Vanity "Unfair" and the Chevron case

Long time readers are probably familiar with Hot Air’s coverage of the years long debacle which comprised the Chevron Ecuador case, and how the energy (and jobs) providing company eventually prevailed over the hucksters. But it turns out that there were even more twists and turns to the story which involved some media surrogates to environmentalist lawyer Steven Donziger and the folks trying to pick Chevron’s pockets to the tune of $19B dollars. When things still looked to be going Donziger’s way, Vanity Fair dispatched their award winning journalist William Langewiesche to “cover” the story. (Emphasis mine)

Langewiesche happened to write a lengthy article on Donziger’s case against Chevron for Vanity Fair some years back. For a lawyer leading up such a high-profile case, this kind of publicity can be invaluable, particularly when, as in the case of Langewiesche’s article, what the reporter produces is a broadside against a heartless oil company.

Well, the Miami Herald’s Glenn Garvin plowed through the voluminous emails that have been introduced in Chevron’s countersuit. Garvin zeroed in on the correspondence between Donziger and Langewiesche, which is revealing to say the least. According to Garvin, Langewiesche asked Donziger to prepare dozens of questions that he planned to ask Chevron. He asked Donziger to help him concoct an excuse about his “intense” travel schedule, to get him out of doing in-person interviews with Chevron officials, as they had requested. He ran his emails to Chevron past Donziger for approval before he sent them, which Donziger, by his own admission, aggressively edited. Langewiesche even sent Donziger a copy of the story weeks before it was published, with a note that the piece was “particularly satisfying to the extent that it supports your efforts, and you personally.” Aside from being egregiously biased, the article was published with at least one very serious error (“the assertion that it would cost $6 billion to clean up all the pollution around oil-drilling sites in the Amazon”).

The Miami Herald dug up even more interesting facts about the fair and balanced approach that Langewiesche took in covering this story.

The reporter asks Donziger to prepare lists of dozens of questions to be asked of Chevron. And he begs Donziger to help him prepare arguments about why there’s no need for him to do face-to-face interviews with Chevron officials, as they’ve requested, even though he spent days meeting with Donziger and his legal staff.

“I want to avoid a meeting, simply because I do NOT have the time. But I don’t want to go on record refusing a meeting,” writes Langewiesche. “Perhaps I could say that my travel schedule is intense . . . ” He not only submits his emails to Chevron for Donziger’s approval (“What say, Steve. I gotta send this tonight”) and even lets him rewrite them. “Let me know if this works,” Donziger says in a note returning one of them. “I was a little aggressive in the editing.”

After reading through a stack of exchanges like that one, I wasn’t surprised to find that Langewiesche sent Donziger a copy of the Vanity Fair story several weeks before it was published.

It’s small wonder that the few reporters actually covering this tale refer to it as Vanity Unfair.

What is the author up to today, after all of these revelations? Apparently he’s still on the payroll at Vanity Fair. What happened to Donziger is already well known. The courts essentially laughed him out of the venue and he’s now facing a judge in a very different role… as the defendant in a RICO trial. But of course nobody can touch Langewiesche. After all, he’s just a journalist bringing the news of the world to the people.

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