The BP Drum Beat


My friends in the PR business have been telling me for some time to expect that the next BP tactic is likely to be what’s called a “drum beat” strategy: You line up anything that can be spun as good news, have some “friendly” research reports prepared that you can leak to media in advance (so they don’t face much scrutiny but still grab a headline) and then try to create an “echo chamber” where pundits and others grab the good news and bang those drums for you.

That must explain this week’s baffling story in the New York times that started out making my day, offering the best news in months: the government is about to announce that three-quarters of the BP oil spill is gone! And federal scientists say this might not be as bad as we feared … but wait, on down in the NYT story we discover that this is more outright B.S. from our friends at NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that famously helped BP and the Coast Guard low-ball spill estimates during the early days of the disaster. Anyone who was in the “5,000 barrels a day” crowd has lost all relevance and credibility.

Why not just go read the BP website if we want the bright, happy side of the spill? And, just as my PR colleagues predicted, the report was leaked before it was issued, making sure that the initial stories didn’t include the other side of those statements. Of course, none of it is holding up, but “good news” dominated a cycle, and those stories can be recycled later.

The NYT, to its credit, admits as much, saying “… the lead agency behind the report, the oceanic and atmospheric administration, played down the size of the spill in the early days, and the Obama administration was ultimately forced to appoint a scientific panel that came up with far higher estimates of the flow rate from the well. Whether the new report will withstand critical scrutiny is uncertain; advocacy groups and most outside scientists had not learned of it on Tuesday.” Well they know about it now, and you can expect a serious pushback from honest scientists not on the government or British Petroleum payroll

Read that carefully: The president of the United States found a federal agency’s research so incredible he had to appoint an outside panel, that (by the way) didn’t just come up with a “higher” estimate, but one closer to the truth.

Of course, those of us involved in the spill know this is less a scientific report than a desperate attempt by a discredited agency to regain some relevancy, but the nation’s “paper of record” says this report is “… a result of an extensive effort by federal scientists, with outside help, to add up the total volume of oil released and to figure out where it went. ” Really? Says who? NOAA? Well …

And we learn this: “The aggressive response mounted by BP and the government — the largest in history, ultimately involving more than 5,000 vessels — also played a role in getting rid of the oil, the report says.”

Well, the government report praises the government? Who would have guessed? If you want to experience BP’s public relations drum beat for yourself, here’s the link:

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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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