Suppressing the Political Impact of the Gulf Oil Crisis

The Obama administration and its media handmaidens are doing their best to move the Gulf oil spill in the directions of Orwell's memory hole as rapidly as possible.

All of a sudden, they seem pretty optimistic over at BP. Sounds like they may finally be getting a handle on the Gulf oil spill.

Engineers are installing a new containment cap which is expected be a big improvement over the current cap. That first device, lowered into place on June 3, has managed to capture only about one-third of the estimated 60,000-80,000 barrels of crude gushing from the bottom of the Gulf each day. As we know, the other two-thirds of that oil continued to pollute the shrimp and oyster beds, kill wildlife, wash into marshes, and spread onto white sand beaches. It will be about a week before installation is complete and crews can determine if the new cap works. Ideally, it will capture all or most of the oil.

Success will take a big load off President Obama's mind. Knowing that he can play golf, fiddle with the nation's economic system, or sue the State of Arizona without feeling like he's somehow tied down to a crisis that needs attention should put a little of the swagger back in his step. 

For Obama, the best news is the fact that if the new cap is successful, the leak will essentially be stopped before the invisible July 28  "deadline," which would mark Day 100.   

...Not that an oil spill lasting one hundred days would be guaranteed in-depth media coverage. There seems to be an unspoken truce between the president and the media: He's not saying anything about the spill, and the press isn't asking. It would be nice if they'd ask even a teensy little question -- like, how did BP become a finalist for a Major Award on safety and pollution control to be given just days after the initial explosion and disaster?

Wouldn't any finalist have to undergo an inspection to qualify for such an award in the first place?

There were a few outbursts among talking heads back around Day 50, but they all seemed to quickly get back on the same page. Since then, aside from Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Investor's Business Daily, and talk radio, there has been a remarkable lack of media intensity in nosing around the story. They've been compliant, too, down along the Gulf, in staying back behind the yellow police tape strung along the beaches and wetlands, in not bothering people or otherwise getting in the way. 

Strange, isn't it, that Bush and Cheney were often derided as oilmen -- the word "oilmen" said with a sneer -- and then the nation elects a highly qualified community organizer from Chicago, and this happens. It only goes to show that even for a man of Barack Obama's gifts, there is a limit to what he could learn from Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.

Still, there are lingering questions that need to be asked -- and answered truthfully -- about some of the connections between BP and the current administration, from the dollars BP donated to the Obama presidential campaign in '08, and the gobs of money they've given to Democrats in general, to the cozy personal relationship between White House chief of staff Rham Emanuel and BP lobbyists to the breezy way Obama's people in the U.S. Minerals and Management Service waved through BP's list of variances and exemptions to standard drilling requirements.

President Obama's hand-picked Minerals and Management Service director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, was thrown under the bus following the disaster and word of several other, shall we say, SNAFUs. So far, enterprising reporters have failed to track down Ms. Birnbaum and question her.

To be fair, the Mainstream Press has generally had its hands full lately with other important breaking news. Waiving a calendar and pointing to an arbitrary "Day 100" of an environmental disaster is no guarantee that such a story would be considered "news," or that there would be any space available. These are extraordinary times we live in. Recently, displacing the Gulf oil spill was coverage of the tragic Lindsay Lohan court case. Simultaneously, crucial contract negotiations were underway involving NBA star LeBron James, who ended up signing with the Miami Heat. Naturally, this shocking development called for lots of interviews with angry fans in Cleveland and happy fans in Miami. Of those interviewed I saw, none seemed terribly upset about the oil spill. And then, wouldn't you know it, in the middle of all of this, Mel Gibson went off the deep end again. 

Looking ahead to the end of July, space for stories about out-of-work fishermen, lax government oversight, environmental catastrophe, and questionable Washington ethics will be especially limited. Right around that mythical "Day 100," pro football training camps will be opening, and the pre-season will be just around the corner; the major television networks will be pitching their new fall line-up; and with any luck at all, Hef will be on his way to repurchasing Playboy, which some feel he never should have sold in the first place. Any one of these things could lead to a potential big story. Besides, by now, just about everybody this side of a "Tonight Show" "Jay Walking" segment knows that there's been a leak in the Gulf of Mexico since the middle of April. Right? So what's the big deal?

Well, seriously folks, there is a Big Deal. A bureaucratic Charley-Foxtrot of this magnitude demands accountability. 

The so-called mainstream media has simply become too conflicted and too timid to do its part of the job. Remember all the Hurricane Katrina coverage -- the weeks and months of follow-up stories, the stream of celebrity charity concerts, the coffee table commemorative books, the documentaries? Remember how the incompetence of state and local elected officials and the massive crime wave that followed the flooding were carefully Photoshopped out of the story and George Bush was Photoshopped in? We know what it looks like when the official eyes and ears of the media are hot on a story. We know how they sound when they want heads to roll. Right now, the media is just going through the motions. They are uncomfortable with this story and ready to move on.

Next up: congressional hearings. Damage along the Gulf Coast is not going away anytime soon, no matter how much hush-money the Obama administration wrings out of BP shareholders to throw at the local economy. No one in the current administration is interested in getting answers about causes of the Gulf oil spill or the tardiness of federal response to it. Neither the Harry Reid Senate nor the Nancy Pelosi House is curious. Otherwise, they'd already be holding hearings. Assuming a Republican takeover of either chamber in November, the new Republican committee chairmen should be clear: responsible federal officials will be subpoenaed. Those who caused or compounded this disaster deserve to tell their stories under oath.

Remember in November.

Jed Skillman photographed hundreds of political television commercials, first for one party and then for the other, over a twenty-year span. He blogs at
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