How good of New York Times columnist Joe Nocera to let us know that BP has made amends and that all is well in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week the Times printed Nocera’s op-ed "BP Makes Amends," a piece of pure propaganda that makes BP’s cheery commercials look downbeat in comparison.
“The beaches are sparkling,” Nocera says in the piece. I say otherwise in a segment on NPR’s “Here and Now.” You can decide whom you want to believe, but while you’re at it, consider that three tons of tarballs have washed up on the beaches of Alabama and Mississippi in the first 10 days of 2012.
Which leads to this simple question: did Mr. Nocera actually go down to the Gulf before he wrote that the beaches sparkled?
I'm reminded of a walk I took along a Gulf beach six months after the spill. It seemed pretty clean until I came across a scientist named Alyssa, who was supervising a clean-up crew. Instead of digging with shovels, the crew members were down on their knees, picking at the scarp line, like a squad of determined archeologists, or maybe badgers, digging into the wall. They sifted through the sand as if panning for gold.
I asked her if there was still much oil down below the sand.
“I know there is,” she said quickly. “I was here when we took core samples the other day. There are great tar mats down there. They look like vanilla swirl ice cream.”
The problem is that we in the media aren't quite as good at digging as those in Alyssa's crew. And sadly, the New York Times, the paper that so many of us depend on, hasn’t been a great friend in digging down to the deeper story in the Gulf.
Like most of the media, they were right on it back when it was an action story, the "Occupy Tebow!" of its day. But when the rosy NOAA report about everything being fine in the Gulf came out in July of 2010 (you know, the one about how the oil had all “evaporated” or been eaten by oil-eating microbes) the Times summarized it as if it were gospel in a front-page article called “Oil in Gulf Poses Only Slight Risk, U.S. Report Says.”
This article, and others like it, set the tone for coverage from then on, even though the report was almost universally assailed by scientists. After that, the paper's coverage dropped off the same cliff that everyone else’s did. The criticisms of the report never quite made the front page the way the report itself did. The word from the top was that it was okay to move on. Story over.
Which paved the way for editorials like Mr. Nocera's. The complex results of this spill are just starting to be understood, but no matter. BP is being allowed to get back to drilling in deep water, and the beaches are sparkling!
But I'm being too sarcastic. Too mean, perhaps. I'd like to end on a more positive note, a note of reconciliation.
In fact, I'd like to invite Mr. Nocera to have a picnic with me on one of his sparkling Gulf beaches. For lunch we could grill up some local shrimp. And for dessert? What else but vanilla swirl?