Don Blankenship, a retired coal tycoon and former CEO of the Massey Energy Company, may well have unleashed the largest defamation lawsuit in history against dozens of mainstream media companies and personalities. The groundbreaking suit, filed on March 14th, targets dozens of news outlets and media personalities that allegedly referred to Blankenship as a “felon,” during his 2018 bid for U.S. Senate in West Virginia, after they previously reported he was found innocent on all felony charges.
Blankenship’s lawsuit accuses the outlets of launching a coordinated assault that robbed his chances of winning the West Virginia Republican Primary election. Blankenship was known for running a trailblazing campaign that sought to “drain the swamp” in Washington D.C., promising to fight hard against the establishment status quo.
The media companies targeted in the suit derived Blankenship’s “felon” epithet from his association with “The Upper Big Branch Mine disaster” which claimed the lives of 29 miners at the site. The explosion was later determined to have resulted from improper airflow, which was changed eight hours earlier by government mandate.
Blankenship was convicted of one misdemeanor charge in December 2015, for “conspiring to intentionally violate mine safety and health standards,” a charge which was unrelated to the explosion. He served one year in federal prison and was fined $250,000, and has claimed to have been the only prisoner who had only been convicted of a misdemeanor in his jail.
Feuding with Democrat Senator Joe Manchin and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Blankenship’s attorneys would appeal his case all the way to the U.S Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S District Court in Charleston and the 4thCircuit Court of Appeals in Richmond Virginia made errors in their rulings against him.
Blankenship would only serve one year in prison for his misdemeanor “mine safety” charge, which is an obscure regulation that had never been levied against a defendant before. The jury found Blankenship innocent of all felony charges surrounding the case.
Despite this well-known fact that his innocence on the felony charges had previously reported by the very same news outlets, the outlets and individual media personalities consistently referred to Blankenship as a “convicted felon” in the days leading up to the May 8, 2018 Primary election, with Fox News Judge Napaolitano going to far as to claim Blankenship had been convicted of manslaughter, even though that was never even a charge.
Seeking to oust incumbent Senator Joe Manchin, Blankenship ran a bold campaign against many competitive Republican contenders, including former U.S Representative Evan Jenkins and Attorney General of West Virginia Patrick Morrisey, who would go on to win the Republican nomination after McConnell’s coordinated media slander against Blankenship.
Blankenship ran on a platform that was directly opposed to establishment Republicans in the Senate and was unafraid to call out the corruption of specific Senators by name, most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Blankenship’s campaign truly attracted the media’s eye when the candidate launched a vigorous “ditch cocaine Mitch” initiative to brand McConnell as an establishment sellout while accusing him of illegally profiting from cocaine smuggling from China into the United States through his father-in-law’s shipping company, the Ping May.
“He went to D.C. and 35 years ago the national debt was 2 trillion dollars, and now the national debt is 22 trillion dollars. 20 trillion dollars while Mitch McConnell’s been there”, states Blankenship in a campaign ad, “He has conflicts of interest with China. His family is very powerful in China and in the United States,”
These accusations against McConnell sparked the wave of harsh media reports that falsely named Blankenship as a convicted felon, after McConnell spent millions of Senate Leadership Fund money on negative campaign ads painting Blankenship as a criminally corrupt coal baron responsible for the death of his employees.
Blankenship’s attorney, Eric Early, claims that these false reports were not factually mistaken, but instead represented a coordinated effort by the GOP establishment with mainstream media outlets to smear and ruin Blankenship’s campaign efforts. The complaint was filed in Mingo County West Virginia Circuit Court and accuses multiple outlets like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC of “weaponized defamation,” along with naming specific media personalities like Andrew Napolitano and Neil Cavuto.
In a live Fox News broadcast, Napolitano claimed that Blankenship “went to jail for manslaughter,” and despite promising to apologize on-air in an email, failed to ever do so.
On his Facebook page, Blankenship accused the Republican Party of colluding with various media entities amid his surge in the polls during the primary election. “The Republican Party panicked and asked the media for help. First up to help the Republican Party Leaders defeat me was Judge Napolitano, a New Jersey Judge, who was well acquainted with Patrick Morrisey,” Blankenship states, “the ability of government officials to control America’s national media was evident.”
If proven successful in court, Blankenship’s colossal 12-billion-dollar lawsuit would shatter records as the largest victory over mass media defamation in history. This case is historic, especially after the family of Nick Sandmann launched a major defamation suitagainst CNN and The Washington Post for $275 million in damages in the viral Covington high school controversy. With the facts aligning in his favor, Blankenship could establish a major precedent in challenging corporate media giants to better research the facts of a story before reporting and subsequently profiting from false narratives.