Frustration is mounting over the continued oil disaster in the Gulf. No, President Obama can't personally plug the well, but that's not stopping people from insisting he somehow assert more control over the situation. So what to do?
If the White House is looking for an avenue to combat this sentiment, I've got a suggestion. Have a look at these reports:
BP's Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill
As BP makes its latest attempt to plug its gushing oil well, news photographers are complaining that their efforts to document the slow-motion disaster in the Gulf of Mexico are being thwarted by local and federal officials—working with BP—who are blocking access to the sites where the effects of the spill are most visible. More than a month into the disaster, a host of anecdotal evidence is emerging from reporters, photographers, and TV crews in which BP and Coast Guard officials explicitly target members of the media, restricting and denying them access to oil-covered beaches, staging areas for clean-up efforts, and even flyovers.
Last week, a CBS TV crew was threatened with arrest when attempting to film an oil-covered beach. On Monday, Mother Jones published this firsthand account of one reporter’s repeated attempts to gain access to clean-up operations on oil-soaked beaches, and the telling response of local law enforcement. The latest instance of denied press access comes from Belle Chasse, La.-based Southern Seaplane Inc., which was scheduled to take a New Orleans Times-Picayune photographer for a flyover on Tuesday afternoon, and says it was denied permission once BP officials learned that a member of the press would be on board.
Christian Science Monitor:
EPA girds for a fight with BP over dispersants in Gulf oil spill
The Obama administration's frustration with BP over the dispersant issue has been mounting since this weekend. By Sunday, it had become clear that BP would not heed an EPA directive to find an alternative to Corexit, the dispersant that the EPA rates as less effective and more toxic than as many as 12 other products.
New Orleans Time-Picayune:
As questions mount over the balance of power between BP and the federal government in the response to the oil spill, the same concerns being raised in committee halls in Washington are trickling down to local government officials in command posts on the front lines of the Louisiana coast.
Though outlined in the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the twin duties of a private-sector responsible party and a government command structure overseeing BP's work have created a frustrating arrangement for local leaders across the Louisiana coast as the spills drags into its second month. Many say it's unclear who is answering to whom, an issue that President Obama took head-on in an hourlong news conference Thursday.
Just what the hell is BP doing denying people access to land they don't own, much less airspace they don't control?
And what about this nonsense about BP simply "not heed[ing]" EPA directives?
If the White House is looking for a way back into the driver's seat on this thing, this is it.
The proliferation of stories about journalists and others being denied access to these areas ostensibly by local authorities but at the direction of the private corporation responsible for the disaster in the first place is an scandal that would ordinarily have the dictators of banana republics hanging their heads in shame.
Let's face it, there are few targets that will generate less sympathy right about now than BP and local New Orleans-area officials' reputation for transparency.
Is it possible that the reports are somehow misreading or misstating the actual situation? Always. Very often, the time and print space restrictions of the traditional media prevent reporters from really parsing the details such that all the nuance one could get from actually being on site is brought out for the readers. (We've discussed this before.) And are there people out there discussing the disaster who aren't tethered to those traditional media restrictions, and thus able to dive into that nuance? Yes there are. But is it equally likely that officials on the ground are making ridiculous and baseless assertions that have the effect of beclouding coverage, even though they have no authority to do so? You bet.
What's killing the White House image here is the notion that BP is able to use its money, power and influence in Louisiana to walk all over ordinary Americans and the government in dealing with a disaster of their own creation. That's what stings the most. And there's a real opportunity for the White House to grab the reins here and stake out territory where it really can assert leadership, and that's in putting an end to this feudal-style nonsense that's going on down there. Transparency in this situation has no enemies worth noting, and the reported extent of corporate usurpation of governmental powers is a shocking embarrassment. President Obama doesn't need to come up with some magic trick for stopping the leak himself. He needs to put an end to the perception that the ridiculous shenanigans that appear to be surrounding the disaster are in any way acceptable or will be allowed to continue.