Why Can’t Anyone Answer This Simple Question?

I keep reading all kinds of conspiracy theories as to why the press is unable to cover the Gulf oil spill and its cleanup. People say all kinds of crazy things when there’s an information vacuum. But I’m starting to wonder if there’s really some sensational explanation for why BP gets to keep the press from reporting on the cleanup sites, because I haven’t heard a good reason yet. Now that Helen Thomas is gone, there’s no one capable of asking a question until they get a real answer:

Mac McClelland, whose reporting from the Gulf for Mother Jones has been indispensable, brings us this latest bag of bull from BP, which insists that it’s not trying to restrict press access to public spaces.

According to McClelland, this was filmed on non-BP property in Houma last week by Drew Wheelan of the American Birding Association, who was stopped from filming by a Louisiana state police officer:

Wheelan: “Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: “Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: “Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: “Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

It makes no sense, unless, of course, BP has some authority over police and sheriff’s departments in Louisiana, a scenario that BP denies but which seems to crop up again and again. WDSU-TV’s Scott Walker, whose own encounter with an official who attempted to deny him access to a public beach went viral, received an apology from a BP flack nine days later.

Wheelan’s encounter didn’t stop there. Read McClelland’s entire report, and the next time someone asks you “Well, what do you want President Obama to do?”, tell them he could start by looking into why a foreign corporation seems to be allowed to act with extralegal authority on U.S. soil. It’s the sort of thing you’d think the Tea Party might care about, too.

7 thoughts on “Why Can’t Anyone Answer This Simple Question?

  1. My Occam’s razor guess is that BP has spread some serious money around local, county, and state officials, in an effort to control the message as long as possible. Eventually it’ll fall apart, but the longer they can keep (independent, non-bought) journalists and cameras away, the more likely the situation will stop being “sensational” and become just another day of watching the Gulf of Mexico die, yawn.

    Already, the apologists are calling this a “natural disaster,” as if the oilcano happened all by itself.

  2. There was an old tradition here in West Virginia of coal operators hiring agents (“goons”) from Pinkerton and Baldwin-Phelps who were then sworn in as Deputy Sheriffs. They were paid by the coal company but had the authority of the county sheriff.

  3. In this case, does it really matter that they are a foreign company?
    Even if they were domestic, they would still have no legal right or standing to do that.

  4. I keep reading all of these reports and every one of them begs the question: Why do the reporters, volunteers and members of the public who are so concerned not advance en masse the areas being restricted by BP and continue to report? Why whine about the restrictions? Why should anyone cooperate with BP and/or the security personnel when they have no legal authority to restrict access to public property? Can they arrest you? Well, push the limits and see what happens. Otherwise this is all just cowardly cooperation with people who have no real authority over you except what you give them. Any journalist worth his or her salt should risk arrest and push this to its logical extreme. The same goes with the employees who will not speak on camera. Why not? Because money or a threat of losing your job? Give us a break and call it what it is: cowardice!

  5. Debbie,

    And if there IS a real threat to life or limb??

    What then??

    As for the threat of losing one’s job??

    No offense, but you are awful brave when you are talking about someone ELSE’s livelihood or their very lives or health…

    There’s an old adage..

    “If you want something done right, do it yourself..”

    Have at it….. 😀


  6. What I am talking about is basic civil disobedience and challenging authority, something which I have done many times at great cost to my own livelihood and personal safety. Those are basic to my understanding of how my people have gotten anything in this country, not because someone wanted to give us anything, or respect any of our “rights” but because the very status quo was threatening to our lives, limbs and personal safety, therefore we challenged authority. (And most recently I did it on Monday, in a situation that was personally threatening but that’s a story for another day.) If professional journalists do not have the very wherewithal to defend challenges to the execution of their professions, given that they have the legal, professional, financial and historical protections on their side, what is it that keeps them from pushing the boundaries that my own people have fought with nothing but their lives on the line?

  7. So, in other words, what you are saying is that no one is going to do anything nice for anyone. Any advantage or information one wants, one must take. By force if necessary.

    While I applaud such aggressiveness (I really do) I must point out that, in all likelihood, the safety measures are in place to augment the safety of the public and the spill workers.

    Trust me, I am not on BPs side in this issue. Unlike some other Banter sites (which shall remain nameless) I don’t trust BP, I don’t support BP and I think BP should be ripped apart, shell corp by shell corp.

    But having been in public safety nearly all of my adult life, I can assure you that sometimes measures such as this are needed to safeguard the public safety.

    Imagine the outcry if BP were to allow reporters or lookie-lous to traipse around the clean-up sites and one of the reporters or lookie-lous got sick and died.

    Do we really NEED more death on our hands?

    While I agree with the sentiment, I am constrained to point out the logic of the situation that there might possibly be a real, clear and present need for such public access restrictions.

    It happens all the time on “public lands”. BP is fully within their rights to suspend public access to ostensibly public lands. These are the rights given to BP by the Obama Administration.


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