Let the Personal Attacks Continue

By October 14, 2009Briefly Legal, Energy, General

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.

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Max German says:

    And let the personal attacks continue…

  • Max German says:

    Thank you James for your comments. I agree, it’s really really shameful that real people are suffering needlessly every day as a result of neglect by the government of Ecuador and Petroecuador. It is also shameful that after all these years Petroecuador hasn’t remediated the sites it is responsible for, and the government of Ecuador hasn’t provided medical care for affected people. But for the supporters of the plaintiffs, this is just a rhetorical game they play on the internet as the government of Ecuador sits idly by while kids are dying from cancer who might otherwise have lived normal, healthy lives.

  • James says:

    @Max: Your response is just Chevron’s assertions cut ad pasted. Why are you so certain that what they say is the absolute truth? Wouldn’t it be much more reasonable to believe independent court-appointed experts who actually spent a great deal of time and energy testing and verifying the facts on the ground at each site than one party’s obviously self-interested assertions?

    Of course it turns out that independent experts who appraise the situation thoroughly disagree with Chevron’s self-interested assertions, so I guess that would be a bit inconvenient for an unquestioning Chevron booster to admit.

    What’s really shameful about your behavior is that real people are suffering needlessly every day as a result. In all of these years that Chevron has been dragging this case out the sites have not been remediated and medical care for affected people has not been provided. This is not some rhetorical game you play on the internet – this is kids dying from cancer who might otherwise have lived normal, healthy lives.

    Shame on you.

  • Max German says:

    Thanks for your comments on my blog Joseph. Here is a copy of my response:

    Texaco operated in line with the standards of the day. Although Texaco was the operator, they were still the minority partner in the consortium. All consortium decisions including system construction decisions were made in conjunction with the majority partner state-run Petroecudor.

    The discharge of produced water was and is a safe and widespread practice. Texaco did not, as the plaintiffs say, discharge 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into rivers and streams.

    As for the spills and actions that took place prior to 1992. Texaco remediated a share of pit and well sites that was comparable to its minority stake in the consortium. The government of Ecuador, Petroecuador and a number of other institutions certified this remediation and absolved Texaco of any further liability.

    Petroecuador has yet to remediate the majority of the sites deemed as its responsibility under the 1998 remediation plan with Texaco. Many of the sites that are Petroecuador’s responsibility are pointed to by the plaintiffs. In fact, lead attorney for the plaintiffs Pablo Fajardo was quoted (Ecuadorian Newspapers) calling for Petroecuador to stop their remediation efforts as it was “changing his case” and presumably hurting his pr efforts.

  • Joseph Mutti says:

    Max,

    The Amazon Defense Coalition (which in spite of some bloggers strange notions to the contrary DOES exist by the way – I sat at a desk in its offices in Quito in 2007 and spent time in its Lago Agrio and Coca offices in the Amazon) could not possibly afford yet another lawsuit.

    I repeat that Texaco was sued back in 1993 shortly after it exited Ecuador. At that time Petroecuador had not done the damage it has since done USING TEXACO’S FAULTY INFRASTRUCTURE. This, as I mentioned in your own blog, is the key to the whole Petroecuador issue which Chevron constantly flaps around as a red herring:

    The plaintiffs contend that by passing on a defective drilling system (that, remember, was DELIBERATELY sub-standard to save money), Texaco is equally responsible for all subsequent pollution by Petroecuador.

  • Max German says:

    James, Nick, Kate, Anna, John, it doesn’t matter. You’re all probably the same paid anti-Chevron activist anyway. How would we know? As Joseph just said, Petroecuador has been responsible for further poisoning. Actually try 1,400 spills since 2000 alone. Why wait so long (17 years) to start a suit against Petroecuador? Don’t you want to hold them responsible too?

  • James says:

    @Max: Maybe there will be a case against Petroecuador if this one ever finishes. If you want to sue Petroecuador go right ahead. Private parties don’t have to sue everyone who’s wronged them all at once, so I’m not sure what point you even think that you’re making.

  • James says:

    Rebut what? You didn’t even make a case; you just cut and paste from a Chevron press release. You can easily Google “Shushufindi 38” and find the plaintiffs’ version of the history of that well, which is essentially that everything you quote in the Chevron press release is untrue and this well was built and operated exclusively by Texaco and was never used by Petroecuador, and if you were the slightest bit interested in finding out the truth of the matter you might at least have done that much before writing your drivel.

    I also love that in an article entitled “Let the personal attacks continue” your response to me calling you out on a total lack of balance is to call me “another mindless Amazon Defense Coalition follower.” You don’t know me, and you’re already insulting me. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

  • Max German says:

    Then why hasn’t another lawsuit been started against Petroecuador?

  • Joseph Mutti says:

    Carter,

    I used to work for the Amazon Defense Coalition in Ecuador. The whole point of the case against Texaco that Chevron inherited was that:

    a) the company DELIBERATELY caused the contamination it did (very different from accidental spills like the Exxon Valdez, however irresponsible).

    b) that the infrastructure passed on to Petroecuador was sub-standard and thus guaranteed continued pollution.

    Everyone knows that Petroecuador has been responsible for further poisoning the Ecuadorian Amazon, but the case is against Chevron, not Petroecuador. The initial lawsuit was filed in 1993 for damage specifically caused by Texaco.

    Texaco’s “remediation” was to essentially bulldoze over some of the pits, not clean them out and carefully deal with the toxic waste. Such action would never have been allowed in the US and Texaco knew it.

    The company chose profit over people and used substandard drilling techniques to accomplish it’s goal. The only wealth distributed in Ecuador was to one or two corrupt politicians.

    Oil is big business and the human and environmental rights of disenfranchised rainforest residents is, frankly, anathema to companies such as Chevron – however much its propaganda says it “cares”.

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  • James II says:

    More empty rhetoric from James, another mindless Amazon Defense Coalition follower. Where’s your rebuttal? I’ll take reasoned arguments over snarky drivel any day.

  • James says:

    So your entire refutation is a citation from a Chevron press release? And because Chevron said it that makes it true? Color me unimpressed by your journalism skills.

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