Chevron Claims Political Cartoons Are Extortion

"I'm honored they feel injured by the cartoon," the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist said.

By Katie Rucke, MintPress
18 February 2014

Earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist Mark Fiore shared on his personal website that Chevron filed court documents saying it was "injured" by a cartoon Fiore had created with Amazon Watch.

Ironically enough, the cartoon in question is one Fiore says he created in order to educate the public about the extortion-esque reactions Chevron has had in regards to environmentalists and journalists who called out the company for dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into rivers and streams, spilling millions of gallons of crude oil, and abandoning hazardous waste in hundreds of unlined open-air pits littered throughout the Amazon region.

According to the legal brief, dated Jan. 31, 2014, Chevron filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, the company claims that conspirators "unleashed a barrage of near-daily press releases, letters to government officials and shareholders, web videos, and cartoons in an effort to extort a payoff from Chevron."

In other words, the company has now added "web videos" and "cartoons" to the list of ways that the company is being extorted by people who are trying to, as Fiore puts it, "clean up the jungle, take their money."

In the court documents, Chevron cites it is concerned about the cartoon since the company "continues to be threatened with a variety of 'real, immediate, and direct' injuries" ever since an Ecuadorian court ruled that Chevron pay $9.5 billion to clean up the damage from the oil spill, which affected more than 30,000 indigenous people living in the Amazon rainforest.

Chevron specifically accuses the cartoonist, activists, journalists and lawyers of "extortion," which is mentioned about six times in the filing.

Fiore told MintPress that he's anticipated a negative backlash over one of his Chevron-related cartoons for years, and says Chevron's response to this particular cartoon is "beautiful" since the company does exactly what the cartoon says: bullies anyone who speaks out against them.

"I'm honored they feel injured by the cartoon," he said.

Though Fiore has created many different cartoons on a variety of political issues, the cartoonist has created at least three Chevron-environmental damage specific cartoons, with the first being released about six years ago.

While Fiore says it would be "a bit of a pain" to deal with a lawsuit if Chevron filed one against him, he says in a way, it might be positive, because Chevron would hurt itself and bring attention to the issue.

He also points out that the cartoon should be protected under his First Amendment right to free speech, and says he sees no reason why the cartoon would be removed from the Internet.

"For me, it's totally a free speech issue," he said, adding that almost every U.S. judge would agree – except Judge Lewis Kaplan, who has largely sided with Chevron.

"In this country we are fortunate to be able to say just about anything we want to say when it comes to criticizing one of the top five companies in the world," he said.

But as Amazon Watch spokesman Paul Paz y Miño pointed out, Americans' right to free speech may be in jeopardy when it comes to calling out corporations, which is why he says it is vital Chevron not be allowed to bully people from speaking out against it.

"If Citizens United gave unprecedented political power to corporations, this effort from Chevron is offering a way for any corporation to crush anyone critical of their efforts," he said.

"Ask yourself, what would have come of efforts to pursue the tobacco industry if they had successfully sued all parties in the class-action suit under RICO? Or if groups will be able to organize their community to speak out about the dangers of fracking if energy industry representatives can cow organization efforts by effectively threatening suits and forcing widespread discovery such as in the Chevron case?"

Talking to Alternet, Marco Simmons, a lawyer with Earth Rights International, an organization representing Amazon Watch and other organizations, said that Chevron may be trying to set a legal precedent here, but they will likely be unsuccessful since most judges should be able to see the corporation is targeting activists.

Since Simmons says the current lawsuit "was driven by semantics" and fails to "address the main issues at stake," namely who is responsible for polluting the Ecuadorian Amazon, which is why he says he doesn't see it going anymore.

What will happen next with Fiore's cartoon is unknown, but Fiore said this incident won't him keep away from doing his job – creating political cartoons on issues from human rights to environmental issues.

When asked if Fiore plans to create any more Chevron-related cartoons, including one about this latest "extortion" claim, Fiore said he didn't want to sound too mysterious, but wouldn't say for sure whether one was in the works. He just suggested we keep an eye out for one.

"It will be interesting to see how [the issue] evolves," Fiore said. "I hope people can see this issue as clear as it is."

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