A Not So Free Press


As if the oil and toxic fumes weren’t bad enough, now reporters trying to cover oil-soaked wildlife face arrest and big fines.

In the latest blow to any hope of transparency for the oil spill, the U.S. Coast Guard is ordering media – and everyone else – to stay at least 65 feet from the boom and “response vessels” in the Gulf. The Unified Command said violation of what it calls a “safety zone” can bring a civil fine of up to $40,000 and get you charged with a felony.

It’s a fine little Catch 22. Because booms are many times placed about 40 feet or so outside marshes, the new rule makes it very difficult for photographers to film the impacts on wildlife or even the marshes themselves.

Anderson Cooper on his “A.C. 360” program Thursday night wasted no time in calling out the Coast Guard, and challenged authorities to name the “local officials” who had expressed concerns. He also noted that the Coast Guard has consistently given lip service to transparency while joining BP in effectively keeping reporters away from the stories.

Anyone wondering if the government’s “partnership” with BP is getting out of hand is not going to be thrilled by this news.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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