The New York Times ArtsBeat blog this afternoon became the first mainstream media outlet to report on Chevron’s court filing based on footage from the documentary-style film, “Crude,” about a lawsuit claiming the company is responsible for environmental damage in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle.
As we reported yesterday, the outtakes clearly show U.S. trial lawyers and activists instructing the supposedly independent, court-appointed expert — Richard Cabrera — on how to rig his report to maximize damage claims against the company. At one point, New York lawyer Steven Donziger declares, “We could jack this thing up to $30 billion …in one day.” Close! Cabrera recommended $27.4 billion in damages.
In his ArtsBeat piece, “Chevron Cites Documentary Footage in Its Fight Against Ecuadorean Plaintiffs,” reporter David Itzkoff elicits just an amazing quote from Ilann M. Maazel, a lawyer whose firm represents the Ecuadorean plaintiffs.
“They cherrypick a couple of minutes and share it with the court, but they’re not willing to release all the tapes,” Mr. Maazel said in a telephone interview. “I think it’s very revealing of their strategy of diversion and misleading people.”
That is an hilarious comment, reflecting either audacious spin or short-term memory damage. Chevron went to federal district court seeking all the outtakes from “Crude,” arguing — correctly, as it turned out — that the footage would show the plaintiffs conspiring with government experts. The director, Joe Berlinger, fought the attempt but eventually accepted as a “limited victory” the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that required he make available only relevant footage depicting certain events or people.
After the Second Circuit’s ruling, Maazel went to court, filing an emergency motion seeking even further restrictions on the release of outtakes. (Shopfloor post, “After ‘Crude’ Ruling, Trial Lawyers Suing Chevron Get Nervous.“) In other words, the last thing Maazel wanted was for Berlinger to release all the tapes. Please, please, please cherrypick, he pleaded with the court.
Also writing on this week’s developments is Jeff Poor, Business and Media Institute, “Court Filings Show ’60 Minutes’ Hero Donziger Colluded with Ecuadoran Government to Defraud Chevron.” Yes, the “60 Minutes” piece — “Amazon Crude” — was a hit job, another example of biased media siding with trial lawyers who can surround themselves with activists and colorful settings. Columbia Journalism Review demolished it.
We won’t wait for “60 Minutes” to redeem itself, but other news outlets could assemble a fascinating piece from the footage that Chevron submitted with its court filing. The Second Circuit’s ruling that required Berlinger to turn over footage from “Crude” limited Chevron’s use of the outtakes to litigation, arbitration and submissions to official bodies, but there’s nothing stopping one of the national TV networks gaining access to the footage. It’s a good story.
UPDATE (4:25 p.m.): San Francisco Chronicle blogs Chevron’s filing and quotes more Maazel. What do you do when you’re caught red-handed, when your entire legal case is revealed to be a corrupt shakedown? Shout louder!
Chevron’s latest filing is a blatant attempt to use a legal motion to launch a press campaign in direct violation of a court order. What comes across in Steven Donziger’s statements is a lawyer who feels very deeply about his clients and who is locked in a mortal struggle with a giant oil company.
For Chevron, this is another sideshow fabricated by the Gibson Dunn law firm and the company’s in-house counsel to cover up environmental contamination and human rights violations that have wrecked the Amazon and devastated the lives of thousands of people.
You know what would help the interested public assess everyone’s veracity here? If ALL the footage were put on a website.