SAN FRANCISCO: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has seemingly dodged a PR bullet with its low-key reaction to Erin Brockovich, a film that casts the utility as the most maligned of Hollywood villains: a company unwilling to take responsibility for its environmental malfeasance.
SAN FRANCISCO: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) has seemingly
dodged a PR bullet with its low-key reaction to Erin Brockovich, a film
that casts the utility as the most maligned of Hollywood villains: a
company unwilling to take responsibility for its environmental
The film, which opened 10 days ago to positive reviews and netted
dollars 28.2 million during its opening weekend, stars Julia Roberts as
plucky legal investigator Erin Brockovich who, by dint of will and
wardrobe, mobilized a small California town into holding PG&E
responsible for contaminating its water and air. Largely as a result of
her persistence, the utility was forced to pay dollars 333 million to
settle a host of claims.
Throughout the entire ordeal, PG&E was able to maintain its image as a
responsible corporate citizen - an image that the film, despite its
broad, villainous portrait of the company, has done little to
It’s no secret that corporate heavies rarely enjoy their on-screen
depictions - witness the near-hysterical way W.R. Grace reacted to its
portrayal in A Civil Action, or the way Brown & Williamson and 60
Minutes staffers railed against The Insider.
Perhaps with those recent examples in mind, PG&E decided not to fight
the filmmakers in the media. In fact, the company went so far as to
cooperate with them, allowing a sound unit to examine its natural gas
compressor station in order to ensure authenticity of sound.
’We took the approach that this was a movie, not a documentary,’ said
PG&E VP of corporate communications Greg Pruett, who scoffed at a recent
claim that the company hired a PR agency to spy on the production. ’It’s
a tenet of good drama: there has to be a good guy and a bad guy.’
Several onlookers scoff at PG&E’s claims - ’that’s some serious
revisionist history,’ said one - but Pruett is holding the company line.
’Nobody likes to see themselves portrayed this way, but you have to
remember that a dramatization can take a lot of liberties.’
Still, while PG&E has weathered the first wave of post-Brockovich
publicity, the worst may still be ahead. In November, a class-action
suit is scheduled to go to trial, with more than 1,500 plaintiffs
alleging that the company deliberately covered up health and
environmental hazards. Too, CourtTV is seeking to air the proceedings
’It’s going to get a lot worse for PG&E,’ attorney Ed Masry told the San
Francisco Chronicle. Masry, who represents the plaintiffs, is the
real-life lawyer for whom Brockovich still works.