Chevron vs. RAN: Who’s Speech Is Freer?

posted by Rainforest Action Network

In the weeks since the Supreme Court’s horrible, democracy-eroding ruling giving corporations unbridled spending on political contributions and advertisements under the guise of “free speech,” many of us have asked what impact this will have on climate legislation and contested 2010 races.

After getting unintentionally embroiled in a corporate free speech campaign involving a scrappy little enviro group called Rainforest Action Network, The Washington Post, and one of the largest oil corporations on the planet (Chevron), it’s got me thinking of the political ad campaign implications of the ruling. And what it means for the public’s access to real information in our withering media landscape.

First, the Corporate Speech vs. the People’s Speech story.

Rainforest Action Network (RAN) recently began a campaign to Change Chevron. As part of the launch of the campaign we bought ads last week in The New York Times and The ads had a picture of Chevron’s new CEO John Watson face (which we bought the rights to from Getty images) and the copy read: “Oil men have polluted the Ecuadorean rainforest for decades. This man can do something about it now.”

Chevron’s behemoth legal team immediately pressured Getty, the New York Times, and the Washington Post to pull the ad. The New York Times ran the ad. The Washington Post did not. The Washington Post (which receives huge ad revenue from Chevron) has sided with the oil giant and frozen our ad. As of 3 pm Tuesday (Feb 2, 2010) The Washington Post has said they will “unpause” our ad after a meeting between their legal counsel and Chevron’s ad rep at the paper.

We are now trying to get The Washington Post to run our new version of the ad featured above. While this may seem small, it is a window into what we will likely see run rampant as a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling allowing corporation’s unbridled campaign finance AND advertising. With the Supreme Court ruling, the controversy over the Super Bowl ads (which allow anti-choice but not pro-gay advertising), and this recent small example of Chevron throwing its money around to suppress critical ads, it feels like a good time to think about what this means.

Advocacy groups like RAN have meager budgets with little money to spare on advertising. Chevron spends hundreds of millions of dollars EVERY year on ads that are deceptive, misleading greenwash. Don’t corporations already control our airwaves enough?

As we’ve seen over and over again in the hugely frustrating climate and energy debate in this country, it matters less if you’re right and more if you can scream misinformation to the general public- either through paid advertising or through Fox News.

A Chevron media relations representatives said it best, “Not to say that news media ignores us,” said Jim Hendon, media relations rep for Chevron, “but our ads tell a story that wouldn’t get told otherwise about our company’s environmental concerns. Oil companies can’t rely on media, so we do it through this [ad] campaign.”

As we look forward, both in our advocacy work and at the coming election season how are we possibly supposed to compete with Corporate America’s “free speech?”

We must work together to right the wrongs of that Supreme CT ruling, support media advocacy groups like Center for Media and Democracy, and continue to work to change Chevron and other corporations that are destroying our climate, our communities, and our democracy.

*Reposted from