Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship this week sued a long list of national news outlets and media personalities — ranging from Fox News to MSNBC and from The Washington Post to Breitbart News — alleging they defamed him in their descriptions of the criminal mine safety conviction that landed Blankenship in federal prison for a year.
Blankenship claims that media coverage of his losing bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Joe Manchin amounted to “weaponized defamation” that has “so smeared his reputation” that he has been unable to pursue business opportunities that could have generated “returns of billions of dollars.” The 33-page complaint was filed Thursday in Mingo Circuit Court, in Williamson.
Specifically, Blankenship notes repeated — and incorrect — references to him having been convicted of a felony or of manslaughter following the deaths of 29 miners in an April 5, 2010, explosion at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County.
Blankenship was convicted in December 2015 of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in the months prior to the explosion. While he was not charged with causing the explosion, the accusations against him focused on rampant violations of longstanding safety rules — mine ventilation, dust suppression and roof control — that have been known for decades to prevent deadly underground blasts like the one that occurred at UBB.
Federal law makes violation of — or conspiracy to violate — mine safety and health standards a misdemeanor, punishable with a maximum of one year in prison.
Blankenship’s complaint contains a lengthy footnote that references a recent concurring opinion in which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas called for revisiting “New York Times v. Sullivan,” the landmark 1964 ruling that makes it difficult for public figures to prevail in libel suits.
Blankenship is seeking damages of $12 billion, with $10 billion of that for punitive damages to “adequately punish” the “massive media companies” that are named as defendants.