Milhailovich’s response to Chevron was that the nearby pit was not cleaned up and that the story accurately reflected Salinas’s words and beliefs. “As for Mr. Salinas’s well, the statement in the story ‘he says pollution leaked into his water well’ accurately captures what he said in the interview and what he believes about the quality of the water.”

Sorry, but that’s not a high enough standard to justify using Salinas’s remarks as evidence that Texaco failed to clean up a site it had polluted, much less using them to lead into the segment.

This isn’t a matter of belief. It’s a checkable fact. Either the well was or wasn’t part of Texaco’s responsibility under the 1994 deal and was or wasn’t polluted by oil. In this case, available evidence says the answer to the first question is no and the answer to the second is maybe not.

In addition, according to Campbell, Chevron didn’t know that Salinas and his well would be featured in the segment until they saw it aired. As a result, Chevron had no chance to make the points it made after-the-fact in unsuccessfully requesting a correction. If true, that doesn’t pass the basic fairness test.

The segment continues after its footage of Salinas with a conversation with a scientific expert for the people who are suing Chevron, clearly identifying him as such. He and correspondent Pelley examine a pit that they describe as designed to overflow into streams. Since the pit has been there for twenty-five years, it clearly was operated at one point by Texaco, but 60 Minutes fails to identify the site or say whether Texaco or Petroecuador was responsible for cleaning it up. Chevron says 60 Minutes wouldn’t disclose where the pit was located. That doesn’t seem fair, either.

“If you smell the water you can clearly smell the oil pollution in it, says Pelley who notes that in Texas such pits are supposed to be temporary and isolated from fresh water, whereas this one runs down to a stream. “When we stirred the bottom of the nearby stream, oil floated to the top.”

Right, but was the site Texaco’s responsibility under the 1994 cleanup deal? Unknown.

Then, about three and a half minutes into the segment, 60 Minutes notes: “Texaco left Ecuador in 1992 and today, Texaco’s owner, Chevron says the pollution is now the responsibility of Petroecuador, Texaco’s former partner. That dispute is at the heart of the lawsuit.”

Admittedly, television journalism has different rhythms and requirements from print journalism, but as a former newspaper editor for The Washington Post’s Wall Street and corporate crime coverage, I would have put that dispute higher up in the story. 60 Minutes does elaborate on Chevron’s argument later in the segment, however.

60 Minutes notes that the people who live near the oil production facilities use the river for washing clothes, bathing, and drinking. “Texaco acknowledged that it dumped into the rain forest, billions of gallons of what is called production water. Production water is waste that comes up with the oil. In fact, it’s often salty and laced with chemicals.”

But Chevron’s manager of global issues and policy Silvia Garrigo told Pelley during a two-hour interview made available to me by Chevron was that production water was only released or discharged “when it is safe to do so.” That part was not aired on the 60 Minutes segment; whatever you think of the denial, she should have been allowed to express it.


60 Minutes travels down a river with colorfully painted indigenous people and meets in their community hut with plaintiffs lawyer Stephen Donziger, of whom 60 Minutes says, “Make no mistake—Donziger would be wealthy if he wins. But he says that most of the money would go to environmental clean up.” Fair enough. Plaintiffs attorneys do often get rich through their work, but, in doing so, they also often expose wrongdoing.

Martha M. Hamilton , CJR's Audit Arbiter, explores complaints about fairness, accuracy, and other issues arising from business-news stories. Send possible story ideas her way at the link on her name. A former reporter, editor, and columnist at The Washington Post, she is a writer and editor for PolitiFact.com.