Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chevron’s New Shills

In a sign of frustration over their inability to convince any journalists with a semblance of independence or journalistic integrity to publish their talking points, Chevron has turned to paying faux journalists and bloggers to parrot the company's talking points and to do the company's dirty work in lobbing baseless accusations against the people bringing a landmark environmental lawsuit against the company.

In yet another instance of the company treating it's $27 billion legal liability in Ecuador as an image problem to be managed, rather than as an environmental and human rights crisis to be dealt with, Chevron has taken extreme measures over the recent past: hiring disgraced former-CNN anchor Gene Randall to put together a high-priced faux-news story that tries to fool viewers into thinking it's an independent news video, and paying for an all-expense paid trip for bloggers (including Carter Wood of, Bob McCarty of, Gail Tverberg of, and Roger Alford of to Ecuador to participate in the company's propaganda tour.

[Update/Editor's Note: In the interest of clarity and fairness, while Roger Alford attended a trip paid for by Chevron, he has not written anything about this lawsuit, or otherwise opined on the issue.]

The result of Chevron's efforts? A number of posts that purport to be "news" that simply parrot Chevron's P.R. messages at the expense of any journalistic integrity that the "reporters" may have had.

Already Gene Randall, who traded on his familiarity as a former CNN anchor to create a fraudulent report for Chevron, has been publicly reprimanded in the New York Times, the Columbia Journalism Review, and On The Media, among other prestigious journalism publications. From interviews published in On The Media it appears that Randall has already resigned himself to counting his silver pieces to justify his loss of any public credibility that he may have had: "I didn't choose to leave CNN," Randall said, "and now that I have, I have to make a living somehow. So I offer my ability to use 'journalistic techniques' to clients who need to present their messages."

But perhaps more egregious than Randall's willingness to trade on his former association with CNN as part of Chevron's effort to manipulate public opinion, is the wholesale sale of their credibility that has occurred in the blogs over the past few weeks. The company has admitted to taking several bloggers on an all-expense paid trip to Ecuador to indoctrinate them in the company's messaging on the Ecuadorian lawsuit. The bloggers returned from the propaganda trip armed with a wealth of baseless accusations that they have lobbed at the indigenous people of Ecuador and the lawyers working with them. In true blogger fashion, almost none of these internet "journalists" bothered to consult with anyone other than Chevron before they started making their allegations. Instead, they simply sold whatever credibility and integrity they may have had to Chevron in return for a nice trip to Ecuador (or in McCarty's case – since he didn't actually go when he had to cancel, just the promise of a trip).

It will be interesting to see if the loss of integrity and credibility is worth the free flight that Chevron provided (hey – it might have even been first class…after all, the company did make $23.8 billion in profit last year).