Chevron Attacker Still the Hero in Rolling Stone Hit Job

Liberal ‘journalist’ glosses over ghostwritten scientific reports, court rulings, RICO case and bribery to blast oil company.

Just as some in the press finally realized and admitted to serious ethical breaches in the legal crusade against Chevron, left-wing journalist Alexander Zaitchik continued to try to make the oil company look criminal.

And one major left-wing news operation bought into it.

Zaitchik was the same writer whose professional ethics didn’t require him to to interview Glenn Beck, when he wrote an entire book attacking him. To hear Zaitchik tell the Chevron/Ecuador story in the Aug. 28, 2014, Rolling Stone, it was Chevron lawyers who tried to “intimidate” judges, the company that displayed “power and arrogance” and that acted like the mob.

In an Oct. 30, article for, Zaitchik also explored some of the same anti-Chevron themes and continued to ignore important facts. In that instance, he only acknowledged Chevron’s court win by saying the oil company “countersued in New York and blocked that [Ecuador] decision from being enforced on U.S. soil.” That article didn’t say it was a racketeering (RICO) suit or anything about the corruption and fraud used to obtain the Ecuadorean court victory against Chevron.

In Rolling Stone, Zaitchik wrote, “So too Chevron's decision to counterattack the Ecuadorean decision using the RICO Act, a collection of racketeering laws usually employed in the prosecution of meth-dealing biker gangs and famous Italian crime families. Which isn't to say Chevron's RICO suit lacked Sicilian-accented echoes with mob cases.”

A Chevron spokesperson replied to the article in the comments section calling Rolling Stone’s article a “reflection” that “Steven Donziger and his associates are now desperately trying to rewrite history.” The spokesperson also said Zaitchik’s piece was “misleading and incomplete” and encouraged people to read the RICO ruling for themselves.

Zaitchik’s obvious hit job barely acknowledged the unethical behavior of their opponent: former journalist and Harvard educated lawyer Steven Donziger, who sued Chevron over pollution generated in Ecuador from an oil drilling partnership between Texaco and PetroEcuador that lasted from 1964 until 1992. In 1995, a remediation agreement between Texaco (TexPet) and Ecuador was signed. It was certified as complete by the government of Ecuador in 1998. Chevron acquired Texaco in 2001.

Donziger himself was so left-wing that in the 1980s “he admired the [leftist] Sandinistas’ bravery,” Michael Allen, a fellow reporter, said according to Paul M. Barrett’s book “Law of the Jungle.”

One of the memorable “Crude,” documentary film outtakes showed Donziger get in an Ecuadorean judge’s face and intimidate him. Barrett’s book also explains how Donziger blackmailed an Ecuadorean judge to end site inspections and appoint a single expert witness instead. Many people involved with Donziger’s legal fight have since abandoned him or testified against him due to his by-any-means-necessary approach.

Chevron won the RICO suit in March 2014. The New York Times admitted the judge ruled that Donziger’s team “engaged in a conspiracy and criminal conduct.” The Times mentioned that U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan wrote a nearly 500-page ruling in that case that also said,  Donziger had “submitted fraudulent evidence,” according to the Times.

Part of that ruling said, “an innocent defendant is no more entitled to submit false evidence, to co-opt and pay off a court-appointed expert or to coerce or bribe a judge or jury than a guilty one.”

Even with Donziger’s huge loss, Zaitchik glossed over the case in Rolling Stone (and practically ignored it in TakePart), spinning it against the judge and Chevron.

In Rolling Stone, Zaitchik also tarred the “business press” which he claimed “followed suit,” after Forbes ran this story: "Plaintiffs' Experts Say 'No Evidence' For Billions In Damages Against Chevron.” He apparently found it objectionable that new outlets reported Chevron’s perspective of the legal battle and evidence of Donziger’s ethical lapses.

With a story chock full of quotes from Donziger and his lawyers, Zaitchik also did his best to discredit Lewis Kaplan, the judge who ruled against Donziger in New York in March. Kaplan was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, after being recommended by Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, N.Y.

Already, Donziger’s allies tried to “sully’ the judge’s reputation, claiming he was invested in Chevron. But Barrett of Bloomberg Businessweek reported, “the ethics charge isn’t likely to be taken seriously.” Barrett, the magazine’s assistant managing editor and senior writer, closely investigated the entire Donziger/Ecuador legal fight with Chevron and documented it in his book, “Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win.”

Yet, Zaitchik continued to portray Donziger as the untiring hero, fighting the left’s favorite villain: Big Oil.

“Staying in the ring against Chevron for two decades has required more than simple stamina. It has demanded of Donziger a fierce slow-burn resolve he has wielded in ingenious and self-defeating ways, a resolve that can tempt observers to invoke the well-intentioned mania of legendary gringos who came to the jungle to find glory and slay dragons with the locals only to be consumed by it. Like Amazon adventurers of a literary cut, Donziger brings a natural swagger to the job. It isn't easy to imagine him sitting still for long, or discussing the case in anything but rhetorical machete slashes,” he wrote.

Of course, that’s the spin one would expect from a freelance journalist known for writing for far-left publications including Alternet, Salon, The Nation and who wrote an entire book attacking Glenn Beck and intentionally chose not to speak with Beck or his people.

Zaitchik told a Washington Post blogger in June 2010, “I never tried to get in touch with him or his inner-circle. Even if he had agreed to talk to me, which was extremely unlikely, I wouldn’t have believed a word that came out of his mouth. Beck may not know much about politics or history, but he has arguably the most demonstrably sophisticated instinct for self-promotion on earth. I wasn’t interested in allowing Beck to use the book as a way to reinforce his well crafted and partly fictitious redemption narrative.”

Obviously, Zaitchik didn’t adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics which stated journalists should “diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.”

That must be the style of journalism outspokenly left-wing Rolling Stone and other far-left outlets appreciate. In 2008, Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s publisher and editor defended putting Barack Obama on its magazine cover when it endorsed him for president. In an interview with Howard Kurtz, the media critic, Wenner admitted to being an Obama donor after Kurtz said, “It sounds like you’re getting ready to write him a check.”

The magazine also infuriated many people including Boston’s Mayor Tom Menino when it ran an image of Boston Marathon bomber, Dzokhar Tsarnaev on its cover in July 2013. Menino said it “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment” and sends a “terrible message.” Russia Today reported that many stores refused to carry the issue out of respect for victims’ families.

— Julia A. Seymour is Assistant Managing Editor for MRC Business at the Media Research Center. Follow Julia A. Seymour on Twitter.