With Gulf-spill facts in short supply, spin takes center stage
Photo: Pip WilsonFor all the fire-hose coverage of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, it’s a story with startlingly few known facts. We don’t know how much oil has actually spilled out. We don’t know where or when it will hit land. We don’t know exactly what’s in the chemical dispersants being used to break up the slick on the surface or what they are doing to life under the sea. We don’t even know what caused the explosion that created this mess in the first place.
In situations like this, for politicians, business execs, and the media, there is only one course of action: Don’t sweat reality. Embrace perception. Welcome to Spinapalooza 2010.
The headline act, of course, is BP. Much has been made in recent days about all the money it and its employees have dropped into political campaigns. Now The Washington Post‘s Dan Eggen offers a glimpse of how hard the oil behemoth is working Washington. Not only has it spent nearly $20 million on lobbying since January 2009, but it also now has a stable of lobbyists that “reads like a Who’s Who of the profession.” And, according to Slate’s Christopher Beam, BP also is doing a boffo job of reaching out to The People. Its use of social media — video of hard-working BP employees dealing with the spill, frequent Twitter updates — gets a big thumbs-up from the experts. (If you want a glimpse of the dark side of the BP story, check out The Huffington Post‘s “Seven Secrets BP Doesn’t Want You to Know.”)
The sideshow act comes out of Washington. It features an oldie but goodie: “Where were you, Mr. President, when everything went to hell?” Top Republicans, led by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, are singing the chorus over and over, questioning the White House’s response the first week after the explosion. See more in The Caucus blog in The New York Times.
The White House fired back yesterday, posting on its blog a laboriously detailed calendar — complete with photos — of every meeting, briefing, and staff deployment the administration has been involved in since the oil rig collapsed. Still to be seen is how much chortling Obama critics do over the recent revelation that Tom Strickland, chief of staff for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, went to the Grand Canyon on official business with his wife three days after the leak was discovered, then had to be helicoptered out to help deal with the crisis. Get the lowdown in The Washington Post‘s Federal Eye blog.
This really big show has a little bit of everything. There’s backpedaling: Senior Republicans say they never thought much of the slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill.” They prefer “Drill Here, Drill Now.” (To discern the difference, check out The Hill‘s E2 Wire.) And Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) insists she’s “not a hand maiden to the oil industry.”
There’s innuendo. The latest comes from former FEMA chief Michael (“Brownie”) Brown — he of Katrina debacle fame — who is making the rounds of cable news shows suggesting that Obama wants the oil slick to spread so that he can use it to justify a ban on offshore drilling. Here’s Brownie getting grilled by Anderson Cooper on CNN.
And there was the opening salvo from Rush Limbaugh, who last week pondered aloud about the timing of the explosion so close to Earth Day and tossed out a line suggesting the spill “might have been intentional.” Now he claims he was misquoted, that he never said this was an act of environmental sabotage. Which it true, kinda. He just suggested it. He also says he can relate to the plight of coastline residents better than other members of the mainstream media because he owns beachfront property in Florida and they don’t. See his latest rant.
Finally, it’s only fitting that a culture that clearly prefers fantasy over reality is now taking an interest in what’s going on in the Gulf. Bookmaker.com has set odds and is taking bets on whether the massive containment dome BP hopes to soon lower over the leak will actually work. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes has the story.
Place your bets.