New York Times Buries Admission of Self Interest in Chevron Story

The New York Times reported on Jan. 2 that Chevron has been using outtakes from the film "Crude," an anti-Chevron film in its legal battles. The Times called it "a cautionary tale for lawyers who invite in documentary filmmakers to tell the story of their legal fights."

The footage was allowed in court after a New York federal judge ruled in May 2010 that Joe Berlinger, the filmmaker, had to turn over more than 500 hours of outtakes, according to the Times.

While this Times story was not as biased against Chevron as past articles about the $27 billion Ecuadorian lawsuit have been, but the paper was not upfront about its opposition to the use of the film footage.

John Schwartz and Dave Itzkoff wrote the latest Times piece, but waited until the 24th paragraph to admit the Times' position in the case. That paragraph read:

"Floyd Abrams, an expert in First Amendment law who wrote a brief fighting the demand for the outtakes by Chevron on behalf of journalism organizations, including The New York Times, said that regardless of how revealing the clips were, the court's broad order was mistaken."

How revealing were those clips? The Times said, "In one outtake, when a dinner companion asks Mr. Donziger [the lawyer against Chevron] if the judge will be killed if he rules against his side, Mr. Donziger says, 'He thinks he will be, which is just as good.' In another, he talks about evidence of toxic contamination that is all 'smoke and mirrors.'"

Mainstream media outlets, including the Times, have taken up the arguments against Chevron in the past. On Oct. 9, 2009, the Times examined the decade-and-a-half-long legal battle between the left-wing environmental group (supposedly representing the people of Ecuador) and Chevron over pollution allegedly left behind by Texaco (which Chevron acquired).

That day the Times took liberty with a photo of "murky" polluted water, a photo's caption could have led readers to think Chevron was responsible for the mess. But according to Carter Wood of ShopFloor.org, a blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, the Times was misleading the public. The photo was of an oil pit created by Petroecuador, not Chevron (or Texaco).

Earlier in 2009, the Times also bostered the case for Ecuador, ignoring poor water infrastructure in Ecuador and the fact that one "expert" they quoted was paid $200,000 for his report on pollution in Ecuador by Amazon Defense Coalition, the same environmental activist organization that has sued Chevron.

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.