Earlier this week, I told you how the most important story regarding BP and the Gulf of Mexico — its ongoing degradation of that precious natural resource, from the tar balls that assault our beaches on a daily basis to depleted fish stocks — is getting lost on the BP-manufactured controversy over claims by victims of the 2010 oil spill. BP’s belly-aching reached its largest audience ever on Sunday night, thanks to a widely publicized and promoted segment on CBS’ highly rated news program, “60 Minutes.”
Over the last couple of days, reviews of the “60 Minutes” report have come streaming in, and they are mostly negative. Michael Hiltzik, a columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has weighed in on the controversy, and I want to share his perspective. Hiltzik argues that the piece watched by millions of viewers last week was heavily slanted in favor of the oil giant.
Here’s a couple of excerpts:
There was a time, years ago, when an investigation by “60 Minutes” meant that the program had delved deeply into claims by a huge oil company that it was being defrauded by a passel of local businesses, done its own research and come to its own conclusions, viewing Big Business’ claims with a gimlet eye. Today’s “60 Minutes” seems more inclined to view the little guy as a born scammer.
Unlike, CBS’ Scott Pelley, Hiltzik digs into the widely available numbers to show that relatively few of the thousands of claims from Gulf residents and small business owners showing economic harm from the recklessness of BP have even been challenged, let alone thrown out. Here’s some of his analysis:
Pelley wore an expression of solicitous dismay at every assertion by BP’s front man, an executive named Geoff Morrell, about fraudulent business claimants. But he didn’t report that the particular cases mentioned by Morrell are the same handful that BP has been trotting out for months in its ads and its publicity sheets. That raises the question of how many cases of amazing fraud there really are. He mentioned that “60 Minutes” called “more than a dozen” supposedly fraudulent claimants, but none agreed to go on camera.
Really? BP claims there are “more than a thousand” such claims, and “60 Minutes” tried to verify about a dozen? This evidence of pure reportorial laziness didn’t stop Pelley from speculating that the claimants refused to be interviewed “because they’re feeling sort of sheepish about receiving that check.”
Pelley didn’t dig too deeply into the hard numbers on the claims program, so here they are. As of today, Settlement Administrator Patrick Juneau has received 288,832 claims. He has approved 68,900 for payments totaling $5 billion. He has denied 54,215. Most of the rest are pending, incomplete or withdrawn.
Pelley didn’t mention that the claims process has an appeals provision, which BP has bothered to exercise in only 3,943 cases, or less than 6% of all approved claims. If the company really felt inundated by bad claims, wouldn’t it be challenging a lot more of them? What BP is really up to is PR, though to what end isn’t really clear.
Personally, I think the oil giant’s public-relations offensive can be viewed in two ways. A lot of it is exactly what it appears to be, all about the money. While BP remains a highly profitable company, raking in billions in profits, the mess that it created off the coast of Louisiana is cutting into the firm’s bottom line. Isn’t that exactly what’s supposed to happen when a firm is guilty of wanton negligence?
Also, I’ll quickly repeat the point I made the other day. Every story that’s written or aired about BP’s belly aching — about the settlement that its own lawyers negotiated and fought for in open court — is a story that ignores the tar balls, the dead dolphins, the empty shrimp nets, and the rescue workers and their lingering health woes. I think that’s the real purpose of BP’s whining…don’t let them get away with it.
Read the L.A. Times’ Michael Hiltzik’s critique on the “60 Minutes” BP report: http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-mh-did-60-minutes-20140507-column.html
Check out my May 5 blog post on the real story of the BP spill: https://www.stuarthsmith.com/the-bp-story-that-60-minutes-didnt-tell-sunday-night/
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