For 20 years, America has been fighting wars that involve oil and the Gulf. The first two were in the Mideast. Gulf War III is close to home and threatening the entire southern coast of the U.S. with an oil slick that is an ecological disaster.
It was only five years ago when the last environmental disaster swept through the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of the deadliest storms to hit the U.S. The region still hasn’t recovered and probably wouldn’t have for years, even without the latest crisis. Given that, it’s only logical that some people would foolishly compare the two events.
A reporter from New York’s WCBS-TV recently asked the question (and who said there were no stupid questions?): “Could the oil spill in the Gulf become for President Barack Obama what Hurricane Katrina became for President Bush?” On May 27, USA Today followed up by asking, “Is Oil Spill Becoming Obama’s Katrina” on its front page.
That same day, The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed by former Bush adviser Karl Rove saying the identical thing: “Yes, the Gulf Spill Is Obama's Katrina.” He criticized Obama officials who “talk tough about BP's responsibilities but do not meet their own responsibilities under federal law.” Rove said this could even be worse because the BP spill is clearly in area under federal control, while Katrina was on land under local authority.
There are days I almost feel sorry for Obama. When even a few of his most adoring fans in the media agree with opponents like Rove, he’s having a bad day. No, it’s not like Katrina and no, conservatives and liberals aren’t like Nazis. And the end of “Lost” is not one of the most significant cultural events in history, either.
Let’s put things in perspective. No one is saying the oil gusher isn’t important. It darn well is. But no one has died as yet (except, tragically, the 11 workers killed in the original explosion). No American city has been crushed by a storm. To compare the two events themselves is ridiculous. Even if the oil gusher ends up being a bigger long-term issue, to equate the two events ignores unbelievable human suffering left in Katrina’s wake.
But both situations are crises and it is fair to compare how the media covered them. Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. By Sept. 1, just three days later, the media were already criticizing the response from the Republican White House.
Elizabeth Vargas, from ABC’s “Primetime Live,” brought on Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to help in the bash fest. “And Senator, there's been a lot of criticism, as you have heard, of the federal response, the emergency response to this. You yourself saw the area, you called it an unprecedented catastrophe, but you've also heard the head of homeland security in Louisiana, call this a national disgrace.”
CBS tried the same strategy. During a broadcast highlighting “anarchy” in New Orleans, Senior White House correspondent Bill Plante told viewers about the lame Bush response just 72 hours into the crisis. “Three agonizing days of misery and violence: no food, no water, no place to go, with little relief in sight. And the president is under intense and growing pressure to deliver the kind of help only the federal government can provide,” he said.
British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill has been handled in exactly the opposite way. Three days into the event, the media were still focused on whether the spill would even hit shore. Only now, more than a month after the April 20 disaster, are journalists beginning to wonder why the Obama administration is out to lunch on such a major issue.
During the first four weeks of network oil spill coverage, Media Research Center analysts found only two stories out of 157 centered on how Obama and his top officials were handling the crisis. Another seven stories included minor references to criticisms of the administration. So, in the first full month after the spill, 95 percent of network evening news stories were devoid of any criticism of the president and top officials.
The news media have given Obama a month’s grace period to get off his presidential butt and take action and still he’s done next to nothing. At least Nero is alleged to have fiddled while Rome burned. Obama hasn’t even done that.
Instead, he spurns reporter questions and they tolerate it. And then, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs calls reporters on the carpet for asking too many questions about the Gulf crisis.
It’s almost laughable to imagine how angry journalists would have been had the Bush White House acted this way. Reporters consistently screamed about the Bush/Cheney connections to the oil industry even without this spill.
Then remember all of the loony things said after Katrina? The government’s poor response was all because George Bush was a racist. Rapper Kanye West told the audience of NBC’s Concert for Hurricane Relief” that “George Bush doesn't care about black people.” Actor/director Spike Lee even went so far as to say “it's not far-fetched” to say the New Orleans levees had been destroyed deliberately.
Even a year later, NBC anchor Brian Williams said the storm “exposed a lot, too, including, some say, the dicey issues of race and class in our country.”
It wasn’t just that a horrible disaster occurred or that the same government that the left wants to run health care couldn’t help in the Gulf. It’s that the left immediately tried to score points on the disaster and the media helped them do it.
There’s an obvious political connection to the oil crisis this time, but no one is even mentioning it. Of the five states already impacted by the oil spill – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida – four voted for McCain in 2008 and the fifth, Florida, barely went for Obama and famously chose George W. Bush in 2000.
If Bush were in charge, and he was ignoring problems that impacted almost exclusively Democratic states it would be political. Since it’s Obama in the Oval Office, almost no one in the press is saying a thing.
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center’s Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.
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