By now, it is a well-documented fact that the federal government and BP are conspiring to prevent media access to what is quickly becoming the world’s largest oil spill in history.
Not that we’ll ever get an accurate estimate of the actual damage because they’ve both done a better job of stopping the flow of information than stopping the flow of gushing oil.
The situation is rather ironic considering President Barack Obama took a shot at the media during a recent press conference.
“The cameras at some point may leave; the media may get tired of the story; but we will not.”
That, of course, is their ultimate goal; to frustrate the media to the point where they will go back to their daily updates of celebrity gossip, leaving the government and the petroleum companies to wallow unperturbed in each others’ greed.
The media blockade began three weeks ago when the Coast Guard – under the orders of BP – threatened to arrest a boatload of CBS journalists if they did not turn back.
The Coast Guard assured CBS that it would look into it but nothing was ever heard of the incident again.
Since then, there have been numerous more incidents that proved BP is running the show, determining who gets access and who doesn’t.
As one BP flack – who is married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy – told a Mother Jones reporter, “it’s BP’s oil.”
“But it’s not BP’s land,” the reporter responded.
And it’s not BP’s air-space either, but they managed to get the government to create a no-fly zone over the oil spill, preventing journalists from photographing and filming the disaster from above.
One company that attempted to fly a New Orleans Times-Picayune photographer over the area contacted the Federal Aviation Agency to request permission but was denied by a BP official when informed that a photojournalist would be on board.
The BP official happened to be in the F.A.A. operations center, which just happens to be inside a BP building.
The company, Southern Seaplane, stated the following in a letter to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), according to Newsweek.
“We are not at liberty to fly media, journalists, photographers, or scientists. We strongly feel that the reason for this massive [temporary flight restriction] is that BP wants to control their exposure to the press.”
The government and BP insist they are not trying to censor the news.
In fact, they proclaim they have gone out of their way to give personal tours of selected areas of the disaster to a few lucky journalists.
In other words, journalists need to be embedded with BP if they want to cover the story.
Not much different than how journalists need to be embedded with the military if they want to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That, of course, is a direct result of the Vietnam War when the media provided a uncensored gruesome reality of the battles, turning it into the most unpopular war in American history.
Now we only see what the government wants us to see in our current wars. And if somebody from within the military dares leak a video of American soldiers happily killing Iraqi civilians, then that person gets thrown in jail as in the case of Bradley Manning.
History has also taught the petroleum companies that it’s best to control the message – and the masses – by controlling the media.
Their Vietnam was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
According to the Newsweek article:
Within days of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, pictures of dead otters, fish, and birds, as well as oil-covered shorelines, ignited nationwide outrage and led to a backlash against Exxon. Consumers returned some 10,000 of Exxon’s 7 million credit cards. Forty days after the spill, protestors organized a national boycott of Exxon.
So far, no national boycott of BP is in the works, despite growing frustration over the company’s inability to cap the leaking well. Obviously, pictures are emerging from this spill, but much of the images are coming from BP and government sources.
The New York Times is also addressing the issue, pointing out how the Department of Homeland Security is also preventing media access, citing a new policy that forbids journalists and elected officials to tour the areas together.
Last week, Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, tried to bring a small group of journalists with him on a trip he was taking through the gulf on a Coast Guard vessel. Mr. Nelson’s office said the Coast Guard agreed to accommodate the reporters and camera operators. But at about 10 p.m. on the evening before the trip, someone from the Department of Homeland Security’s legislative affairs office called the senator’s office to tell them that no journalists would be allowed.
“They said it was the Department of Homeland Security’s response-wide policy not to allow elected officials and media on the same ‘federal asset,’ ” said Bryan Gulley, a spokesman for the senator. “No further elaboration” was given, Mr. Gulley added.
That policy went into effect a week after the disaster.
Capt. Ron LaBrec, a Coast Guard spokesman, said that about a week into the cleanup response, the Coast Guard started enforcing a policy that prohibits news media from accompanying candidates for public office on visits to government facilities, “to help manage the large number of requests for media embeds and visits by elected officials.”
While BP and the feds have done an effective job on preventing the media from seeing the real disaster, they have been unable to stop the constant flow of commentary on the internet, specifically through social media sites like Twitter.
One anonymous jokester launched the BPglobalPR Twitter feed and spends the day taking satirical jabs at BP’s lackadaisical approach to the disaster. He or she has close to 150,000 followers at the moment.
On the other hand, BP’s real Twitter account, BP_America, which spends the day trying to repair its oil-slicked and tarnished image, has less than 14,000 followers at this time.
Some legal observers are wondering if BP will take legal action against this impersonator and have taken a look at the possible claims it could mount.
I wish they would also take a look at the possible legal claims the media can make against BP and the feds for violating their First Amendment rights to document the disaster.