“Brad Pitt’s production company has edged out George Clooney’s to win the film rights to a book about the epic, fraud-marred Ecuadorian environmental suit against Chevron, according to two sources with indirect knowledge of the situation.” Back story: “Pitt is known to have been interested in the Lago Agrio pollution for several years, and has visited Ecuador with his wife, Angelina Jolie, to observe the situation and meet with [plaintiff lawyer Steven] Donziger’s team.” However, the book, Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle, includes much detail unfavorable to Donziger, who has lashed out against it and numerous other journalistic treatments of the affair such as Michael Goldhaber’s Crude Awakening. [Roger Parloff, Fortune] We’ve been covering the story for years, but alas have yet to hear from any stars interested in optioning rights.
- Biggest gaps between views of scientists and those of general public come on topics of animal research, GMO foods [Pew/AAAS]
- New study challenges prevailing assumptions: controlling for such factors as poverty and race, “no differences [found] in asthma risk between children living in urban areas and their suburban and rural counterparts” [Science Daily; Knappenberger and Michaels, Cato]
- Interview with NYU’s urbanist Alain Bertaud, formerly of the World Bank [Market Urbanism]
- Little free libraries on the wrong side of zoning law [Conor Friedersdorf, Sarah Skwire/Freeman, L.A. Times]
- “Who knew following the trail of ‘clean energy’ money could make you feel so dirty?” [Oregonian editorial on scandal that led to resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber, more, Watchdog] Actually, the correct answer is “plenty of us”: green-barrel projects rife with cronyism in other states too [Mark Newgent, Red Maryland; Michael Dresser, Baltimore Sun]
- “EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Has Chilling Consequences For Many Rural People” [Larry Bell, Forbes]
- “The digital poker magnate who financed an epic pollution lawsuit against Chevron has disavowed the case and accused the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer of misleading him about the underlying facts.” [Paul Barrett, Roger Parloff]
- Kip Viscusi: current structure of tort law gives firms like General Motors reason not to investigate risks/benefits of their designs [Alison Frankel, Reuters]
- California woman in trouble after allegedly sending “faked treatment documents and burn photos from a hospital website” to bolster hot coffee spill claim against McDonald’s [ABA Journal]
- Despite Kumho Tire, Joiner, and amendments to evidence rules in 2000, Eighth Circuit cuts its own liberal path on expert witness admissibility [Bernstein]
- “In the BP case, the rule of law is on trial” [Lester Brickman, The Hill, on cert petition]
- “Fighting and Winning Against Pit Bull Defense Lawyers” [Ronald Miller]
- Business groups savor victory in racketeering suit over concocted asbestos claims [Barrett, Bloomberg Business Week]
- Peter Spiro adds another favorable review of Paul Barrett’s Chevron/ Ecuador book Law of the Jungle [Opinio Juris]
- Called on his “jail ’em” rants, RFK Jr. tries to walk things back. Not gonna work [Andrew Stuttaford, Steven Hayward, earlier]
- If you think plastic bags have a high energy cost, one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers has news for you [The Dish; related, Julian Morris/Albuquerque Journal]
- There she is! The one who favorited that tweet! Bring her to justice! [@gabrielmalor via @andrewmgrossman]
- Some online commenters insist there must be a link between Ebola and GMOs, and in a sense they’re right: GM techniques likely to prove vital in developing therapies against the disease [Abbie Smith]
- Ann Althouse annotates a long New York Times Magazine article promoting the Louisiana coastal-erosion lawsuit [earlier]
- Who’s more credible on Chevron/Ecuador, Steven Donziger or his many critics? [Joseph Nocera, New York Times] Appeals court opens doors to more revelations in case [Paul Barrett, Business Week] More: Oh, and about Mia Farrow… [Phelim McAleer, New York Post]
- “Newfoundland judge dismisses moose vehicle collision class action lawsuit” [Canadian Press, earlier]
Roger Parloff at Fortune reviews the two new Chevron-Ecuador books by Paul Barrett and Michael Goldhaber (earlier here, etc.), and also asks where ubiquitous S.D.N.Y. federal prosecutor Preet Bharara is in a case where he might appropriately take an interest. Meanwhile, Paul Barrett recounts being on the receiving end of a P.R. campaign to tear down his book, and an excerpt from his book recounts the fall of celebrated law firm Patton Boggs after it was tripped up in the dispute; and actress Mia Farrow reveals at least one way in which she might be thought to resemble former education secretary Bill Bennett.
Via p.r. agent Karen Hinton, William Langewiesche has now responded in our comments section (as well as elsewhere) to Glenn Garvin’s critical Miami Herald column (linked here) regarding Langewiesche’s 2007 Vanity Fair piece on the Chevron-Ecuador litigation. Garvin has in turn contributed a rejoinder.
The George Mason law professor favorably reviews one of the two new books on the case, Michael Goldhaber’s Crude Awakening. After Prof. Krauss wrote on the litigation in March, he says, the government of Ecuador unsuccessfully tried to pressure Forbes to retract the piece. Earlier (Glenn Garvin on the William Langewiesche Vanity Fair piece), generally, and related (takedown attempts).
“If you say anything remotely critical about the Ecuadorian government, you may face a copyright takedown,” wrote Maira Sutton at EFF in May. A Spanish firm that represents the government of Ecuador, Ares Rights, has sent out many such takedown demands, related to media accounts of surveillance, corruption, and the country’s Lago Agrio legal dispute with Chevron. More recently, following growing scrutiny of its own activities, Ares Rights has aimed takedown demands citing supposed copyright infringement against its own critics, including Adam Steinbaugh. Details: Mike Masnick, TechDirt; Ken at Popehat. It has also represented the government of Argentina.
I’ve expressed skepticism before about William Langewiesche’s 12,600-word 2007 article in Vanity Fair on the Chevron-Ecuador dispute, which took a line relentlessly sympathetic to the case of plaintiff’s lawyer Steven Donziger. (As readers of this site know, Donziger has spent the past few years fighting off allegations as to the means by which he obtained an $18 billion judgment against Chevron; one federal judge has found “clear and convincing evidence” that the judgment was “obtained by corrupt means.”) I’m also pretty familiar with the ways trial lawyers use journalists to go after the companies they’re suing, having written on that topic many times before.
Still, like many others, I was floored by Glenn Garvin’s new column in the Miami Herald based on emails introduced into evidence in the endless litigation. Even knowing how writers habitually butter up key sources, I wouldn’t have expected Langewiesche to assure Donziger that “You and I are now firmly on the same side” and that writing the article had been “particularly satisfying to the extent that it supports your efforts, and you personally.” Nor would I have expected Langewiesche to have sent Donziger a copy of his article weeks before it was published, or for Vanity Fair’s editors to have allowed him to do this on a highly contentious topic of public controversy, assuming they knew.
The emails go on and on, as Garvin summarizes them, depicting
Langewiesche as Donziger’s camp follower at the best of times, his sock-puppet at the worst.
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.
In short, Vanity Fair, which positions itself as the glossiest of high-toned journalistic outlets, got played like a cheap ukulele. And I didn’t know this either, which I’ll quote Garvin on, parentheses and all: “(Department of Extraordinary Coincidences: Donziger’s wife at the time worked in corporate communications at Condé Nast, the magazine’s publisher.)”
By coincidence, I’m part way through an advance copy of the interesting new book by Paul Barrett of Business Week on the Chevron-Donziger-Ecuador mess, titled Law of the Jungle. Not to give away anything, but it fills in many areas of background that were new to me about this incredible (still-in-progress, attempted) legal heist (links to Barrett’s earlier coverage here). There’s also a new mini-book by Michael Goldhaber entitled Crude Awakening: Chevron in Ecuador, unseen by me.
P.S. Bonus Vanity Fair connection: journalist Kurt Eichenwald, whose trial-lawyer-assisted role in the Texaco Tapes affair left such a bad impression, has for some time been ensconced as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.
- Coming to other towns soon: new stormwater regs ban car wash fundraisers at schools in Arlington, Va. [ArlNow]
- Krugman hides the ball on coal-fired utility regs [David Henderson]
- Coming in September: book on Chevron/Ecuador case by Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Paul M. Barrett [Business Roundtable]
- Simplified narrative of “business versus environmental regulation” obscures so much [Tim Carney, Washington Examiner]
- Environmental disclosure panel from Vermont Law School “Disclosure Debates” [video, summary by Caitlin Stanton for VLR’s Environmental Health, links to all videos, background]
- California: “Attorney General Posts 2013 Proposition 65 Settlement Numbers” [Cal Biz Lit]
- “Silent Spring at 50: The False Crises of Rachel Carson” [Cato panel with Andrew Morriss, Richard Tren]