had been sent a cease and desist letter from Murray Energy before the show went to air. The episode was covering President Donald Trump’s misleading relationship with the coal industry, and Last Week Tonight had reached out to Murray Energy and its CEO Bob Murray, presumably because the show planned to investigate Murray’s track record with miners.
The response from Murray Energy turned out to be a cease-and-desist letter, warning them that an attempt to slander Murray would result in legal action, possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.
“A cease-and-desist letter is something that, incredibly, we’ve never received before on this show,” Oliver says.
“So as we have been explicitly told to cease and desist, let us do neither of those things, and let’s talk about Bob Murray.”
Oliver told viewers that Murray Energy once tried to block a rule that would limit miners’ exposure to coal dust. “If you even appear to be on the same side as black lung, you’re on the wrong fucking side,” he says. He also appears to have disregarded the cause of a fatal mine collapse that occurred in 2007, claiming it was triggered by an earthquake when a government investigation found no evidence to suggest that was true. An editorial on the subject in the New York Times also recently garnered a libel suit from the company.
Oliver points out that Trump and Murray appear to be close allies, and that Trump’s affinity for the mining industry has little to do with taking care of miners themselves.
For example, Trump’s new budget includes cutting funding to the Appalachian Regional Commission, an organization that helps fund employment programs in communities affected by a declining mining industry. And the mining industry is in decline, no matter how you look at it. In fact it’s been in steady decline for decades, as other sources of energy, like natural gas, have become more economically attractive.
“Trump needs to stop lying to coal miners,” Oliver says. “We all do.”
Whether that will prompt a libel suit from Murray Energy, we might have to wait until next week to find out.