Perhaps BP should embed some reporters

oil spill by lsgcp

CJR, NYTimes, a few more: BP tries to clamp a cap on another thing: the press
[Via Knight Science Journalism Tracker]

It’s hard to cover a story one cannot get to. We’ve been reading occasional complaints for weeks that BP, with most of the hardware (however ancient it may be) for dealing with the worst crude oil spill in the nation’s history and thus having most of the people running the show, has been no help and plenty of hindrance to reporters covering their public demonstration of calamitous non-preparation. It’s no surprise that a private company’s suits would want to stifle press freedom to go to the spill, to take pictures, and to interview people in the know. But pathetic that they have been permitted to get away with it. I mean, does BP really have authority over air space and navigation in the Gulf of Mexico? ow about just going to a public beach? Who gave them that? Where are the federal agencies that say they are in charge? Are they in cahoots with BP in stifling press access?

Some reporters have bit back the best way they know: in print. At McClatchy, Erika Bolstad late last month wrote a furious story on the “litany of half-truths, withholding crucial video, blocking media access to the site and a failure to share timely and complete information” by BP. The story strongly suggests that the feds have stood by and done nothing to get information faster to the public – the success of one congressman, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, at getting a live video stream of the streaming well head made public being an exception.

That piece triggered at the Columbia Journalism Review an editorial castigating all involved for trying to manage the news. Also at CJR, Brett Norman in late May wrote on “the gall” of BP for shutting down its “top kill” effort for the better part of a day while the press, not told, blithely went on reporting that the ultimately failed effort was continuing as planned.

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Trying to cover up what is going on, or appearing to, is always a problem when you want to manage the news. The military learned the benefit of embedding reporters, who then often gave quite glowing reports.

BP could stand to do some thing that might provide some better news, if that is possible at all.

3 thoughts on “Perhaps BP should embed some reporters

  1. It is very obvious that the Feds are managing the beach and air space. What I don’t understand is why the states and locals are putting up with it. Apparently, they are being threatened by the Feds that they won’t get any money unless they do what the Feds tell them to do. So much for the gummit doing things right.

    1. Do not ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence. I would bet that if Jindal was being blackmailed by the Feds to use state officials to prevent reporters to see the areas, we would hear about it. There have been many instances of one branch of the government giving permission that is withheld by another – normal incompetence and miscommunication – but several recent events have dealt with access be prevented by people being paid directly by BP. CNN reported on following Federal officials around as they tried to catch birds but being prevented from seeing the bird triage unit by Louisiana officials, under contract to BP.

      And, as this video shows, private security are still preventing people from accessing public beaches. Yes, a public beach was shut down because a private security guard hired by BP said so. Only an intervention from the local sheriff’s department got the press access. However, every single worker hired by BP has had to sign a document saying that they will lose their jobs if they speak to the media.

    2. Also, it appears that other reporters are being allowed to photograph all sorts of stuff. For instance, the Huffington Post has an up to date slide show with over 300 images Or check the Time-Picayune pages of images. They also have some of the best news.

      And some of the photos are really quite disturbing.

      So there does not appear to be a Gulf-wide attempt to prevent all reporters from taking pictures. It seems that currently it may just depend a lot on the oafishness of the local BP officials, perhaps with some help by clueless government officials.

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