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A lawsuit helps muzzle John Oliver — sort of

John Oliver.
John Oliver.Eric Liebowitz/HBO, file

John Oliver “desperately” wants to talk about getting sued by Murray Energy. But viewers might have to wait a while to hear the juicy details.

News broke last week that the coal company was suing HBO and the host of “Last Week Tonight” for what it says was a ‘‘false and malicious broadcast’’ last weekend.

This week, Oliver opened his show with an acknowledgment of the charges, but said he had to keep mum for a while.

“I desperately want to talk to you about this tonight, but our lawyers suggested that the court be the venue where we work this out,” Oliver said. “I promise we will tell you about this as soon as it is over.”


The segment in question — which was part of an overarching criticism of President Trump’s attempt to revive the industry — came last week as Oliver ribbed Murray chief executive Robert Murray. During the segment, Oliver said that Murray Energy had fought against coal safety regulations — plus, he noted that Murray himself looked like a ‘‘geriatric Dr. Evil.’’

During the show, Oliver also said that he might be tempting fate by discussing Murray Enenrgy: The company has a litigious past, and has previously sued such media outlets as The New York Times. Company officials also sent Oliver a message before the show aired, asking him to “cease and desist from any effort to defame, harass, or otherwise injure Mr. Murray or Murray Energy” and that “failure to do so would result in immediate litigation.”

Oliver brushed aside the warnings, and the Ohio company swiftly made good on its promise, suing the comedian days later in West Virginia.

In its filing, Murray Energy claims that Oliver tried to embarrass Robert Murray by making fun of his age and appearance, and made false statements about a 2007 collapse of a Utah mine, when nine miners died. The company also said Oliver ignored information it sent the show that it says showed an earthquake caused the mine’s collapse, and that the show made no mention of ‘‘the efforts Mr. Murray personally made to save the trapped miners.’’


An HBO spokesman said the show didn’t violate Murray Energy’s rights or those of Murray.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.