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14 Apr 2010

Martha Hamilton, Audit Arbiter, Columbia Journalism Review

How 60 Minutes Missed on Chevron

Scene after scene of what appear to be contaminated well sites... And a campesino named Manuel Salinas scooping up black goo with a small stick, saying that he can’t drink the water from his well. The imagery is clear in the 60 Minutes segment that aired May 3, 2009. The problem is the facts aren’t. There is no way to tell watching and listening to [CBS] 60 Minutes production “Amazon Crude” where or whose responsibility most of the apparently polluted sites are. Although the segment mentions that Texaco [now part of Chevron] left the area in 1992, scant attention is focused on state-owned Petroecuador, which has been the sole operator of former Texaco sites for the past twenty years. The backdrop to the segment is a lawsuit filed by plaintiffs lawyers in New York on behalf of Ecuadorian inhabitants of the area... I’m not rendering a judgment on whether Texaco/Chevron is responsible for the pollution... But looking at the journalism itself, in his particular story, does Chevron have a [legitimate complaint that the coverage was unfair]? In my opinion, it does... 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...its segment was an exercise in innuendo...60 Minutes could have—and should have—done better.