Oil Spill Media Access: 'Down Here, Many Cops Do Literally Work For BP'

Oil Spill Media Access: 'Down Here, Many Cops Do Literally Work For BP'

As you are hopefully well aware, BP has been doing its level best to interfere with reporters in the Gulf Coast region to keep them from reporting on what's actually going on down there as clean-up efforts continue.

BP has been striving to keep reporters away from affected areas, put the kibosh on images of the destruction done to area wildlife, hassle local reporters and run off area activists. It has also gone as far as dispatching its own PR staff to masquerade as journalists and report the happy side of this epic disaster. Yes, National Incident Commander Thad Allen has ordered BP to stop preventing media access. Yes, media professionals are still seeking help from the administration to curb BP's clampdown.

As I've noted before, Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland has been battling the opposition like she was Melanie Laurent in "Inglourious Basterds". Last week, she reported on how Drew Wheelan of the American Birding Association was hassled, questioned, and later, tailed by police officers who seemed to be taking orders from BP. Today, following up on that story, McClelland reports that this is exactly what's happening.

Louisiana police don't have any right to tell you you can't walk onto a public beach (even to, as Esman puts it, "roll around in sticky gunky tar that I'll never be able to get off--if I want to, that's my right"). However, they do have the right to mislead you about who they're really working for. In Louisiana, as in many places, it's legal for police officers to wear their uniforms regardless of whether they're acting in an official capacity or working for a private corporation. Which is why Andrew Wheelan, the environmentalist mentioned above, was unaware that the cop who pressured him to stop filming a BP building and later pulled him over so that a BP official could question him wasn't on duty at the time. The Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office told me that the deputy who pulled Wheelan over is just one of 40 in the parish who are working for BP on their own time. And the BP-police collusion goes beyond uniformed deputies moonlighting. In nearby Lafourche Parish, for example, the sheriff's office is filling 57 security positions a week for BP; the shifts are on the clock, and BP reimburses the sheriff's office for them.

McClelland's bottom line: "...there you have it, plain as day: Down here, many cops do literally work for BP."

Elsewhere, McClelland participated in a lengthy interview with Salon's Glenn Greenwald yesterday that's well worth the checking out. You can listen to it here, or peep the transcript. It's a full-bore rundown on the state of the media coverage. I found this part to be particularly interesting.

GG: One of the interesting things you write about in media criticism is that a lot of times people listen to media in a very kind of abstract and theoretical way, even if they sympathize with it, it's very hard almost believe in a visceral that it's actually happening, and yet one of the things that often occurs is that when somebody has first-hand knowledge of an incident, because they're involved in it or seeing it, and then compare that to how the media is covering it, they really get a vivid understanding of how the media can distort things or how coverage can be distorted by the government or others, and prevent the media from covering it.

So, in terms of your being on the scene from the start, was there a disparity between the way the media was conveying what had happened here, the seriousness of it, and the reality, either because the media just did a bad job or because it was prevented from covering it in a way that would have informed people about what was taking place?

MM: I think it's hard, since I've not been here for two months, and the local media is freaking out, obviously. All of the front page stories on the local papers are about this spill. I imagine that that is not the case elsewhere in the country. Again, I check in with The Times and see that they're, it doesn't seem to be anywhere near the alarm bells ringing in other papers as there are down here. I think it's difficult to feel the whole distress of the situation unless you are really immersed in it, and it's possible that media outlets are concerned about people getting coverage fatigue because we've been talking about this for such a long time now. And we're going to keep talking about it for many, many months.

I lived here during Katrina and we saw the same thing, where people stopped talking about what was going on, and down here it was a totally different tone to the story. I mean, it's all anybody talks about. Every single radio show is about the oil spill. All the news shows are about the oil spill. The newspapers, the conversation, on the street, in bars, in diners - it's all-consuming because it really is going to change everybody's lives in a huge way.

If you're interested in digging into how the story is being treated by local news sources, the best place to start is the New Orleans Times-Picayune, which has built a content-rich landing page for its oil spill coverage.

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