U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York has just issued an order (.pdf file) making outtakes from the documentary-style film, “Crude,” available to the public. 

Footage from Joe Berlinger’s movie has been available to the attorneys involved in the contingency-fee litigation against Chevron for environmental damage in Ecuador. Transcripts from the outtakes have also been entered into the court record, documenting the  manipulation of the judicial process by Steven Donziger, the lead U.S. trial lawyer, and the U.S. and Ecuadorian legal team/activists. (Shopfloor, “‘Crude’ Footage Reveals Lies Behind Trial Lawyers’ Suit Against Chevron.”)

However explosive, the transcripts still fail to capture the full disdain for the truth shown by the players behind the litigation and PR campaign against Chevron.  Thanks to Judge Kaplan’s Oct. 7 order, now everyone can see the video that shows the plaintiff’s team scheming and swearing and orchestrating the shakedown against the company. From the order:

Reporters with Thomson Reuters and with The American Lawyer magazine and ALM Media have requested copies to a total of approximately ten compact disks filed as Exhibit A to a declaration of Kristen Hendricks [DI 14 -10 MC 0002]; Exhibits A and D to another declaration of Ms. Hendricks [DI41 – 10 MC 0002]; and Exhibits 1 and 2 to the declaration of Paul E. Dans [DI 40-10 MC 0002]. The parties have no objection to the requests.

Accordingly, the Clerk shall provide copies of these disks to the requesters and any member of the public who requests copies of the same disks upon payment of the reasonable cost of duplication and blank media.

60 Minutes' segment on Chevron in Ecuador failed to report full story.We were disappointed to see that “60 Minutes” was not one of the requesters asking for copies of the videos. The CBS news-entertainment magazine delivered a miserably one-sided report on the litigation in May 2009, “Amazon Crude,” that accepted as fact the trial lawyers’ thesis: Chevron is a corporate monster that does not care that its predecessor, Texaco, polluted Ecuador’s Amazon with no regard for the native people, so damn right they should pay up.

Along with “Crude” and William Langewiesche’s evocative story-telling in Vanity Fair, “Jungle Law,” the “60 Minutes” piece represented one of the most powerful PR weapons in the U.S. trial lawyers’ litigation war against Chevron. Of course, as this Columbia Journalism Review analysis concluded, “How 60 Minutes Missed on Chevron,” the report fell short on facts and relied instead of innuendo.

Judge Kaplan’s order provides “60 Minutes”  a great opportunity for more serious journalism in the form of a powerful follow-up segment, recounting how their producers and reporter Scott Pelley gave too much credence to the trial lawyers’ claims, failed to appreciate the legitimacy of Chevron’s arguments, and ultimately produced an unfair and inaccurate account of the litigation.

It’s a heck of story: Foul-mouthed New York trial lawyer and supposedly heroic activists work with left-wing Ecuadorian government to corrupt the courts and shake down a U.S. company for billions of dollars.

“60 Minutes,” you already have all the earlier footage shot in Ecuador. Now the damning, explosive outtakes from “Crude” are available just for the price of copying the files onto DVDs.

What a great opportunity for serious journalism.

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