Thursday, June 22, 2017

John Oliver Challenges Coal Mogul To a Duel, Mogul Accepts

I was going to use a poker metaphor for this, but a reddit discussion suggested the terms I was going to use - call and raise - are problematic.

A fellow Alaskan blogger posted a youtube video the other day of John Oliver calling out a West Virginia coal king Bob Murray on a number of issues.  I thought it was brilliant the way he has mastered a technique of using humor and visuals (in the Jon Steward model) to take complex issues and explain them simply, without losing the complexity.  In this case it involved
  • Trump's hypocrisy about promising and claiming new coal jobs
  • Murray's hypocrisy over his concern about coal miner safety
  • The first amendment 

In the piece, Oliver tells us that HBO got a cease and desist order telling them to not air the segment and that Murray has sued other media, including the New York Times over something they wrote.  It all sounds very Trumpish (It will be interesting how that word will eventually be defined when it enters the Oxford dictionary).

Today we learn that the threatened law suit has been filed in West Virginia  circuit court.

Here's the offending segment.  Judge for yourself.

HBO and Time Warner have deep pockets, but it is troubling when the very rich use libel and defamation law suit threats to shut down media that criticize them.

I've been threatened twice over posts here. One post about the Alaska International Film Festival which has nothing to do with Alaska except the pictures on its website and a post office forwarding service with an Alaska address earned me a threatening letter from their attorney.  The other got me an email that threatened a law suit.

The first was a bit scary as I had to consider the costs of potential lawsuits as a price of blogging.  While I was adamant about not taking down the post, I did have some difficult days calculating what standing by my post might cost me.   I was lucky to have access to a great attorney who ended the threat with one letter, but others who were threatened by them pulled their posts.   These threats are a real danger to free speech.   Gawker was put out of business by a lawsuit.

Murray seems a lot like Trump in that he can't handle any criticism.  John Oliver does come on very strong, but I'm confident - especially since he knew a lawsuit was likely - that he can document all his claims.

Let's see how far this lawsuit gets.  In this case, the defendants have the resources to fight.  In fact, John Oliver says in the segment that he knows such a suit is coming.  My concern is for smaller media, including individual bloggers, who can be much more easily shut down by the threat of a lawsuit.

NOTE:  I've been listening and reading the news lately with an eye to the percent of articles/segments that focus on conflict.  It's clear that conflict is the bread and butter of news.  Even NPR calls their news articles 'stories.'  At last April's Alaska Press Club conference here, NPR reporter Kirk Siegler  talked about how to create a good story and he identified tension as the second factor after a strong character.

But the constant focus on conflict (or tension) leads to a distorted perception of the degree of conflict in human life compared to the cooperation.  News shows will report the car accidents each day, but not the millions of drivers who used their turn indicators, slowed down to let someone in their lane, and did all the other cooperative activities necessary for freeway drivers to negotiate their way to their destinations.  We all hear daily things like "Two people were shot to death today in a robbery."  But how many times have you heard a newscaster say, "6170 people died today of heart attacks." 

Just as stories of murders far outnumber stories of other kinds of deaths, stories of conflict hugely outweigh stories of cooperation.  And in both cases people's perceptions are grossly distorted so they think of terrorists as a far bigger threat than they really are compared to other causes of death, and to think that conflict is far more common than cooperation.  

So when I post a story like this one that does focus on conflict, I ask myself what are the reasons that this story is worth posting.  Here's what I think is important in this story:
  • Oliver's skill in presenting the facts of a complex story in a way that retains the complexity yet is compelling to viewers.  He doesn't dumb it down, he raises the level of his viewers.  It's a model to study and emulate, though without the insults.
  • The danger to free speech from very wealthy people who don't like to be criticized.  This threat of lawsuits is very real - particularly for smaller scale journalists than those at HBO.  It's a consequence of the great divide between the very rich - for whom $10 million is pocket change - and the rest of us.  

1 comment:

  1. The threat of lawsuits works. There are a number of small towns in certain states that have tried to regulate where fracking can occur around schools and city limits only to be threatened with bankruptcy by large korporations with deep pockets.

    I imagine even when korporations are sure they will lose they go ahead as a warning to others. Right now coal is a Drumpf favorite.


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