[Marxism] Corporate media downplays Gulf oil spill

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 30 07:26:17 MDT 2010

(Despite their madness on other issues, the World Socialist 
Website is unsurpassed on this kind of reporting.)

Corporate media downplays Gulf oil spill
By Josué Olmos
30 July 2010

In the wake of the temporary capping of the Deepwater Horizon 
well, the American media has begin to shift its focus from the 
catastrophe in the Gulf, while a number of significant 
commentaries have begun to downplay its impact and scope, 
essentially raising the question: what was all the fuss about?

These articles are part of a concerted effort by BP, the Obama 
administration, and the corporate media to minimize the effects of 
the spill, purge the event from the consciousness of the American 
people, and return to business as usual.

On April 20, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 
workers. Significant evidence has come forth that the lives of the 
workers on board and the safety of the rig equipment were 
disregarded by BP for the sake of maximizing profits. Subsequent 
to the explosion on April 20, over 200 million gallons of oil 
gushed out of the broken well one mile below the surface of the 
water. The oil has spread throughout the Gulf, affecting the 
physical and economic wellbeing of workers in at least six states. 
By all accounts, this was the most devastating environmental 
disaster in American history.

These are the facts that recent efforts by the corporate media 
wish to minimize.

In a recent Washington Post article, David A. Fahrenthold and 
Leslie Tamura pose the question whether Tony Hayward’s initial 
optimism was correct, after all. Fahrenthold and Tamura use rough 
estimations and optimistic words from National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chief Jane Lubchenco to present 
a somewhat rosy picture.

They begin by explaining that of the 220 million gallons spilled 
into the Gulf, an estimated 50 million have been siphoned, burned 
or skimmed. This leaves, they say, nearly 170 million gallons 
unaccounted for. Lubchenco’s analysis is that the Gulf ecosystem 
has proved resilient, and that much of the remaining oil has 
dissolved into microscopic, dilute droplets deep in the water. The 
best-case scenario, say the authors, is that “oil-munching 
microbes” can take care of the remaining oil.

To clarify the picture, WSWS spoke with Dr. George Crozier, the 
executive director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in southern 
Alabama and asked him to discuss some of the issues.

Crozier responded to these types of analyses by saying: “I think 
that the tone that we’re seeing in the press—that it’s gone off 
the surface, it’s over, there’s no more threat to the beaches and 
marshes and estuaries—that’s mainly true. The problem is that it 
leaves a large amount of oil unaccounted for and still present. 
But I don’t think we know what that volume is with much accuracy 
at this point.”

When asked how the “oil-munching microbes” may factor into the 
process of ridding the Gulf of poisonous material, Crozier 
described the long-term effects that Fahrenthold and Tamura fail 
to bring into the analysis.

“At least some of the remaining amount happens to be polycyclic 
aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). The reason there is a concern for the 
PAHs is because they bioaccumulatable,” Crozier explained. “It 
doesn’t matter how small the concentration may be that NOAA is 
reporting. The low concentration levels mean nothing because they 
can be magnified in the human food chains. Something is going to 
eat the bacteria [that consume the PAHs], and then something is 
going to eat the animal that ate those bacteria—that is what 
bioaccumulation means. The biological food chain can take a very 
small, non-toxic, concentration and turn it into something that is 
a human problem. The food chain can bring it back up to a 
concentration that does become a problem.”

Also representative of the recent efforts by the media is Michael 
Grunwald’s Time article “The BP Spill: Has the Damage Been 
Exaggerated?” Grunwald admits that “it’s important to acknowledge 
that the long-term potential danger is simply unknowable for an 
underwater event that took place three months ago,” his entire 
article is designed to do just the opposite—to provide evidence to 
support the dubious claim that the spill in the Gulf “does not 
seem to be inflicting severe environmental damage.”

Grunwald begins the article by citing Rush Limbaugh, the 
ultraconservative radio commentator who maintains that hype over 
“the leak” in the Gulf is some type of environmentalist plot. He 
suggests that “Rush has a point,” that the environment in the Gulf 
is not taking as severe a beating as some thought it might.

Grunwald raises two main pieces of evidence to support his 
argument. The first, that fewer birds and mammals are dying 
compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. And the second, that the 
spill’s effects on the marshes of Louisiana are miniscule in 
comparison to the regular annual loss of wetlands that are lost in 

Asked about this claim, George Crozier emphasized the possible 
long-term effects, he also discussed the importance of the 
short-term effects, which still may not be precisely measurable.

“The smaller compounds that we’ve talked about—the benzene, 
toluene—that kills stuff and causes cancer in humans,” he told the 
WSWS. “What is happening with that stuff also is that it is 
killing eggs and fish where the concentrations are high enough to 
do it. [One of the short-term issues] will be the impact in the 
fisheries where the susceptible life stages were affected by the 
spill. This impact will be seen in the coming months and 1-2 year 
impacts in fishing harvests.”

Grunwald combines his “evidence” with statements like those from 
Marine scientist Ivor Van Heerden, who said: “there’s just no data 
to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest 
in making BP look good—I think they lied about the spill—but we’re 
not seeing catastrophic impacts.”

It is true that there is, as yet, little scientific data to 
suggest this is an environmental disaster. That is in part because 
BP has made efforts to recruit scientists as consultants, 
stipulating that all data they accumulate must remain private and 
proprietary. Many independent scientists have been denied access 
to the affected parts of the Gulf, and those who did get access 
have not been able to draw extensive conclusions from the samples 
they have taken already.

The WSWS asked Crozier about the problems scientists have had in 
obtaining data to analyze and understand the problems in the Gulf.

“Part of the problem that the community is having right now is the 
tortured process is going through to vet the data that they’re 
collecting and giving to them, and this has delayed some of the 
federal decisions being made—but they will be debated in the 
peer-reviewed literature.” He said.

“The complaints that have been so rampant in the past weeks is as 
it becomes clear that BP is filling their notebooks with their 
data and their position, and the government is filling their 
notebook with their data and their position, the academics who 
don’t care about going to court are caught in the middle because 
nobody wants to share their data.

“It’s hard enough to get data now because of technical 
differences, but the difficulties if we don’t have an opportunity 
to do that it keeps us in the position of not being able to answer 
the questions even a third of the way into the process—the only 
thing I can give you is an unending list of uncertainties and 
things we don’t know. The harder it is to get the data, the harder 
it is for the academic community to be forthcoming.”

As the comments of Crozier show, commentaries like those appearing 
in Time and the Washington Post drop any pretense of making an 
objective investigation. They are following the lead of BP and the 
Obama administration, which hope they can combine the capping of 
the well with the capping of any serious examination of what 
devastation the oil spill has already caused, and may still cause.

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