Where is the National Media Coverage?


An open letter to members of the national media:

I know many of you with national voices read this blog, because you’ve been kind enough to tell me so. I’ve raised a glass or two with some of you, and traded barbs with others. It’s been an honor to, on occasion, be included in your work. Your reporting and attention is valued, and that’s why I’m addressing you personally and collectively in this post.

We’re dying down here on the Gulf – and we need your help to restore our way of life and our culture.

The economic devastation is hitting everyone from waitresses to fishermen to restaurateurs to property owners. Figuratively and literally, we’re dying. My neighbors and some of my clients are reporting severe illnesses directly related to the spill. We have names, we have case studies. We even have some local reporters with the courage to cover what is fast becoming a health crisis among cleanup workers and residents living in coastal communities (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQgNDCiIQPs&feature=player_embedded). But local coverage, compelling as it is, isn’t enough.

We need the attention of the national media, and we need it right away.

From the beginning, human health effects of the spill have largely been pushed aside both by the federal government and the national media? We were hyper-focused on “who’s to blame?” and “when will they cap the well?” and how economic damages would be assessed. All the while, cleanup workers and coastal residents were inhaling toxic fumes – touching and, in some cases, swimming in contaminated Gulf waters. And soon enough the oil and dispersants washed ashore, into our food chain and our population.

Government officials continue to say we’re all-clear – particularly when it comes to seafood safety. But these are the same BP “partners” who sold you the story of 5,000 barrels a day and rubber-stamped the use of the toxic dispersant Corexit. Let’s not forget when the U.S. Coast Guard became BP rent-a-cops and setup “safety zones” around heavily impacted areas to prevent journalists, photographers and other prying eyes from seeing the damage. Or when there were no underwater oil plumes, until of course, there were. Or the “vast majority of oil is gone” message, until that was laughed out of the debate. I don’t know about you, but I see a pattern here.

We’re awash in oil, dispersant and misinformation.

They tell us about the number of seafood tests they’ve conducted. But the bottom line is this: You can do a million of the wrong tests, and it won’t tell you a thing. You can sniff every damn shrimp in the Gulf, but if the toxins can’t be detected by smell, you’ll find nothing. If you control the test (and the government does) and you control the “safe levels” – you can declare anything safe.

For example, the consumption level for shrimp is set at FOUR. That’s four shrimp a week. Four? In New Orleans, that’s not a consumption level, that’s a shrimp cocktail – and a tiny one at that.

Look, four weeks after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and began the BP oil spill, some of us were saying that the real story was human health. In fact, my firm and others stepped in to prevent BP from demanding that cleanup workers sign legal waivers (so they couldn’t sue when they got sick or injured). Believe me, BP knew the risk early on. They just didn’t issue a press release.

But it seems the national media is still reluctant to shine a light on human health impacts. The congressional focus has remained on “who’s to blame?” and the media is focused on the claims process. It’s like our homes were firebombed, and the first responders were the arson investigators and insurance agents – rather than firemen with a hose.

A month after the explosion, I wrote that “human health is the real oil spill issue,” but was told “it’s too early to know, we have no test results.” (see http://oilspillaction.com/human-health-is-the-real-oil-spill-issue) Well, after the testing showed high-level toxic exposures, we were told “well, it’s not a story, because nobody is actually sick.” (see http://oilspillaction.com/no-safe-harbor-on-gulf-coast-human-blood-tests-show-dangerous-levels-of-toxic-exposure) Now that people are getting sick all over the Gulf, we’re told “well, how do we know the spill caused it?”

Come on. We all know what it will take to make post-spill human health a story: When people start dying in large numbers. And make no mistake, that’s the next phase if we don’t address it, now. My colleagues, the researchers who work with me and with our environmental clients, are almost never wrong – that’s why they have been bullied around by government agencies hoping to intimidate independent researchers (see http://oilspillaction.com/alert-is-the-national-oil-spill-commission-trying-to-intimidate-our-researchers). Even that got more coverage than most health issues.

Some of you have explained to me that your news organizations have their limits, and the implication is that a few hundred million in advertising and all those Important People who know your bosses are quick to discredit the “local” research. I’ll bite my tongue on that.

I applaud the media outlets that have been diligent and courageous enough to challenge the campaign of misinformation coming from BP and the federal government. To those news organizations that are reluctant to take a stand, I urge to get back to doing what has made the American media the envy of so many countries around the world: Seek the truth and hold responsible parties accountable (whoever they may be).

We’re really not so far from the heady media days of the Vietnam War and Watergate, and this unprecedented disaster demands an equally courageous response from our national media.

Please get back to doing what you do best!

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved


  • I’m leaning more and more on the fact that they are afraid of getting sick. The majority of the media I met on Grand Isle from may-august rotated staff members. That says a little something about what they understood to be the work hazards related to the assignment. As well, where are all the hardcore Greenpeacer’s? Now that’s a group that knows how to get the attention of the the nation through the media when necessary, and now is necessary.

    I’m of the opinion that reverse psychology is the approach necessary. Where there is news, there will be news reporters. Not to be misunderstood for the fact that there is more to report there at the present moment than could be covered, we just need a small spark to reignite the flame.

    God Speed, Not government time.

    David M. Tweedie
    Gulf Recovery LLC.

  • Have been perusing your blog–amazing, alarming stuff. Thanks so much for caring enough to devote your time and energy to this totally overwhelming and overwhelmingly depressing situation. I will do what I can to remind people about the Gulf, what has happened, what has been lost, and that still people are suffering horribly. Every little bit helps!

  • We all knew that once the well was capped the media would go home and all of us would be left in the dark fighting the fight of our lives. The rest of the country has forgotten about the “oil spill”. As they say, they are taking care of bigger fish (no pun intended) and have forgotten us.

  • Fantastic article! Finally, someone had the courage and has not only written the TRUTH, but is challenging his colleagues to do the same! Bravo, Stewart! Bravo!

  • Yeah, I’ve had the so called BP flu since I visited the Gulf Shores area in June. Thought I had a recurrent cold ,but further investigation came up with a diagnosis of hydrocarbon inhalation with proof from radiologist, MD etc.,so I call BP and they tell me to send all my paperwork which SOMEONE called to check on me at least weekly.I thought,how nice! They gave me a claim # and everything was in motion.What a shock when I got my claim turned down for NO diagnosis, blah, blah ,blah and now could not even locate any paperwork about my claim. Yeah I take meeds and breathing treatments and worry how long I have in this world from the cancer I think about EVERYDAY!!!!!

  • Since JP Morgan Chase is the biggest stock holder in BP, why don’t they offer to settle with those who wish to relocate by donating bank owned foreclosed homes to gulf coast residents….


  • Thank you for this. 291 days later we are still trying to get the message to the people. We have seen the purposely done abandonment of the people on the GOM. It is pathetic, disgusting and dangerous to the people.
    My kindest to you.
    soozla ..poster on FOSL

  • If the local TV stations around the Gulf of Mexico are not reporting on the illnesses and seafood safety concerns, then a campaign to expose their acceptance of millions of ad revenue from the oil industry (and therefore biased or outright non-reporting) should be exposed through social networking means or perhaps print media in the area. I do not live in the Gulf and only see snippets here and there of the ongoing problems and am horrified by the youtube accounts of people who are suffering serious medical ailments that can only be attributed to the oil dispersant Corexit in the environment. Call out those TV station owners by name and shame them!

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

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