The Columbia Journalism Review has fact-checked “60 Minutes” and its attack piece last year against Chevron, sued by contingency fee lawyers in the United States over oil pollution in Ecuador, “How 60 Minutes Missed on Chevron.” It’s a damning report.
“Play CBS Video.” The arrow is superimposed on an image of old, rusting oil barrels emblazoned with Texaco’s name.
“Chevron is America’s third-largest company, behind ExxonMobil and WalMart,” intones correspondent Scott Pelley. “One way it got that big was by buying Texaco in 2001. Now that purchase of Texaco has pulled Chevron into a titanic struggle in the Amazon.”
Rusted barrels. Scene after scene of what appear to be contaminated well sites. Oozing oily black water and blazing flares from natural gas. And a campesino named Manuel Salinas scooping up black goo with a small stick, saying that he can’t drink the water from his well. The imagery is clear in the 60 Minutes segment that aired May 3, 2009.
The problem is the facts aren’t. There is no way to tell watching and listening to 60 Minutes production “Amazon Crude” where or whose responsibility most of the apparently polluted sites are. Although the segment mentions that Texaco left the area in 1992, scant attention is focused on state-owned Petroecuador, which has been the sole operator of former Texaco sites for the past twenty years
The problem is, the facts aren’t. Yes, that’s a problem.
CJR is by and large a liberal-minded publication, with commentary and analysis that would fit just fine on The New York Times editorial page. For the magazine to come down so hard on “60 Minutes” is a good indication that the TV news magazine journeyed far beyond the journalistic pale, abandoning facts and fairness in the interest of telling a story — a fictional story.
Disclosure: In June 2009, I went to Ecuador on Chevron’s dime to view various sites also shown in the “60 Minutes” piece.
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