The attacks against 34-year-old journalist Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News appear to be part of a wider company strategy to intimidate journalists, environmental advocates, and supporters of Ecuadorian indigenous and farmer communities who have held Chevron accountable in court for its admitted practice of discharging billions of gallons of toxic waste into the rainforest. For background on the case against Chevron and the company's retaliation campaign, see this summary of the evidence, this article from Rolling Stone, and this overview of Chevron's crimes and fraud in Ecuador from Steven Donziger, the longtime U.S. legal advisor to the affected villagers.
The latest installment of Chevron's intimidation model – the one against Klasfeld – is being orchestrated by CRC Public relations with headquarters in Arlington, Virgina. That's the same outfit that ran the "Swift Boat for Truth" campaign questioning John Kerry's patriotism when he was the Democratic nominee during the 2004 presidential campaign.
Klasfeld has written several articles in recent weeks on developments in the two-decade litigation that run counter to Chevron's narrative that it was the victim of fraud in Ecuador. One can access these articles via the search option at the website of Courthouse News; we link to some of the most important ones in this post.
The "Swift Boat" effort not only grievously damaged Kerry's prospects, but is widely seen as one of the most dishonest smear campaigns in history. That Chevron would hire CRC for any purpose shows the lengths to which the company will go to wield its muscle against its perceived enemies.
Also working on behalf of Chevron to target Klasfeld is Sam Singer of Singer Associates, a longtime Chevron public relations "crisis communication" firm in San Francisco. Singer has been known to secretly pay supposedly independent bloggers to parrot Chevron's public relations talking points on the litigation, among many other unethical activities. See this report from the San Fransico Weekly ("Trust Me: Who Are You Gonna Believe, Sam Singer or Your Own Eyes?") for background on how he has tried to help Chevron elect hand-picked candidates in a California town where a recent fire at the company's refinery forced 15,000 people to seek medical attention.
In recent weeks, several employees of CRC and Singer Associates went after Klasfeld on Twitter after he reported details of an explosive new forensic report that blows up Chevron's defense to the Ecuador judgment. The report was written by a noted American computer forensic expert (J. Christopher Racich) who examined the hard drives of Ecuadorian trial judge Nicolas Zambrano and found the Word document that became the 188-page judgment against Chevron was saved hundreds of times on his office computer over a four-month period. For Klasfeld's story on the new report, see here.
Chevron is in a serious jam because in 2013 it had paid a corrupt Ecuadorian witness, Alberto Guerra, roughly $2 million in cash and benefits and moved his entire family to the U.S. so he would testify falsely in U.S. court that the plaintiffs wrote the judgment and gave it to the trial judge on a flash drive just before it was issued. The Racich report is simply another layer of proof on top of the already ample evidence demonstrating that Guerra is a liar. (For background on how Chevron lawyer Andres Rivero paid Guerra cash out of a suitcase to get him to become a paid witness for the company, see here.)
The specific details of the cyberbullying are outlined in an article for Courthouse News by Klasfeld titled "The Truth Can Be Adjusted" in reference to the movie Michael Clayton.
As Klasfeld wrote,
Courthouse News blew the lid on a secret forensic analysis of the computer hard drives of Ecuadorean Judge Nicolas Zambrano, whose name appears on a $9.8 billion judgment against Chevron, and to date nobody has suggested this article is inaccurate.The reason for the anger of Chevron's management team is understandable. The company's defense to the underlying environmental case is falling apart after it spent an estimated $2 billion to hire 60 law firms and 2,000 legal personnel to fend off the villagers. Chevron's top brass -- already under pressure from shareholders -- does not want that failure exposed. But the targeting of a journalist who reports the facts is inexcusable.
Although Chevron has long alleged that lawyers for Ecuadorian villagers secretly wrote the verdict against it, the article revealed what have now become undisputed facts.
The data on Zambrano's computers includes a Microsoft Word document that appears to be a running draft of the judgment. This document was saved "hundreds" of times on both of the computers over four months, and the author names of the supposed ghostwriters do not appear in any files or emails on the hard drives.
It is worth noting that CRC Public Relations is headed by political and corporate attack specialist Greg Mueller, whose Twitter account was one of those used to target Klasfeld. Mueller is the Bad Boy of the Republican Right and he makes millions in fees playing the part.
CRC was involved in a campaign to torpedo the nomination of Sonya Sotomayor, the first Latina on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the force behind a series of vicious attack ads targeting supporters of ObamaCare. The company also has close ties to the the Virginia-based Media Research Center, a shadowy non-profit used by corporations to tar journalists who write about climate change and other topics considered unfriendly to the interests of CRC's clients.
Another source of agita in the Chevron camp is that its retaliatory "racketeering" case in the U.S. against the affected villagers and their lawyers has not stopped collection lawsuits targeting the company's assets in Canada and Brazil. The judgment in Ecuador was confirmed by eight separate appellate judges in the court system where Chevron insisted the trial be held. Further, Chevron knows it cannot effectively use its star witness Guerra to block enforcement actions given his utter lack of credibility.
While at times we have disagreed with his reporting, Klasfeld clearly has guts. That's far more than one can say about other legal reporters like Michael Goldhaber of American Lawyer and Fortune's Roger Parloff who seem so wedded to the oil giant's narrative they have yet to write about the new forensic report. (For more on the bias in Parloff's reporting, see here. For details of Goldhaber's tilt toward Chevron, see here.)
That Chevron is responsible for the ecological calamity in Ecuador known as the Amazon Chernobyl is beyond dispute. Not only has the disaster been confirmed by dozens of independent journalists who have visited the country, during the eight-year trial in Ecuador a Chevron executive admitted the company (operating as Texaco) discharged billions of gallons of oil waste into streams and rivers relied on by local residents for their drinking water. The dumping decimated indigenous groups and caused an outbreak of cancer confirmed by numerous independent peer-reviewed health evaluations.
Despite clear evidence that the story about the "ghostwriting" of the judgment is false, Chevron CEO John Watson and General Counsel R. Hewitt Pate continue to push it in their public statements. The new report by Mr. Racich has not caused these men to walk back even an inch from their claims. That is itself evidence of an intent by Chevron to mislead shareholders and the financial markets about the risk faced by the company.
Klasfeld no doubt also rankled Chevron when he pressed to gain access to a secret investor arbitration proceeding where the oil giant – in what can only be described as act of sheer chutzpah – is pushing for a taxpayer-funded bailout (by Ecuadorian citizens) of its pollution liability in the rainforest. That investor arbitration proceeding, which bars journalists and the public as well as the lawyers for the Ecuadorian communities, has been subject to withering criticism for violating due process and fundamental principles of international law.
Klasfeld is not alone in being attacked by a corporate polluter that acts as if it is above accountability.
The list of journalists who have been targeted by Chevron for reporting on the impact of its pump-and-dump operation in Ecuador is getting longer. The list includes the award-winning writer William Langewiesche of Vanity Fair, who in 2007 published a fascinating story about lead Ecuadorian lawyer Pablo Fajardo. The company also targeted 60 Minutes, which in a 2009 report exposed part of Chevron's deceit in Ecuador. There are many others we know whose articles were deep-sixed under Chevron pressure during the editing process.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press should investigate Chevron for its intimidation campaign against independent journalists. In the meantime, Klasfeld and Courthouse News deserve kudos for reporting on Chevron's misdeeds without fear or favor.