’Erin Brockovich’ negative portrayal fails to rile PG&E

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 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

malfeasance.



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

change.



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

live.



’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.



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