And it’s done as good a job on that front as it has throughout the Gulf (as the third piece here makes clear).


Gulf of Mexico oil spill now worst in U.S. history
ROBERT, La. — New oil flow estimates by scientists studying the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico would make leak the worst in the nation’s history, far bigger than 11 million gallons that spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster. U.S. Geological Survey Director Dr. Marcia McNutt says the results are preliminary, but two teams using different methods determined the well that exploded April 20 and sank two days later has spilled between 17 and 39 million gallons:

BP’s Photo Blockade of the Gulf Oil Spill
Gerald Herbert / AP

Jean-Michel Cousteau (center) was turned away from a wildlife sanctuary by the U.S. Coast Guard after they discovered that an AP photographer was on board.

BP’S Deepwater Image Disaster
Download results here.
Zuzana Beluska

Zurich 19rd May, 2010. BP’s CSR-oriented approach to crisis communications in response to the ongoing Deepwater oil spill has done little to mitigate the image damage the disaster has caused for the company. Media Tenor’s data show that while the volume of coverage for BP has sharply increased in the wake of the explosion, BP’s image rating has moved from essentially neutral to over 75% negative. Here BP’s image is not just a victim of the disaster, but also of the low level of awareness the company had prior to the explosion.

Despite BP’s efforts over the last several years to position itself as “Beyond Petroleum,” and its specific messaging strategy in response to the crisis that has focused on specifics such as the recruitment of fishermen to help contain the slick and promises that the firm would take responsibility for the accident and its consequences, BP had no opportunity to avoid significant impact on its image. Once the government assigned responsibility for the accident to BP, public anger was always going to unavoidably follow.

Some politicians have speculated that the Deepwater spill would be “Obama’s Katrina,” but Media Tenor’s research shows that this has not been the case. Not only is the overall tone of coverage Obama has been receiving since the explosion only slightly negative, it is significantly better than the over 20% negative rating he received during the most heated part of the healthcare debate. In fact, when we compare the tone of coverage for Obama since his inauguration to the coverage that Bush received during his presidency, it is clear that Deepwater has not manifested as an image crisis for Obama and therefore will not have a comparable impact on his presidency that Katrina had on Bush’s.

There are several reasons for the lack of Deepwater’s signifi cant impact on Obama’s image. Not only has the immediate, clear threat to human life been significantly less as compared to Katrina, the tempo of the disaster has been different. Additionally, the media’s rapid move into focusing on the corporate sphere’s role in the disaster has helped to deflect possible criticism of Obama.

In the coming weeks the image impact of the Deepwater crisis on both corporate and political figures will continue to evolve. BP may face additional reputational challenges as images of animals impacted by the oil spill make the news. Additionally, Obama and his administration may come under more scrutiny as long-range decisions have to be made regarding mitigating the disaster’s impact both on the environment and on the fishing industry in the region.

For now, the question is whether the Deepwater disaster will continue to command a high volume of coverage in the media. This is a long-term environmental situation, but whether it will be a long-term news story remains to be seen. How much coverage the spill continues to get may determine how quickly and to what degree BP will be able to repair its image.

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