Crude Awakening To A Slippery Slope

dollar,pitchfork,warholI know we have one major disaster going on involving BP and that they were unprepared to deal with it and it is precisely the kind of disaster that Big Oil does not ever want to face up to its irresponsible choices for creating, nor do they want you to even know how bad it really is.

A while back I borrowed a post from the 40 Year Plan's Ken Kreyeske (with permission, of course) featuring an interview with filmmaker Joe Berlinger and discussing his movie "Crude: The real Price of Oil":

Suppose that an oil catastrophe more than 30 times the size of the Exxon Valdez happened and no one noticed?

Well it did. In the Ecuadorian rain forest. For decades, Texaco is alleged to have dumped oil in pits across Ecuador. What would be fenced off superfund sites in the United States are stinky open oil pits that indigenous peoples live next to in Ecuador.

After first seeing the catastrophe, American documentarian Joe Berlinger was so aghast and ashamed of what Texaco did that he decided to film it. Those first clips turned into a 104 minute feature film called Crude, which documents the pollution and the class-action lawsuit brought by 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorians against Texaco, and now its successor Chevron.

Yesterday, Bill Moyers along with Michael Winship revisited the story of "Crude", considering the possible chilling effects on both whistle-blowers and journalism in general, as a result of a Federal Judge's recent decision to take over 600 hours of Joe Berlinger's footage used to make the movie and hand it over to Chevron:

But our story is about another petrochemical giant -- Chevron -- and a major threat to independent journalism. In New York last Thursday, Federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ordered documentary producer and director Joe Berlinger to turn over to Chevron more than 600 hours of raw footage used to create a film titled "Crude: The Real Price of Oil."

Released last year, it's the story of how 30,000 Ecuadorians rose up to challenge the pollution of their bodies, livestock, rivers and wells from Texaco's drilling for oil there, a rainforest disaster that has been described as the Amazon's Chernobyl. When Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001 and attempted to dismiss claims that it was now responsible, the indigenous people and their lawyers fought back in court.

Some of the issues and nuances of Berlinger's case are admittedly complex, but they all boil down to this: Chevron is trying to avoid responsibility and hopes to find in the unused footage -- material the filmmaker did not utilize in the final version of his documentary -- evidence helpful to the company in fending off potential damages of $27.3 billion.

This is a serious matter for reporters, filmmakers and frankly, everyone else. Tough, investigative reporting without fear or favor -- already under siege by severe cutbacks and the shutdown of newspapers and other media outlets -- is vital to the public awareness and understanding essential to a democracy. As Michael Moore put it, "The chilling effect of this is, [to] someone like me, if something like this is upheld, the next whistleblower at the next corporation is going to think twice about showing me some documents if that information has to be turned over to the corporation that they're working for."

In an open letter on Joe Berlinger's behalf, signed by many in the non-fiction film business (including the two of us), the Independent Documentary Association described Chevron's case as a "fishing expedition" and wrote that, "At the heart of journalism lies the trust between the interviewer and his or her subject. Individuals who agree to be interviewed by the news media are often putting themselves at great risk, especially in the case of television news and documentary film where the subject's identity and voice are presented in the final report.

"If witnesses sense that their entire interviews will be scrutinized by attorneys and examined in courtrooms they will undoubtedly speak less freely. This ruling surely will have a crippling effect on the work of investigative journalists everywhere, should it stand."

Essentially, what the court has decided is that it is open season on anyone that dares to leak information for the public good. I cannot see any good coming from what is an activist decision in favor of corporate destruction and against investigative journalists and their ability to get legitimate sources of important information to get out there and tell the truth.

All this, bearing in mind that we are talking about corporatist nation that knows how to profit, but not how to protect.

Big Oil and their activist Judge just slicked the corporatist slippery slope and real people just took one big ass slide down.


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