60 Minutes: Up to Its Old Tricks

Last night, 60 Minutes did a story on a purported $27 billion lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador. As usual, the program was content to lead cheers for the plaintiffs and throw stones at an American company. Also as usual, CBS got the facts wrong.

The theme of the story was that Chevron had failed to clean up a number of polluted sites in Ecuador, as a result of which local villagers’ water was polluted. Moreover, the lawsuit alleges $9 billion in damages for cancer caused by such pollution, and 60 Minutes implied that this claim was reasonable and justified.

In fact, Jeff Poor writes, Texaco Petroleum (“Texpet”), Chevron’s predecessor, partnered with Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, PetroEcuador. It was PetroEcuador, not Texpet, that failed to clean up polluted sites:

In 1998, the government of Ecuador certified that Texpet, a minority partner in an exploration and production venture with PetroEcuador, Ecuador’s state-owned oil company, had met Ecuadorian and international remediation standards and had released Texpet from future claims and obligations. Texpet had cleaned up more than 100 sites in the area as part of that effort, leaving the remainder to PetroEcuador for cleanup.

The 60 Minutes segment showed footage from 13 sites, none of which were among the more than 100 that were remediated by TexPet. CBS’s “reporter,” Scott Pelley, told Chevron he was “too busy” to visit any of the sites the company had cleaned up.

As we’ve seen so often, 60 Minutes stooped to outright misrepresentation to advance its anti-corporate (anti-American, really) agenda. This bit of fakery is really pretty funny:

The “60 Minutes” segment included footage from a native Ecuadoran, Manuel Salinas, who contended that pollution from one of the oil well sites in question made his water undrinkable.

“Manuel Salinas’ house is next to one of those pits,” Pelley said. “He’s one of 30,000 people suing Texaco’s owner, Chevron. He says the pollution leaked into his water well.”

“We couldn’t drink the water,” Salinas had said to “60 Minutes.”

However, Salinas lives next to a PetroEcuador site and tests from both Chevron and the plaintiff suing Chevron’s show Salinas’ well (see Table 1, GW-1 Sample) was not contaminated with hydrocarbons, but fecal coliforms (see Table 3A).

Check out Poor’s report; there is lots more, including the fact that the plaintiffs’ $9 billion “cancer” claim does not include a single person who actually has cancer.

Chevron tells its side of the story here. If you want facts rather than biased sensationalism, you have to go to the company, not the television show.

I wonder why anyone still watches 60 Minutes. I recall a conversation I once had with a friend (a liberal Democrat) who said that he no longer watched the program because he had gotten sick of the endless “gotcha” stories aimed at American companies. That was in the late 1970s. Things have only gotten worse since then.

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