There was also a “gotcha” moment in which 60 Minutes noted that it had asked for a master list of the storage pits at the drilling sites. “Last week Chevron told us, there is no master list.” What Chevron said was that the remediation work was organized around a list of well sites, not a list of storage pits.
Does Chevron have anything to answer for in the Amazon? As I said above, that possibility should never be discounted. I grew up in Houston in the 1950s and ’60s, near the polluted Houston ship channel (“Too thick to drink, to thin to plow,” as one Texas legislator once said.), surrounded by a petrochemical swamp full of refineries. It wasn’t an environmental wonderland (although I’m sure it’s cleaner now). I wouldn’t want to bet that oil exploration and production in the Amazon decades ago met today’s standards in the U.S.
But that’s not the issue I’m grappling with. The issue is journalism. Although the segment reflected some of Chevron’s arguments about the lawsuit, a viewer could be forgiven for concluding that the mess shown was caused by Texaco, now merged into Chevron, and, more importantly, is its responsibility to clean.
And that’s where I find fault.
It did end with one striking image of pollution that was more clearly identified than the others in terms of responsibility. “On our way out of the forest, we just happened on a major oil pipeline break,” said Pelley, over footage of oil flowing in a river. “It wasn’t Chevron or Petroecuador. This time it was a Chinese-led consortium.”
Texaco may have trashed sites and then failed to clean them up in violation of the 1994 agreement. The 1998 release granted Texaco by the previous government may have indeed been corrupt, as the current government says.
60 Minutes could have shed light on the issue by finding an unremediated site for which Texaco was responsible, identifying it as such, and laying out the facts.
But it didn’t do that. Instead, its segment was an exercise in innuendo.
Even in these days of cutbacks to news operations, 60 Minutes could have—and should have—done better.