Thursday, February 4, 2010

Chevron’s New CEO Ducks Spotlight Over Ecuador Issue

Pressures Washington Post & New York Times To Pull Ad, Violating Free Speech Rights in Move To Squash Criticism of Company

San Francisco, CA – Chevron’s new CEO John Watson is violating the free speech rights of environmental groups with aggressive pressure tactics, involving the New York Times and the Washington Post, to quash an ad campaign sponsored by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), critical of the company’s handling of a potential $27.3 billion liability for environmental damage in Ecuador, representatives of the Amazon Defense Coalition, which is suing the company for the environmental damage, said today.

The ad campaign, which featured a photo of Watson and was published in print in the New York Times and on the Washington Post website, read: “Oil men have polluted the Ecuadorean rainforest for decades. This man can do something about it now.” The ads were run as part of the launching of a new RAN campaign with the tagline “Energy Shouldn’t Cost Lives.”

Chevron responded to the ad campaign by directing the company’s lawyers and a paid advertising agency, which oversees the company’s own multi-million dollar ad campaign, to leverage the company’s influence and demand that the media outlets pull the ads. In their complaint to the Washington Post, Chevron alleged that the RAN campaign’s tagline, “Energy Shouldn’t Cost Lives,” was unsubstantiated, and thus should prevent the ad from being run.

“I hope Chevron would agree that energy shouldn’t cost lives. Me thinks Chevron doth protest too much. An arm-chair analysis of Chevron’s arm-twisting is nothing more than a projection of the guilt they harbor about the mess that Texaco left behind in Ecuador,” said Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Amazon Defense Coalition.

“If they have problems with the ad content, then Chevron officials should take out their own ad or agree to debate the plaintiffs or the environmental group. Otherwise they come across as schoolyard bullies.”

Despite Chevron’s complaints, the New York Times ran the advertisements. However, the Washington Post pulled the ad pending resolution of Chevron’s complaint. Last night, the Washington Post agreed to run the ad following questioning by RAN, the Amazon Defense Coalition and other news reporters. Separately, Chevron contacted Getty Images, from which RAN had purchased the rights to the photo of the CEO, to demand that Getty rescind RAN’s license to use the photo. Getty agreed to Chevron’s demand.

”Chevron is now pulling out all the stops to attempt to silence any criticism of the company, no matter how legitimate or well-founded,” said Hinton. “Even this ad campaign, which simply states that Watson has the power to do something about the pollution in Ecuador, has led to Watson mobilizing the company’s extensive resources.”

The response to the ad campaign is just the latest in a series of aggressive tactics employed by the oil giant in an apparent attempt to stifle criticism which have attracted headlines.

  • Chevron recently pressured the managers of the Houston Marathon Expo Center to throw out a RAN-sponsored booth and its runners. The booth contained information about Ecuador and the contamination. Chevron was a sponsor of the Houston Marathon. RAN agreed to leave the center, but a manager had them escorted out by Houston police anyway because, as he said, “Chevron’s higher-ups are freaking out.” See this article for more information:

  • Last year, Chevron tried to force the Sierra Club in San Francisco to block any questions about Ecuador from people attending a public forum featuring Sierra Club President Carl Pope and then Chevron CEO David O’Reilly. Wall Street Journal Editor, Alan Murray, who was moderating the forum discussion, did not know about this agreement. Once informed about it, Murray refused to agree to Chevron’s terms.

  • Chevron also paid for a fake “news” video, produced by former CNN anchor Gene Randall to counter a critical 60 Minutes piece. The video is widely advertised through Google ads, even though the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review wrote news articles critical of Randall and Chevron for trying to trick viewers into thinking the video was real news coverage.

In the underlying environmental case in Ecuador, Chevron is charged with deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic waste when it operated several large oil fields in Ecuador's Amazon from 1964 to 1990, decimating indigenous groups and causing a spike in cancer rates and other oil-related diseases. A court-appointed Special Master in Ecuador, where the trial is being held at Chevron’s request, found 1,401 excess cancer deaths due to the contamination and pegged damages at $27.3 billion.

A final judgment is expected this year.