Donziger and Associates
18 September 2014 - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Karen Hinton at +1.703.798.3109
New York, NY – Random House and BusinessWeek reporter Paul M. Barrett face a potential defamation claim over a pro-Chevron book about an environmental litigation in Ecuador that is riddled with errors, fictional scenes and defamatory assertions, according to a detailed letter made public today.
The 13-page "notice of defamation" letter, signed by New York attorney Steven Donziger and available here, demands that Barrett and Random House preserve all documents and emails related to the writing and marketing of the book, called Law of the Jungle.
The book, scheduled for release later this month, purports to be a comprehensive account of the case that culminated in a $9.5 billion judgment against Chevron in 2011 in Ecuador, the country where the oil company insisted the trial be held. That judgment has been unanimously affirmed by eight separate appellate judges in Ecuador, including a five-judge panel on the nation's highest court, The National Court of Justice.
Donziger – who has been involved in the environmental case since 1993, when the claims of indigenous groups were filed in the U.S. - is the main focus of the book with his picture appearing on the cover. Barrett claims on the jacket that Donziger was willing "to stop at nothing to win" the case, a fact Donziger said is itself false and defamatory.
Donziger writes in the letter that the book "contains improperly sourced and possibly plagiarized material, is replete with factual inaccuracies, describes events that did not occur, and in other ways promotes information known by Barrett to be false and defamatory."
Barrett ignores overwhelming evidence of Chevron's wrongdoing and corruption and appears largely ignorant about Ecuadorian laws governing key issues in the case, said Donziger. He also failed to read the 220,000-page Ecuador trial record and did not attend even a single day of the eight-year proceedings, said the lawyer.
Donziger issued the following statement:
"I firmly believe in fact-based journalism and I am more than willing to tolerate legitimate criticism of decisions made in a litigation. But Mr. Barrett's fundamentally dishonest book attacking my integrity goes well beyond the boundaries governing journalistic ethics. It not only is defamatory as regards me, it exaggerates the author's level of access to the key players and tries to leave the impression I cooperated with him when I did not. It is filled with errors, shoddy research, and made up scenes. Mr. Barrett cribs much of his material from Chevron's legal briefs. My hope is that Mr. Barrett and his publisher will take all steps necessary to correct the problems outlined and will do so forthwith."
Donziger said Matthew Martin, a lawyer for Random House, indicated in a recent letter that the company is conducting an investigation.
One section of the Donziger letter outlines 17 specific factual inaccuracies. Another demonstrates that Barrett ignored mutually corroborating layers of scientific evidence relied on by courts in Ecuador to find Chevron liable for deliberately dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste into rivers and streams relied on by local residents for their drinking water.
Besides the factual inaccuracies in the book, the letter pointed out that Barrett:
- Spent only a handful of days in Ecuador and relied heavily on Chevron's legal briefs for his research.
- Describes scenes from the documentary film Crude without proper citation to leave the false impression that he was reporting firsthand from events.
- Does not cite to a single footnote despite the millions of pages of public documents in the litigation.
- Makes up fake events to hype up the drama of the narrative.
The letter asserts that Barrett developed an intense animus toward Donziger when the lawyer refused to grant his request for a series of lengthy interviews. Donziger said he did so on advice of counsel and his concern that Barrett had covered the dispute for Businessweek with a pro-Chevron slant.
Donziger also said he shared his concerns with his colleagues in Ecuador, who decided independently not to grant Barrett interviews. That fact infuriated the author, said Donziger.
The letter asserts that when Barrett realized he could not get the "inside" story about the case from members of the legal team he stepped out of his role as a reporter and actively tried to discourage people from working with or cooperating with Donziger and his colleagues.
"Paul demonstrated intense anger toward me on a number of occasions and regularly tried to interfere in my professional relationships," said Donziger. "Never have I seen such inappropriate behavior from a reporter. To this day, he continues to attack me in conversations with my colleagues."
Donziger's letter also is addressed to Barrett's agent, Stuart Krichevsky; Roger Scholl, a top editor at Random House; and Katherine Trager, the publishing company's General Counsel.
The letter is copied to Richard Friedman and Zoe Littlepage, two trial lawyers who have represented Donziger in litigation related to the case.
Chevron operated in Ecuador's Amazon region under the Texaco brand from 1964 to 1992, building hundreds of wells and waste pits over an area of approximately 1,500 square miles. The company's own internal audit reports confirm it used substandard production practices resulting in widespread contamination of the delicate ecosystem. Evidence presented in court shows high cancer rates and other oil-related health problems in the area where Texaco operated.
Because Chevron refuses to pay for the court-mandated clean up, the Ecuadorian villagers have filed lawsuits to seize company assets in Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Those actions are pending.
For a critique of Barrett's book see this document; for further background on the Ecuador litigation, see this summary of the evidence; this 60 Minutes segment; and this recent article in Rolling Stone documenting the company's unethical litigation tactics.
Some of Donziger's legal briefs and other materials are available at his website at stevendonziger.com.