Nov
10

The Spill

By

Frontline, the PBS in-depth news documentary series, recently did a one hour program about the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf. Frontline has a knack for uncovering backgrounds of stories usually lost between the headline narratives. They have won numerous awards including Pulitzer, Peabody, and Emmy. The BP Oil Spill should have been the type of rich story where they could do some eye opening journalism. Alas, they didn’t.

Greg Palast explains why:

“Despite press release hoo-hahs that this Frontline investigation would break news from a deep-digging inquiry, what we got was ‘Investigation by Google,’ old stuff from old papers that PBS forgot to report the first time around.
[…]
What us viewers were handed was a tale that could have been written by the PR department at BP’s competitor Chevron. The entire hour told us again and again and again, the problem was one company, BP, and its ‘management culture.’ (They used the phrase management ‘culture’ seven times – I counted.)
[…]
PBS sponsor Chevron is desperate to resume drilling in the Gulf. Shell is drooling over its delayed offshore project in Alaska’s Arctic seas. If they can isolate BP, the horror show can go on.”

Having watched it myself, I found the program lacking. It spent considerable time developing BP’s recent appalling safety record and board room drama, but comparatively little time on the Gulf spill itself. Having made the argument that BP’s cost cutting culture led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it could not really connect the dots beyond the obvious fact that Deepwater Horizon happened after the other accidents. And it didn’t spend any time on what happened in the days and weeks after the well blew.

Important questions about regulatory capture, the world’s increasing appetite for oil in the face of dwindling supply, and the total lack of disaster response preparedness were laregely ignored. You wouldn’t even know Halliburton and Transocean were partners on the rig, having barely been mentioned. If this was Frontline’s big investigation of the biggest environmental disaster in US history, they failed by sticking too close to an already familiar thesis: BP is not interested in safety. D’ya think?

It might be tempting for everyone involved, including John Q. Public to let this disaster fall down the memory hole. Frontline’s puff piece only aids in the process. Joe Barton could become chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee. The other BP apologist, Rand Paul, won his Senate bid in Kentucky. Those of us concerned about Peak Oil and Climate Change or any of the number of other issues raised by this event need to keep workin’ it.

Read more about the current activities of the Oil Spill Commission here and here.

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