Those of you who read the actual newspaper (as opposed to the cyber-text) should take a look
at today’s NYTimes, which offers two quite different articles about the Gulf catastrophe, one on
the front page, the other on p. A18. Such placement is instructive.
The front-page piece, “Amount of Spill Could Escalate, Company Admits,” might just as well
have been composed for BP’s media relations office, or for an audience of PR men, since it’s
concerned primarily with the effect of the catastrophe on BP’s “reputation,” and what its
managers are doing, and not doing, to contend with this big PR problem. The piece (written
by a team including John M. Broder, who wrote the denialist article below) deals at great
length with BP’s efforts to come up with the most effective “message.” “BP is playing to
a particularly skeptical and vigilant audience in the gulf, where people have become accustomed
to frustrating clashes with insurance companies and government agencies in the five years since
Hurrican Katrina.” And so on.
Meanwhile, those concerned with the dire ecological effects of the catastrophe may want to
read the other piece inside the paper, “Concerns Up and Down the Food Chain,” which runs
alongside a detailed and vivid illustration of the spill’s impact on brown pelicans, plankton,
sperm whales and other species. Leslie Kaufman pulls no punches in her article (which could
be–and maybe was–considerably longer). It ends with this quote from Larry Schweiger
of the National Wildlife Federation: “It is not a question of whether all these species will be
affected now. It is when.”
Thus today’s Times coverage of the Gulf catastrophe was evidently crafted for two readerships:
on the one hand, BP’s managers and shareholders, as well as those with a professional interest
in astute “perception management” by corporations; on the other hand, everybody else.
A tactful person might ask why that first piece merits front-page placement, while the other,
infinitely more important one was buried deep inside the paper (and not even mentioned on
p. 1). And a person not so tactful might ask why the Times would even bother running that
first piece at all.
But anyone who asks that tactless question clearly hasn’t ever read the Times, which tends
to run such PR-oriented pieces all the time. Indeed, most of its political coverage–foreign
and domestic–focuses much less on what (say) a president, or party, or state agency,
has done than on its impact on this or that sector of the audience. And so the Times does
too in covering the malfeasance of all major corporate players. In short, our Newspaper of
Record tends to deal excessively with how things play, as if its top editor were not Bill
Keller but Frank Luntz.
NYTimes Fails Again, Cites Astroturf Group to Downplay Gulf Disaster
by Brad Friedman
Fails to disclose non-profit group’s huge ties to offshore drilling industry, makes excuses for it.
John M. Broder and Tom Zeller Jr. of The New York Times were kind enough yesterday to offer a front page “News Analysis” which works very hard to offer “balance” on the Gulf oil rig gusher by downplaying concerns of an unprecedented ecological disaster noting “the Deepwater Horizon blowout is not unprecedented, nor is it yet among the worst oil accidents in history.”
New York Times minimizes Gulf oil spill
By Tom Eley
5 May 2010
The April 20 blowout on a BP oil rig 50 miles off Louisiana’s coast, which claimed the lives of 11 workers, continues to gush millions of gallons of heavy crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico with no clear end in sight. The disaster has already led to major economic and environmental devastation, with the Gulf Coast’s multi-billion-dollar fishing industry suspended in high season.