Coal Company, West Virginia Newspaper Reach Settlement in Libel Suit

A lawsuit filed against a West Virginia newspaper by a coal company has been resolved.

Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray sued the Charleston Gazette and reporter Ken Ward Jr. for a blog post where Ward mentioned Murray subsidiary Genwal Resources’ role in the 2007 Crandall Canyon mine disaster and Murray subsidiary Ohio Valley Coal Company’s more recent violations of the Clean Water Act.  As I reported back in August:

The complaint says the “false and defamatory manner” of the post is “affirmatively stating and clearly implying” that Murray, Murray Energy and the company’s subsidiaries are criminals.

“This statement intended to convey, and did convey, to the average reader that Plaintiff Murray is a criminal, dishonest and scurrilous executive,” the lawsuit said. “In reality, Plaintiff Murray has a reputation for integrity and honesty, is not a criminal, has never killed anyone, and has diligently worked to preserve the environment.”

The Gazette published an extensive Op-Ed this weekend by Murray Energy employees, defending their boss and company.

Gazette lawyer David Marburger says the newspaper agreed to publish the Op-Ed in exchange for the dismissal of the lawsuit.

The article calls out the Gazette and Ward for aiding “radical liberal elitists” who are “trying to silence Mr. Murray from speaking out against President Obama’s war on coal and others who have been destroying coal mining jobs in our region.”

In response to an emailed query, I received the following statement attributed to Charleston Gazette Publisher Elizabeth Chilton:

The Charleston Gazette’s legal settlement with Bob Murray, Murray Energy and affiliated companies contains no admission by the newspaper that anything it published was incorrect, libelous or defamatory.

Under the settlement, the Gazette agreed to publish a commentary by Mr. Murray responding to the Coal Tattoo blog post that prompted Mr. Murray’s suit.

Our newspaper also has a long history of providing space to allow readers and subjects of our stories to respond to what we publish. The ability to question our reporting or disagree with our commentary is available to anyone.

Here’s what the Op-Ed had to say:

Mr. Ward’s ‘blog’ entitled “Coal Tattoo: Mining’s Mark on Our World” is clearly an attack on the coal mining industry in general. In fact, in reviewing his articles as far back as the ‘blog’s’ founding, on February 5, 2009, we could not find a single article that was supportive of the coal industry. Given the paramount economic importance of the coal jobs to our region, Mr. Ward’s articles have had, and continue to have, a very destructive impact on the region’s coal miners and their families. Why The Charleston Gazette continues to associate itself with an unscrupulous, discredited, radical reporter and ‘blogger’ such as Mr. Ward is mystifying.

Let us set the record straight. The top priority for Murray Energy is the health and safety of our employees. As Mr. Murray, who has been severely injured a number of times while working in the mines, (three broken necks, a broken hip, etc.) states every day “No pound of coal is worth ever getting someone hurt over”. Also, “One of my greatest hopes is your bodies do not hurt like mine when you are seventy-two years old.” He also states, “I want you to retire with Murray Energy. This means that you will have worked safely and will have worked — period.”

The Op-Ed also claims that no criminal wrongdoing by the company was found in the investigation of the Crandall Canyon disaster. It’s true that no criminal charges were filed against individuals in the company, but as Ward has pointed out before (with links to documents to back this up)  Murray subsidiary Genwal was charged with criminal mine safety violations for violating the approved roof control plan at Crandall Canyon and failing to report a previous mine bump. 

Clarification:  An earlier version of this story reported that Murray Energy pled guilty to criminal charges in connection with the Crandall Canyon mine disaster.  However, it was Murray Energy subsidiary Genwal that pled guilty to criminal charges.  Murray contends that the convictions were unrelated to the mine disaster because prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to convict under a statute for misdemeanors “resulting in death.”

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

Comments