Last year, 60 Minutes took a long, hard look at Chevron's toxic legacy in Ecuador's Amazon rainforest and its terrible impact on the indigenous people and poor farmers in the region. Today, that investigation won a prestigious award for excellence in journalism.
Reported by correspondent Scott Pelley, 'Amazon Crude' was honored today with the 2010 Edward R. Murrow Award for "Video Investigative Reporting." The award is a repudiation of Chevron's whiny complaints about the hard-hitting investigation, and of the sloppy Columbia Journalism Review 'audit' solicited by the oil giant.
Watch the award-winning 60 Minutes report, 'Amazon Crude:'
As I wrote about here a couple months ago, the probe by 60 Minutes threw Chevron's PR team into a tizzy.
Knowing it was likely to be pummeled by the professional investigative powerhouse, Chevron hired a former CNN reporter named Gene Randall, who peddles his previous credibility to make contract videos for corporate clients. They commissioned a video to respond to what Chevron knew the 60 Minutes piece would inevitably contain, i.e. the troubling truth.
The production Randall delivered is bizarrely similar in length and tone to a standard 60 Minutes segment. In fact, many critics immediately charged the company with attempting to pass it off as a news report. The New York times even weighed in with an article criticizing the company for trying to trick the casual observer into thinking they were watching real journalism rather than corporate propaganda. The oil giant posted it on Youtube and on its website three weeks before 60 Minutes aired 'Amazon Crude.'
When 60 Minutes' investigation finally did air in May 2009, it caused quite a stir. It was probably the most high-profile investigation into the issue, and one of the most in-depth (after the exhaustive William Langewiesche article in Vanity Fair). As I wrote previously, Chevron's PR hacks were so miffed about their inability to spin their way out of the critical spotlight 60 Minutes turned onto their legacy in Ecuador, they even tried to fight the story after the fact.
They reached out to Martha Hamilton of the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), and were eventually successful in soliciting an 'audit' of the 60 Minutes report:
In an article about the audit I posted here on April 20th, I quoted CJR's Hamilton introducing the 'audit:'
A few months ago, Chevron turned to The Audit, the business-news desk of the Columbia Journalism Review. As part of its mission of covering business news and its upholding standards, The Audit from time to time has taken up complaints of business news subjects who feel they’ve been treated unfairly by news outlets. Now we’ve formalized the process with the creation of a dedicated Audit Arbiter. That would be me. In each case, I’ll look at the facts and render a judgment.
And here's my previous commentary on her audit:
It turns out that Hamilton thinks Chevron was treated unfairly. The only problem with her take on the journalism is that with the exception of a few minor things she could have found in even the most rigorous of reports, her criticisms are all based on Chevron's complaints that their viewpoint didn't come across properly.More troubling still is that Chevron lied to Hamilton in presenting the company's grievances about the report. For more on that, I encourage you to read the analysis of the Amazon Defense Coalition on its 'Chevron Pit' blog.
I think the muckraking journalist Edward R. Murrow would have been quite proud of the 60 Minutes team for its powerful investigative report. And it seems to me that the bestowal of the award in his name upon the report is a final repudiation of Chevron's objections. Of course, with this latest affirmation that they're on the wrong side of the truth, it's hard not to worry that the oil giant and its 'take no prisoners' lawyers at Gibson Dunn will decide to go after 60 Minutes in court in the same way they have with CRUDE filmmaker Joe Berlinger.
Chevron's pattern is deceptively simple; since it's losing on the facts, it attacks the process... it impugns the motives of those daring to reveal the truth... it uses its mammoth resources to drain the resources and energy of those trying to hold the company accountable for crimes against people and nature.
When will it end?
Han Shan is Coordinator of Amazon Watch's Clean Up Ecuador Campaign