A ‘Geriatric Dr Evil’ Coal Magnate Is Suing John Oliver For Defamation


If, like New Matilda, you believe some of the best journalism on the planet is currently being done by a show that has no links to journalism, then you’ll be interested to know that ‘journalist’ is being sued for defamation, in what’s set to be a closely watched trial.

If it ever goes ahead.

Last Week Tonight is hosted by British comedian John Oliver. It’s only a half hour show, once a week on a Sundays, but it’s consistently excellent, and frequently causes huge ripples in the American media landscape, courtesy of genuinely excellent investigative journalism by the show’s researchers.

Each show generally looks at the news stories of the week, but devotes a substantial proportion of the half hour to a major investigative piece into an issue that isn’t necessarily in the news cycle.

In this case… coal. The show was aired a week ago, and takes aim in particular at coal company Murray Energy, and it’s CEO Robert Murray.


The segment lines up the Trump administration for trying to booat coal jobs, despite a failing industry and a growing range of better energy alternatives. It also targets the 77-year-old Murray, who Oliver describes as “a geriatric Dr Evil” for blaming Barack Obama for the collapse of coal, while lobbying against safety regulations.

There’s much to admire about Last Week Tonight’s journalism – they tackle everything from politics, to environment to more obscure issues that don’t get a run in mainstream media, like lead poisoning, tele-evangelists and sex education.


But in the case of the coal story – which was a stunning 23 minute deconstruction of coal – what’s particularly impressive is that Oliver broadcast the show in spite of legal threats already being made from Murray Energy.

'Geriatric Dr Evil' Murray Energy CEO, Robert Murray.
‘Geriatric Dr Evil’ Murray Energy CEO, Robert Murray.

He told viewers: “I’m going to need to be careful here because when we contacted Murray Energy for this piece, they sent us a letter instructing us to ‘cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass, or otherwise injure Mr Murray or Murray Energy,’ and telling us that ‘failure to do so will result in immediate litigation.’”

HBO, which hosts Last Week Tonight, has responded that it’s confident none of Murray’s rights have been breached.

It’ll be a closely watched contest, but that’s provided it actually proceeds to trial. Murray is infamous for suing journalists for defamation – he’s filed at least nine writes in the past decade and a half. Almost all of them collapse before trial, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Last Week Tonight’s Youtube channel has had more than 1 billion views, and over 5 million subscribers.

If you’ve got time to kill, it includes this video – 23 minutes of a person in a zebra suit dancing against a green screen, because “Dancing zebras improve every situation, so feel free to add this footage of a zebra dancing in front of a green screen to a video of your choice. Share your creations using #JustAddZebras.”


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