a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Actively embedded, passively acquiescing

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 20th, 2010

Remarkable video from CBS, showing BP and Coast Guard personnel turning journalists away from investigating the effects of the Gulf oil spill on marshlands:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I first saw this video in a story posted by Karl Burkart of Mother Nature News (MNN), who writes:

I never thought I would say this, but for once I actually agree with Rush Limbaugh. The right-wing radio host is attributed with calling the Gulf Oil Spill “Obama’s Katrina.” […] Despite Obama’s half-hearted attempt at displaying anger over the government’s “cozy relationship” with BP, I believe Obama is aiding and abetting a foreign oil company as it perpetrates an environmental crime on American soil…

While I share Burkart’s simmering anger at both BP and the Obama administration, I hesitate to go as far as Burkart in suggesting that’s a quid pro quo for BP’s campaign contributions.  Granted, it’s not comforting at all to learn the video of the oil gusher had been on display in the White House Situation Room for weeks before its release to the public — and immediate calculations that the spill rate was an order of magnitude greater than government estimates.

But I think a response by the Coast Guard (appended to the end of Burkart’s article by an MNN editor) inadvertently suggests a different analysis, both of the incident itself and of the Obama administration’s responses:

…Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La….

(Emphasis added.)  Sadly, it’s not hard these days to imagine BP or Coast Guard personnel construing “embeds” as the only authorized form of journalism — we’ve all seen it before in Iraq and elsewhere.  Indeed, it speaks volumes about journalism today that the CBS crew itself acquiesced in a plainly wrong demand.

In fact, the Obama administration seems to have accepted its own “embedding” — buying the absurd notion, for example, that the underwater video of the oil gusher (one of the principal ways of gauging the extent of the disaster)  is simply “proprietary information” that is BP’s to control. It’s not just as if the United States government has ceded control of its shores, its territory, and its authority to provide for the common good and common defense.  They’ve gone and done it — in the face of the organization responsible for the the greatest environmental disaster in our country’s history .

It seems as if Obama and his administration think there’s a tension between making BP pay for the disaster response, and exercising authority and oversight over that response.  To be sure, there may be legal issues to be solved, but there first needs to be executive will to solve them, and that has seemed lacking.    As McClatchy News’s Marisa Taylor and Renee Schoof put it, BP withholds oil spill facts — and government lets it:

BP’s role as the primary source of information has raised questions about whether the government should intervene to gather such data and to publicize it and whether an adequate cleanup can be accomplished without the details of crude oil spreading across the gulf.

Indeed it has.

UPDATE, 5/20: More from Renee Schoof and other McClatchy News reporters at the Real News Network video “Spill may be 19 times larger than BP & Gov’t say.”

10 Responses to “Actively embedded, passively acquiescing”

  1. Skylark Says:

    “Sadly, it’s not hard these days to imagine BP or Coast Guard personnel construing “embeds” as the only authorized form of journalism – we’ve all seen it before in Iraq and elsewhere. ”


    Well aside from the fact that it wasn’t true in Iraq, what exactly besides your imagination makes you think the Coast Guard construes embeds are the “only authorized form of journalism” in the GOM? Certainly not their statement, which says there are no rules prohibiting media access (except for safety and interference).

    So…have you actually asked the Coast Guard? Asked a journalist? Why not?

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I didn’t say “the Coast Guard construes.” I said “it’s not hard these days to imagine BP or Coast Guard personnel construing…”. I’ve added the emphasis to aid your reading comprehension, but just to make sure: I don’t mean official Coast Guard policy, but what individuals in it think that policy might be. You may or may not be aware of the definition of “construe“; in the sense used here, it implies misunderstanding, but not wilful misunderstanding. I think that’s a reasonable hypothesis (i.e.,’it’s not hard to imagine’) to explain what occurs in the video — nothing imagined about that.

    All that said, I think the odds are good that there are Coast Guard and/or BP memos suggesting journalists being ‘encouraged’ to join embedded response efforts; I think gung-ho CG personnel may have misinterpreted something like that as ‘required.’ While I didn’t quote this in the post above, Burkart said he’d received unconfirmed reports of similar stuff (“reports of cameras and cell phones being confiscated, scientists with monitoring equipment being turned away, and local reporters blocked from access to public lands impacted by the oil spill”). But this video is incontrovertible.

    I think this incident and any others like it might be isolated incidents, but with both journalists and CG personnel obviously too willing to believe they are policy; thus, my emphasis was about how readily the CBS people went along with the frankly illegal demand, and by the same token how too readily the Obama administration is giving BP wide discretion to control information about this disaster in other ways.

  3. Nell Says:

    BP seems to be establishing a no-fly zone. Hm.

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Notable that no journalist asked about any of that in the news conference yesterday. Not sure they notice even when it’s happening to them. “Oh. We’re not allowed to do that. OK.” On whose authority?!!!

  5. Nell Says:

    Okay, now I’m seriously freaked out. The FAA is the only entity with the power to restrict flights, and sure enough, the mf’s have declared the entire spill area off limits to low-level flights.

    This includes journalists and scientists. Guess BP owns the skies, too. More than time for someone in the oh-so-free press to put this administration on the hot seat: who asked the FAA to do this?

  6. Nell Says:

    To answer my own question: the Coast Guard. Which is in fvcking bed with BP as far as I can tell. The area covered by the restriction is huge, and there is nowhere near enough helicopter or seaplane activity to justify this blanket closing — and that would be below the level of the plane that was stopped and others like it. Commercial flights would go well above this limit; this is about keeping photographers and observers out, period.

    I think it’s time to look into Adm. Thad Allen’s connections to the industry…

  7. Nell Says:

    Even big corp media are catching on:
    Photographers Say BP Restricts Access to Oil Spill.

    Link is from an excellent front-page Daily Kos story by David Waldman (aka Kagro X), which unfortunately was posted on Friday evening of the holiday weekend. It puts a fork in the “leave President Obama aloooooone!” crowd by being real about what has so unnerved and disappointed the public about the administration’s response and tone:

    What’s killing the White House image here is the notion that BP is able to use its money, power and influence in Louisiana to walk all over ordinary Americans and the government in dealing with a disaster of their own creation. That’s what stings the most. And there’s a real opportunity for the White House to grab the reins here and stake out territory where it really can assert leadership, and that’s in putting an end to this feudal-style nonsense that’s going on down there. Transparency in this situation has no enemies worth noting, and the reported extent of corporate usurpation of governmental powers is a shocking embarrassment. President Obama doesn’t need to come up with some magic trick for stopping the leak himself. He needs to put an end to the perception that the ridiculous shenanigans that appear to be surrounding the disaster are in any way acceptable or will be allowed to continue.

  8. Nell Says:

    Making my way around to sites I haven’t read in a few weeks, I see that the Newsweek article in my comment above is actually several days old.

    Still, the extent to which BP is suppressing coverage, with the co-operation of the federal government, has not really sunk in with most people.

  9. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Nell, just got back from a Memorial Day weekend trip to Charleston to rendezvous with my parents there. More on that in a short while, I attended a quite remarkable ceremony. — Encouraging that the news blackout is at least being noticed by the big time media, and that we’re not crazy or the only ones to wonder what the heck the rationale is for that.

  10. Nell Says:

    That was an amazing, impressive, absorbing post; how exciting for you all to be there, too!

    Just adding to the links: BP still trying to keep people from talking to the press. Jason Linkins update on media clampdown.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> -- (comment rules)