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May 11, 2009
When Chevron Hires Ex-Reporter to Investigate Pollution, Chevron Looks Good By BRIAN STELTER
What did Chevron do when it learned that “60 Minutes” was preparing a potentially damaging report about oil company contamination of the Amazon rain forest in Ecuador? It hired a former journalist to produce a mirror image of the report, from the corporation’s point of view. As a demonstration of just how far companies will go to counteract negative publicity, the Chevron case is extraordinary. Gene Randall, a former CNN correspondent, spent about five months on the project, which was posted on the Internet in April, three weeks before the “60 Minutes” report was shown on May 3. “Chevron hired me to tell its side of the story,” he said. “That’s what I did.” The two videos — one by CBS, the other by a corporation being scrutinized by CBS — run about 14 minutes long. They each discuss a class-action lawsuit filed by Ecuadoreans who accuse Texaco, a company acquired by Chevron in 2001, of poisoning the rain forest. An Ecuadorean judge is expected to rule soon on whether Chevron owes up to $27 billion in damages, which would make the case “the largest environmental lawsuit in history,” the “60 Minutes” correspondent, Scott Pelley, said. Both videos start with a correspondent appearing on camera and calling it a “bitter” dispute. But from there, they diverge. The “60 Minutes” report visits the rain forest, talks to the Ecuadorean judge and interviews a Chevron manager. The Chevron video interviews the same Chevron manager, as well as five professors who are consultants to the oil company, but none of the plaintiffs. The Chevron video never directly claims to be journalism. But a casual viewer could be swayed by the description — “Gene Randall reporting” — and the journalistic devices used, including file footage of the rain forest and over-the-shoulder interviews with experts....