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Broadcasts Ignore ‘Bizarre twist’ of Chevron Ecuador Lawsuit

Stratus Consulting disavows its contamination research, ‘regrets its involvement’ in case.

Several years ago, CBS’s “60 Minutes,” CNN and The New York Times tarred Chevron with biased reporting about a lawsuit between the oil company and an “eco-radical” group called Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC).

But this past weekend (April 12-14) the broadcast networks, MSNBC and CNN ignored major news (in Chevron’s favor) in the case that broke in print outlets including the Times on April 12, 2013, according to a Nexis search for “Chevron” or “Ecuador.” Clifford Krauss reported for the Times that in a “bizarre twist, with an American consulting firm now recanting research favorable to the villagers’ claims of pollution in remote tracts of jungle.”

“Stratus Consulting of Boulder, Colo., announced late Thursday that it had originally been misled by Steven R. Donziger, a lead lawyer for the Ecuadorean villagers, and had decided to disavow its contributions to scientific research about whether there was groundwater contamination that sickened the residents in swaths of rain forest,” Krauss wrote.

The consulting firm’s work had led to a $19 billion award against Chevron in an Ecuadorean court. Reuters reported that the “so-called Lago Agrio plaintiffs who won the $19 billion judgment from an Ecuador court are trying to enforce it in other countries where Chevron does business.”

“Chevron has called the judgment a fraud,” Reuters said on April 12, 2013. According to Chevron’s website they have appealed the judgment and “maintains that the judgment is illegitimate because of documented evidence of fraud and unethical action by the plaintiffs' lawyers as well as the Ecuadorian government and judiciary. These fraudulent actions include the plaintiffs' lawyers falsifying data; paying experts to ghostwrite exaggerated environmental-impact assessments; and bribing the judge who allowed the plaintiffs' lawyers to write the actual judgment issued against Chevron.”

Back in 2009 and 2011, media outlets covered the lawsuit between the ADC, which had been trying to get billions of dollars from Chevron for environmental cleanup that the Ecuadorean government signed off on more than a decade ago, and Chevron. CBS’s Scott Pelley, now the anchor of CBS “Evening News,” described ADC in 2009 as working on behalf of 30,000 villagers, although there are only 48 named plaintiffs, to win funds for so-called environmental damage in Ecuador’s rain forest from then-Texaco Petroleum’s (Texpet) operation of oil well sites. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.

That 2009 report was heavily one-sided, featuring six individuals who had a stake in the outcome against Chevron, versus just one spokeswoman for the defendant – Silvia Garrigo, Chevron’s manager of global issues and policy who called the case "frivolous" and a "fraud." Chevron has posted it's own response about the case on Youtube.

Shortly after the “60 Minutes” attack on Chevron, the Times also bolstered the claims of the ADC. And in October 2009, the Times used photos to illustrate a story about claims against Chevron for pollution. The photo was of an oil pit (and flare offs) created by Petroecuador, NOT Chevron or the company it purchased (Texaco). But Carter Wood of ShopFloor.org, the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, pointed out the Times “doesn’t bother to tell the readers what they are seeing in the paper has nothing to do with Chevron.”

In February 2011, Bloomberg BusinessWeek finally added some balance to the media coverage of the legal battle. In a cover story about Donziger called “Jungle Justice,” they mentioned “evidence of a disturbing nature” dug up by Chevron’s lawyers including a scientific expert’s testimony that he had not signed a report which bore his name. The magazine also reported an outtake of the film “Crude” in which Donziger boasted about intimidating an Ecuadorian judge saying, “The only language that I believe this judge is going to understand is one of pressure, intimidation and humiliation.”