Chevron Corporation Takes on First Amendment Powers in Richmond, CA
Earlier this year, a Move To Amend story about corporate abuse of power addressed the looming physical and financial presence of oil giant Chevron Corporation over the town of Richmond, California.1 The refinery is the biggest employer in the city, providing work for roughly 1200 employees and taking up nearly 3000 acres, sprawling across the landscape as you look out from the Richmond Hills to the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge just beyond.
Yet there is a dark duality of the Chevron plant, where the daily output of smoke and exhaust is matched by the corporatism seeping into the very fabric of Richmond’s governance and its municipal and regional politics. Physical explosions and fires sent residents scrambling for shelter in 1989, 1999, 2012, and 2016, resulting in thousands of hospitalizations and millions of dollars in settlements. Unpaid taxes and lawsuits kept money out of the local coffers while taking huge tax cuts from the federal government.
The most toxic output from the Chevron refinery, however, may not be coming from the smokestacks, but from the printing presses. In a truly blatant exercise of illegitimate corporate power under the First Amendment (these rights belong to natural persons, not corporate entities), Chevron Corporation has bankrolled an entire public relations operation posing as a local news website, The Richmond Standard, which states the following:
This news website is brought to you by Chevron Richmond. We aim to provide Richmond residents with important information about what's going on in the community, and to provide a voice for Chevron Richmond on civic issues.
Whether or not that disclaimer is present is not what is at issue here. What matters is that Chevron is openly publishing its own opinions in the form of a community news website, posting updates on local events like marathons and holiday parades, while also sprinkling in subtly anti-activist, stories about climate change marchers and Chevron-supporting stories about its “community work.” 2 3
As noted in a 2014 piece from the Los Angeles Times, the Chevron Corporation even stated that there would be nothing critical of the oil giant in The Richmond Standard, saying, “We came out in the beginning and said, if you're looking for a story that's critical of Chevron, you're not going to find it in The Richmond Standard."4
The outlet has also become a primary outlet for Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who frequently pens letters to the community through The Richmond Standard. Butt’s policies and positions also appear frequently and with marked support from Chevron.
The corporatization of a “news source” is something that should frighten all residents, especially when that outlet is being bankrolled by one of the biggest corporate welfare recipients in the country. In an age of “fake news” and growing media consolidation, the sourcing of journalism and the integrity of the content we’re reading online should always face strict scrutiny.
When corporations assume First Amendment press freedoms to enter the journalistic marketplace with their own biased coverage, endorsing candidates, ballot measures, and policies, they are implementing a right never intended for the corporate form in a democracy.
“Corporate news” can be unbridled pay-to-play, promotion of company positions at low cost and it should be sought out and stopped at the source. Most importantly, the right of corporations to constitutional First Amendment freedoms of the press must be withdrawn by the people and their legislative bodies.
Join Move to Amend and work to make it clear that corporations should not have constitutional rights and that money is not a form of protected speech! To join the movement, please visit: www.movetoamend.org/amendment.
Chevron Refinery Harms Local Communities in California | Move To Amend
170 activists, some from Richmond, rankle Amtrak passengers and conductors on cross country trip | Richmond Standard
Over 450 community members tour Chevron Richmond Refinery | Richmond Standard
A Chevron PR website pretends to be an objective news source | Michael Hiltzik