Journalist Reveals Ketchum’s Suggestions for Discrediting Him

Ecuador2In case you missed it, Bloomberg Businessweek published an intriguing story yesterday by veteran journalist Paul M. Barrett that ran with the headline “What It’s Like to Be Attacked by Putin’s Flack.

The “flack” in question is Ketchum — more specifically D.C.-based partner Kathy Jeavons, who “heads both the Ecuador and Russia accounts” for the firm.

For the record, Jeavons did not personally attack or even contact Barrett. But a source did forward him a talking points document that the firm wrote for Nathalie Cely, Ecuador’s ambassador to the United States. The doc included both well-stated observations about Ecuador’s history with Chevron and suggestions for casting doubt on the credibility of Law of the Jungle, Barrett’s upcoming book on the lawsuit that accuses the company of abusing its relationship with the people of Ecuador.

One such suggestion: use friendly media outlets to raise doubts about whether Barrett ever actually visited the country or met the individuals he interviewed for the book.

We spoke to Mr. Barrett today for more information.

What were your general takeaways from the document?

It was clearly set up to be a damage control memo in which they wanted to cast doubt on my credibility and raise questions about whether my book could be relied upon.

Then it morphed into a much more straightforward — and accurate — distillation of troubling issues regarding the conduct of the Ecuadorian government. It correctly identified some issues from my book that the government has never fully addressed.

And what was your initial reaction? 

On the one hand, I was amused/dismayed to find that a sovereign state might prepare for my book’s launch by suggesting that I had never visited the country. But the document moved on to say “he raises troubling questions” about where the profits from Chevron’s work in Ecuador went and how the country handled its own responsibilities: if a big, bad company raped and pillaged the country, why did its government never clean up portions of sites they agreed to clean up in the 90’s?

If this internal PR exercise will prompt the government to better address these issues, that would be great. It won’t damage my book to summarize the points I raise within it. I’m fine with that; I find it to be an almost paradoxical exercise in that the document started by trying to cast aspersions on me and ended up confirming my own reporting.

What, specifically, did the document suggest the ambassador do?

It framed the book as a problem and suggested that the ambassador “should raise that question” of whether I had visited Ecuador.  The document effectively addressed the credibility issue in passing, but it did suggest that Cely go to “appropriate” journalists and make trouble.

In this Internet age, all you have to do is raise a question and people will announce it as truth. I did, in fact, visit Ecuador: I made two trips there, and my book is replete with first-person scenes of me in peoples’ homes and in the offices of current senior executives. I’m not claiming to be the world’s greatest expert on the country, but why “raise the question” when you know nothing about my reporting methods? That seems disingenuous at best.

But does it shock me? Of course not.

Was this the only suggested method for questioning your credibility?

Yes.

And did Ketchum get back to you on this report before you published it?

Yes. It took them a couple of days to submit the name of the person in charge of the Ecuador account.

What’s your general impression of the strategy revealed here?

It’s not that I thought this practice was illegal.