Chevron’s Aggressive PR Challenge – ‘buying’ bloggers?

Chevron logoChevron is throwing down the gauntlet – conducting a bare knuckle PR campaign the likes of which we have rarely seen. At stake is a $27 billion judgement in an Ecuadorian court that, if leveled (a decision is expected this year), and if it sticks (it is not clear if an Ecuadorian court can extract payment from an American company with no current operations in its country), would be the largest environmental lawsuit in history.

Such a judgement could severely hamper Chevron and impact its stock. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is demanding a full accounting from Chevron (the state, through pension funds, is a shareholder). Dozens of blogs and web sites are devoted to slamming the company and generating a consistent stream of negative news -  including accusing the company of buying off bloggers. Chevron is aggressively fighting back.

Anybody who does not believe that high-profile civil cases are fought as much through PR as they are in the courtroom should study the Chevron case.

The latest flame-up in this story was the May 3, 2009, ’60 Minutes’ segment titled Amazon Crude. Silvia M. Garrigo, Manager, Global Issues and Policy for Chevron, was in the unenviable position of facing the 60 Minutes grilling from Scott Pelley. Garrigo’s performance on ’60 Minutes’ was ridiculed by many anti-Chevron groups although, from my perspective, she is a strong and credible advocate for her client.

Chevron responded to 60 Minutes by hiring former CNN correspondent  Gene Randall to narrate a ‘News” report that tells the story from its Darryl Hannah in Ecuador to highlight damage from environmental disasterperspective. The video, Chevron Texaco Ecuador Lawsuit – Behind the Scenes, is on YouTube and a company web site devoted to the case.

Smack in the middle is a blogger called Zennie62, who, ChevronToxicoclaims, is a paid shill for Chevron. ChevronToxico offers no proof and Zennie Abraham, the blogger, does not confirm or deny payments in his blog posts. He posts prodigiously about the case and seems to have a wealth of information that would only be available to an insider. His blog posts and YouTube videos rank high in Google searches on keywords Chevron, Texaco (acquired by Chevron), and Ecuador.  Daryl Hannah, right, visiting environmental disaster site in Ecuador.

In 2008, Amazon Watch disclosed that Bay Area blogger Pat Murphy was a paid to post pro-Chevron comments on the Ecuador case in his small online newspaper.  Murphy has publicly acknowledged he accepted fees for control of editorial content, according to Amazon Watch.

Chevron’s Garrigo has acknowledged that this is a PR battle. The company claims that it cannot get a fair trial in Ecuador and they seek to sway public opinion in the U.S. if the case is brought here. This is not a ‘cut and dry’ case, despite the entrenched certainty of the opposing forces. There is plenty of villainy to go around. The Ecuadorian government has an atrocious environmental record – the big U.S. oil company is an easy target that reaps enormous political benefit, even if they don’t realize a dime from the lawsuit.

 “Paying so-called independent bloggers to post is just one part of a wide-ranging fraud designed by Chevron to cover up the company’s enormous exposure in Ecuador,” said Prieto. Prieto said Samson, Chevron’s public relations director, has built an “empire” of consultants in the U.S. and Ecuador to put out misleading information about the case.  Chevron’s environmental problems in Ecuador have become the company’s largest worldwide public relations problem. Samson has retained the New York office of the global public relations behemoth Hill & Knowlton — the same firm that represented the tobacco industry for decades– to manage Chevron’s image problems stemming from the Ecuador case. Chevron P.R. Director Donald Samson Behind Secret Payments to Bloggers to Hide Ecuador Liability


  1. Andy Hoffman says:

    Speaking of desperate PR campaigns…it isn’t just fake blogging that Chevron has been engaged in, but fake newscasts. My blog took a satirical look at that end of things for anyone who needs a bit of levity in their day…

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