Following that, 60 Minutes gives Chevron’s Garrigo some time to make an argument that the judicial system is corrupt and politicized. “When she says ‘politicized,’ she points to the top—Ecuador’s president who visited the waste sites and called the people who brought the suit heroes. A message, Garrigo says, that can’t be lost on the judge.”
When 60 Minutes goes to see the Judge Juan Nunez, Pelley observes, “Nunez struck us as serious and thoughtful. He’s been on the case for a year and he’s been out to the waste pits.” For all I know, Nunez may be serious and thoughtful, but it seemed an oddly out-of-place subjective evaluation in a news program. A few months later, last October, the court was forced to accept Nunez’s recusal from the case last October after Chevron released videos that appear to show Nunez telling two contractors that he will rule against Chevron. Nunez has said that the videos were doctored. Still, this shows the disadvantages of subjective musings compared to fact-based reporting.
60 Minutes did include about fifty seconds of footage of a grassy green tropical area that Garrigo identified as a site cleaned up by Texaco. However, it was only included after heavy lobbying from Chevron, which complained that CBS had spent time with the plaintiffs in Ecuador and should spend time with its representatives there. Mihailovich’s first offer was to let Chevron shoot its own footage of its cleaned up sites. Chevron’s reaction was that company video would not be as credible as 60 Minutes video.
60 Minutes deserves credit for agreeing to shoot the footage, even if it wasn’t its first instinct.
Mihailovich did make good points in an email to Chevron’s Campbell about why it was less inclined to spend time interviewing Chevron representatives in Ecuador. “We’ve met with you extensively three times already. We went to Ecuador so we could speak with the characters who are in the country, many of whom we were meeting for the first time. We can’t shoot the Secoya Indians in New York. The same goes for the judge, President Correa, the folks at Petro Ecuador or some of the settlers who claim they have been affected by contamination…..We’ve been told repeatedly that you all have no assets in Ecuador” and that Coral Gables, Florida, where 60 Minutes interviewed Garrigo, was Chevron’s headquarters for the case. However, 60 Minutes did shoot New York attorney Donziger in a straw hut in Ecuador. “Stephen Donziger, a New York lawyer, far from home.” Chevron’s complaint here is about process, not the actual issues, and therefore not the main point. Another trip to Ecuador would have been nice, but not essential for 60 Minutes’ reporting. Put it this way: 60 Minutes could have made another trip to the country and still turned in an unfair report, and it didn’t need another trip to have done a more fair report.
Chevron has other bones to pick with 60 Minutes’s coverage, many of which frankly fall into the category of mind-numbing details.
But others seem relevant. Although Chevron talked to 60 Minutes about Petroecuador’s poor environmental stewardship (an average of three spills a week since 2000, according to Garrigo), 60 Minutes never got into that issue except briefly, noting that “Chevron says anything left behind now is Petrecuador’s problem.” It adds, after a quick quote from Garrigo about Petroecuador’s responsibility: “Petroecuador, which has been running oil operations since Texaco left in 1992, is cleaning some of Texaco’s old pits—slowly. But other pits remain like open sores in the rain forest.”
However, the insistent focus is on Chevron (twenty-five mentions, by my count) and Texaco (twenty-seven mentions) compared with six mentions of Petroecuador. 60 Minutes also spends time on the notion that, because Texaco built and operated the fields until 1990, that it alone, not the consortium in which it was a minority partner, was responsible for any problems.