Monday, August 9, 2010

Chevron P.R. Campaign Gets It Wrong Again

Last week Chevron's P.R. mavens were at it again – this time spinning out a number of carefully edited and selected outtakes from the documentary "Crude" to as part of an all-out assault on the lawyers for the 30,000 Ecuadorians suing the company for destroying an area of the rainforest the size of Rhode Island. Chevron is trying to intimidate the lawyers by using the edited film clips as the basis for fraud charges that are a cynical and desperate 11th-hour attempt to escape liability by any means necessary.

(Recently, Chevron got access to the private film outtakes of celebrated documentarian Joe Berlinger from his award-winning documentary "Crude" – in a highly criticized, unprecedented assault on the First Amendment. After a long court fight, Berlinger surrendered the film to Chevron after the company promised not to use it for any purpose other than litigation. Take a look at this post here.)

Chevron has claimed that the video outtakes show that the plaintiffs' lawyers have manufactured the lawsuit against the company out of "smoke and mirrors" that are "all bullshit" and are simply an extortion racket to get money from the oil company. Over the last week the company's lawyers and public relations specialists have been working bloggers and journalists to try to push this view as far and wide as possible. Among Chevron p.r. firms is Hill & Knowlton, which used the same playbook for the tobacco industry, and Creative Response Concepts, which invented the Swift Boat ads that targeted John Kerry.

Of course, Chevron's not telling the truth about what the video outtakes do show. In fact, any viewing of the actual film footage – and not Chevron's edited, hand-picked, out-of-context scenes - shows exactly the opposite. Even the concept where the plaintiffs' attorney is making the comments Chevron has zeroed in on is in the context of a methodical outlay of the massive amount of the scientific evidence proving the company's guilt for creating the world's worst environmental disaster. Chevron has not disputed this – but it has refused to release the entire scenes, or the unedited video on which it was basing its public relations assault on the plaintiffs.

Nor, of course, does Chevron publicize the hundreds of hours of outtakes provided by Berlinger that point clearly to its own misconduct in Ecuador.

This shouldn't surprise anyone. Chevron has a long history of playing fast and loose with video, using misleading and mischaracterized film footage to try to score public relations points. Almost a year ago, Chevron spliced and diced footage that it claimed showed a bribery scheme in Ecuador – a claim that was later completely discredited as a company "dirty tricks" operation. Before that, Chevron paid a former CNN anchor, Gene Randall, to produce a video about the lawsuit that appeared to be a legitimate "investigative reporting" newscast, presumably to trick viewers into thinking they were watching an independent report on the issue.
The company has proven it will stop at nothing to try to find a way to evade its liability in Ecuador – earlier this week The Atlantic reported that a freelance reporter for the publication was flown to Columbia and offered $20,000 to go undercover on behalf of the company.

For all of the efforts to attack the lawsuit, it is interesting what Chevron has not done: focus on the evidence that clearly prove its responsibility for the worst oil-related contamination on the planet.

After more than 17 years of litigation, Chevron has not seriously disputed the scientific evidence that conclusively shows it is responsible for creating the world's worst oil-related disaster. In the Ecuador trial, more than 64,000 chemical sampling results – 80% of which were provided by Chevron's own scientists – and a 200,000 page trial record has produced a mountain of evidence showing the extent of the contamination. The evidence is clear: over 26 years of operations, from 1964-1990, Chevron produced a legacy of environmental destruction that is at least twice as large as the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico in sheer size.

It is time for Chevron and its bloggers to stop misrepresenting film clips, quit the public relations battle, and take a look at the hard science that proves it is responsible for the horrible contamination.