Slippery when wet…
I’m assuming that my readers already realize that the media outlets of the world tailor-make their news reports to not only inform but also influence public opinion. That being said, I would be remiss to engage in a post such as this without explaining that proposition at least a little bit. Why am I talking about this? Because I’m thinking about it right now…
With a traditional newspaper, there is a very distinct order in which the news is presented therein. While part of this is just the reality of spacial planning (meaning, it is impossible to deliver everything at the same time), there is far more logic to it than that. For example, there is a reason that the horse-racing forms are on the back page while baseball, basketball, and football take up the front three-quarters of the same section. Sure, some part of that is because that is what is perceived to be the focus of the readership, but this also goes a long way to prevent growth in the interest of a sport. If you have to make it all the way to the back of the section to find it, of course the average reader isn’t going to be interested (ie, soccer/futbol in the United States).
Now in print media, stories have a very clear hierarchy. When something is hot, it is all over the front page. As the interest and “breaking information” about the story fades, it gradually moves further and further back from the front page until it gets all the way to the editorial column at the back. After this brief stint, the story then disappears. However, it seems the exact same thing happens in the new media.
When something happens, it is all that CNN, FoxNews and MSNBC can talk about for that day. Remember the day that Michael Jackson died? Case in the point. Reasonably soon thereafter, the story moves from the “breaking news” platform to the pundits. Geraldo Rivera, Anderson Cooper, Sanjay Gupta… you know, the annoying angry people who are paid to feign compassion and experience the world for us. After being beat to death by the pundits, the story, which by this point has been resolved (at least in part), turns into the three week special event where a paid pundit (ie, Anderson Cooper) take three weeks to rehash everything that has already been covered and tell you everything you could possibly imagine wanting to know about the story. After the special event, you will hear about the story in 30-second blurbs during the morning news summary and again at night. After that, the story disappears. Case in point: the tsunami that hit southeast Asia three years ago… and even, to some degree, the Haiti earthquake.
All of this to say that when these news cycles change out so quickly from incident to being forgotten, I am very impressed that the major news outlets have been so effective at maintaining the furor over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For those of you who haven’t been counting (ie, every human being with a life), the oil has been leaking into the Gulf for 78 days now. For sure, this has been tragic and it has affected the livelihoods of many people involved in the seafaring industries (like fishing), but it has not warranted the kind of coverage it has been getting. Day 78 and we are just now getting to where the story is being relegated to the pundits?! How slow has this year been that we haven’t had anything more pressing to talk about for the last two months? Not even Joran van der Sloot getting arrested for murdering ANOTHER teenage girl got that kind of attention… I guess we didn’t really care about Natalee Holloway that much after all.
I’m sure that a big part of this frothing at the mouth because of BP’s “inability” to plug a hole is because of the liberal bias in the media. Seeing a chance to do to “big oil” what was done to “big tobacco” in the 90’s, the media has latched on to this disaster like a Rottweiler on a T-bone and refuses to let go. This may just be me, but when a news outlet delivers a report on concerns of the deterioration of mental health due to the oil slick, it would seem that the story has pretty much run its course… “Woe is me; I suffer from depression because of the inky-blackness that was once my beach!” However, the pot must be stirred because the journalists want to see BP punished for this disaster… just like they continue to do with the Arizona immigration law (which is a topic for another day). I would offer a slightly different approach, let’s get the darn spill cleaned up before we start talking about lawsuits and “punishing” BP for an industrial accident that may or may not have been their fault. That being said let us consider a few things:
- BP is already being punished!
All that oil that is washing up on shore in the Gulf? That is BP’s money evaporating out of their investment in a rickety oil well that was way off the shore of the US. Add to this the horrendous public opinion eating into their customer base and the billions they are going to have to spend in the cleanup for this leak, and I dare say that BP is learning a very valuable lesson… let the buyer beware. Seeing as how the company is already being brutally humbled, why must we push for execution as well?
- All actions have consequences.
It is well documented that our illustrious President is sick and tired of hearing about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico… hence the exclamation, “Plug the **** hole!” However, in the tireless push amongst the left for “green energy” and “breaking America’s oil addiction”, this disaster just won’t go away. BP seems to be running out of options to get the hole plugged, the government doesn’t have the expertise (or the money… or the legal right, for that matter) to fix it, and the media won’t stop talking about it. However, the more reports that come out about the “apocalyptic” disaster that is the oil spill without bona fide White House statements decrying the evil skullduggery of BP, the more passive it is making the President look. On the one hand, you don’t want to be seen playing golf while the “greatest ecological disaster of our time” is happening. On the other, it’s been over two months… geeze! Based on the government’s aversion to putting in more than two months of work at a time without a vacation, it seems the media that carried Obama into office may be actively ushering him out of it. At least we can hope, right?
- At least someone is being honest about it…
In our culture, we praise those who can say the “right” things… whether or not those people mean anything that leaks from their face. The guy who has been in the most hot water during the last two months has been the CEO of BP—Tony Hayward. While the stress no-doubt has something to do with the looseness of his mouth, at least this guy is saying what he really thinks. Yeah, it wasn’t smart to say that your company’s little oil bomb was a “little spill… in a very big ocean.” Yeah, it wasn’t smart to say that you can’t wait for this thing to be over either because you want to get on with your life too. But at least you meant it. I don’t think for a minute that anyone in the Federal Government actually cares about the lives that have legitimately been affected by this spill (as opposed to those who claim psychological trauma from the sight of loose oil)… actually, strike that… they care inasmuch as it affects their votes and the amount of aid money that goes to their state. Obama cares about the oil spill because it makes him look bad in front of his public. The senators and congressmen care because if they don’t they will lose their voters. Just like social security, healthcare reform and Medicaid, all of the posturing is to gain political capital.
- We’ve been here before…
Anyone with much of a memory may recall the Exxon Valdez crash in Prince William Sound… Anyone notice that Prince William Sound isn’t a lifeless ghost of a harbor? Better still, how about Mount St. Helens? If you want something really freaky, the Exxon Valdez spill resulted in $527 million in damages (thank you, Wikipedia)… the Mount St. Helens explosion caused about $1.1 billion ($2.74 billion in 2007 dollars). The area around Mount St. Helens is nearly recovered. The Prince William Sound is recovering. This is not the end of the Gulf of Mexico either. Everybody take a deep breath and relax… it may take time, but this too shall pass.
While I’m never one to argue with people taking responsibility for their actions, I take serious issue with the government taking the “punishment” shtick too far. Should we punish further a company that had to ply their trade in an area that they can’t fix problems in because of our laws? Should we allow the government to punish people or corporations who didn’t do anything illegal? Do we really need to take opportunity to kick a corporation while it is down? I don’t think so. British Petroleum is not Enron. British Petroleum is not Lehman Brothers or Bernie Madoff. Treating BP like they are? It just isn’t right.
PS- my apologies for such a long post, but I didn’t have the heart to carve it up…