New York Times columnist Joe Nocera won’t back down. Even though his past columns defending corporate polluter BP and its wanton recklessness and portraying Gulf Coast residents seeking justice as greedy fraudsters have been mocked and ridiculed in many quarters, he was back on the case this week. Nocera seems to live an alternate universe where BP is the upstanding citizen and not the convicted criminal; in his column this past Monday, Nocera implied that — because the settlement allows businesses and residents “indirectly” affected by the massive spill that devastated the Gulf economy for anyone who works here, the entire claims process is a dubious scam that exists largely to enrich their lawyers. He says at one point that people seeking claims for damages from BP are “bystanders…with their hands out.”
Nocera is so out of line here that it’s hard to know where to start. BP has already conceded in a series of criminal and civil pleadings that the British oil giant is guilty of manslaughter and that economic and medical claims in a wide geographic area are legitimate, given the extent of damage from the astronomical 5 million barrels of crude that were spilled into the Gulf. The claims that are taking place now — under the process being criticized by BP and its mouthpiece Nocera — are the fruits of settlement that BP, eager to convince the feds that it is a good corporate citizen after all, literally begged the judge to approval as quickly as possible.
An excellent rebuttal post that was also published this week by Media Matters for America shows that what is happening in real life is the opposite of what Nocera suggests — that instead of money-crazed citizens chasing bogus claims, BP is now harassing folks who have already suffered once when their business was severely harmed by the spill. Check out this example:
Furthermore, [Loyola Law Professor Blaine] LeCesne has noted that some of the challenges to claims whose legitimacy BP is now contesting are based on “ludicrous” defenses. For example, as reported by local news, BP is seeking to deny Louisiana chef John Folse from claiming damages, even though it previously and prominently promoted his Gulf seafood business:
When BP hosted an event at the London Olympics to promote Gulf seafood and highlight its oil-spill cleanup efforts, Louisiana chef John Folse appeared in his BP chef coat with several tons of seafood dishes his company cooked up and shipped overseas from his manufacturing plant in Donaldsonville.
Now, BP is arguing that Chef John Folse & Co. is not a seafood processor at all — and therefore should not get the millions of dollars a court-appointed claims administrator recently awarded it to cover its spill-related losses.
As the Media Matters rebuttal and other pieces point out, there’s nothing wrong with residents claiming “indirect” damages from the spill — laws passed after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 encouraged that. And many of the lawyers fighting BP’s underhanded tactics now are working pro bono on behalf of harmed Gulf citizens — a fact that makes Nocera’s arguments about greedy lawyers seem more than a tad silly, don’t you think?
Nocera’s doubling down on the BP stupid misses the real story. The legally binding agreement that BP is now trying to weasel its way out of is the same settlement that BP’s own lawyers spent months arguing passionately for in open court, against critics – myself included – who argued the deal was actually too generous to the oil giant, given the swath of devastation it caused. Unfortunately, every day there are new headlines that bear this argument out – diminished seafood catches, destroyed wetlands, and lingering effects from a toxic dispersant that has sickened both people and fish. The only folks who got “hosed” — Nocera’s unfortunate choice of words in an earlier column — in Louisiana are the hard-working people who live here. What’s happening with claims against BP is indeed what we call “justice,” in the truest sense of the word.
Read the extensive Media Matters rebuttal piece at: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2013/08/01/nyt-columnist-smears-plaintiffs-lawyers-because/195176
© Smith Stag, LLC 2013 – All Rights Reserved