The activist/trial lawyer combine driving the $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron loves to wield the personal attack, demonizing the company, its employees and anybody else who argues that the litigation is baseless. At first blush the attacks look like an attempt to cow critics, but by now everybody has read Saul Alinsky — pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it — and once recognized as tactics, the attacks lose their power to intimidate.
So as the litigation and PR squad now levy personal charges against yours truly (again), we’re left to puzzle over their thinking. “The Chevron Pit” — billed as the blog maintained by the team suing Chevron — mentions my name seven times in its Tuesday post, “Chevron: Don’t believe your eyes…believe our lies!” and adds the usual insults. But if they cannot successfully intimidate, what’s the point? Therapeutic release for the blogging activists?
It’s certainly not truth-telling. The blog goes after our Saturday post, “What Photo Do You Use to Illustrate Misleading Journalism?,” which challenged The New York Times’ use of a photo of a current oil pit in Ecuador to illustrate a story about the lawsuit. Texaco, bought by Chevron in 2001, left Ecuador in 1992. Any photo of a still-liquid oil pit depicts pollution caused by the government-run oil company, PetroEcuador.
How does The Chevron Pit rebut our point? By trotting out more misrepresentation! The photo at the top of the post is identified as a pit known as Shushufindi 38. It’s a favorite location used by the activists for PR purposes; they took the “60 Minutes” film crew there, and made much of the old fellow who used to live next door, Manuel Salinas. (When I visited the site in June as part of a Chevron-sponsored trip, a relative said Mr. Salinas had moved to town. Only speculates about his new financial wherewithal…) The blog captions the photo with “The Pollution Chevron Left Behind…Shushufindi pit 38.”
Chevron, which to its credit responds to all the misleading claims from the litigation team, offers the real story about Shushufindi 38 at its The Amazon Post blog in a May 27th post.
The Amazon Defense Coalition, the financial beneficiary of the lawsuit in Ecuador, issued a press release on 5/8/09 regarding a waste pit at Shushufindi-38 near Manuel Salinas’ home. The release alleges that Mr. Salinas’ water well is contaminated, and Texaco Petroleum was to blame.
In fact, Texaco Petroleum remediated all of the pits it was responsible for. Petroecuador is responsible for remediating the Shushufindi-38 site, and began that remediation in 2007. In addition, Petroecuador can be seen here performing a work-over (work-overs are major repairs or modifications to a well) on the site as recently as November 17, 2005 (others occurred in 1991, 1993, 1994 and two in 2002, all after Petroecuador assumed responsibility for Sushufindi-38.) In 2005, both parties sampled Mr. Salinas’ well and found that the water met USEPA drinking water standards for hydrocarbons and metals.
Chevron also provides a point-by-point refutation in a separate document.
You would think that lawyers who want to win a lawsuit on its merits would argue those merits and rely on the facts. But instead they produce a constant flow of misrepresentation followed by near-hysterical news releases.
We can only conclude (again) that the lawyers and the Amazon Defense Coalition aren’t really interested in winning a judgment in court; they want to bludgeon the company into a settlement through bad PR. That’s why they try to turn annual stockholders meetings into media circuses and enlist celebrity spouses, filmmakers, gullible critics and media activists to their cause. Public relations before everything else.
Yet even these supporters may eventually lose interest. After all, the media are always looking for a hot, new story to fire emotions and how many premieres can the movie “Crude” hold before looking silly? You really need a core group of supporters and, more importantly, financial contributors to keep the operation up and running over however many more years the legal/PR campaign may run. Sure, the liberal foundations are good with the money but they sometimes demand accountability. Not so the motivated writers of small-sum checks.
Outrage is the mechanism. The PR machinery at Hinton Communications, the Amazon Defense Coalition, the trial lawyer Steven Donziger, the Chevron Pit, all trade in outrage. The personal attacks, the name calling, the claims of inhumanity are all designed to stir up the letter writers, the rally attenders, the standing-by sympathizers and, most importantly, the financial contributors.
The game is sad and cynical, exploiting the sympathies of people who regret the loss of a world untouched by civilization and who sincerely want to help Ecuadorians. But that’s not what the litigation is about: It’s about squeezing millions if not billions of dollars out of a U.S. corporation for operating legally in a foreign country, in the process creating wealth and providing a product demanded by those of us who occasionally get behind the wheel of a car. To those manipulators and merchants of outrage, we say, well, insult all you want. We’ll pay more attention when you start dealing with the facts.
Latest posts by Carter Wood (see all)
- Farewell from a Blogger - May 25, 2011
- Activist Ignore Evidence to Back Shakedown Suit Against Chevron - May 25, 2011
- More than a Lawsuit: A Circle of Political Pressure Against Chevron - May 25, 2011