CNN Airs Allegations BP Bused In Gulf Workers To Scam Obama

CNN on Friday aired allegations that BP bused temporary workers into the Gulf Coast of Louisiana as a dog and pony show for President Obama's visit to the area.

"Now, if true, some other words might apply, a sham, a crock, an insult to the people down here who need help, real help, not to mention an attempt, if the allegations are true, to BS local leaders, Gulf state governors and the President of the United States," said Anderson Cooper at the beginning of Friday's program bearing his name.

The almost eight-minute segment included an interview with Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts who said, "Well, basically at about 7:30 this morning on school buses, a number of workers came in, approximately 300 to 400."

Oddly, Cooper never asked the Councilman, or anyone else involved in the segment, how BP got those school buses (video follows with commentary, full transcript at end of post, h/t NBer Gary Hall):

Early in the segment, Cooper said: 

A local resident Jerry Lafont (ph) says he saw the whole thing. He snapped a picture of the crews getting out of their hazmat suits and getting ready to leave. He tells us they came in Jefferson Parish school buses pretended -- his words -- pretended like they were working and as soon as the President left everything shut down. 

One of our staffers, who was also on the scene corroborates that. He says he has been on Grand Isle for the last three days and has never seen these crews before. Some told -- some told, one of our photojournalists Chris Turner they were on a work release program.

When CNN's Carol Costello asked whether they were there solely for the presidential visit, they told her they were under orders not to say and in fact they would get in trouble if they talked 

Houma Today also reported Friday that a witness saw the workers brought in on school buses:

One man, watching a crew of laborers brought on school buses by a BP subcontractor to clean the beach on the Gulf of Mexico side, said it was "amazing what a presidential visit can accomplish."

"I've been here a week and I haven't seen anything like this," said the man, who refused to give his name.

Cooper also said early in the segment: 

The allegation is simple, and it's stunning, that BP brought in workers to use as backdrops for the President's visit to Grand Isle lending the impression of a large-scale cleanup. Then, when the President left, so did the workers. 

Yes, the allegation is INDEED simple, for it conveniently ignored one key issue: who from Jefferson Parish authorized BP to use its school buses?

Shouldn't this have been a question Cooper asked the Councilman from that parish? Doesn't it suggest that someone from this parish was actually involved in assisting BP bus in these workers?

If this is true, BP didn't "BS local leaders" as Cooper suggested -- they were involved. 

Taking this a step further, if the local government was part of what is being alleged as a scam, was this exclusively a local decision, or did somebody else direct this parish to assist BP with this "dog and pony show?"

Given this administration's penchant for fabricating photo-ops -- readers are reminded of White House officials handing out white lab coats to doctors present at a healthcare reform event with the President in the Rose Garden last October -- as well as the allegation that these workers conveniently showed up just before Obama did and left just after he did, wouldn't it have been good journalism to investigate this matter beyond just blaming it all on BP? 

After all, wasn't the President, who announced yesterday that he was tripling the number of government officials working on the crisis, also served by the photo-op of a large number of people in hazmat suits cleaning the beach as he toured the area?

For some reason, this never crossed Cooper's mind on Friday: 

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again from Louisiana, where efforts to stop the BP oil leak from gushing into the Gulf continue.

We'll have the latest on that but we begin with the President's visit and allegations tonight that BP faked it for President Obama and the cameras, putting on what one local lawmaker is calling a dog and pony show.

Now, if true, some other words might apply, a sham, a crock, an insult to the people down here who need help, real help, not to mention an attempt, if the allegations are true, to BS local leaders, Gulf state governors and the President of the United States.

The allegation is simple, and it's stunning, that BP brought in workers to use as backdrops for the President's visit to Grand Isle lending the impression of a large-scale cleanup. Then, when the President left, so did the workers.

A local resident Jerry Lafont (ph) says he saw the whole thing. He snapped a picture of the crews getting out of their hazmat suits and getting ready to leave. He tells us they came in Jefferson Parish school buses pretended -- his words -- pretended like they were working and as soon as the President left everything shut down.

One of our staffers, who was also on the scene corroborates that. He says he has been on Grand Isle for the last three days and has never seen these crews before. Some told -- some told, one of our photojournalists Chris Turner they were on a work release program.

When CNN's Carol Costello asked whether they were there solely for the presidential visit, they told her they were under orders not to say and in fact they would get in trouble if they talked. We asked BP to come on the program to respond, as frankly, as we have every single night we've been here. And in fact this morning they agreed to be on with us. We were very excited.

Then this evening despite repeated attempts to getting in touch the company stopped returning our phone calls, nothing. Since the afternoon news conference when CNN's David Mattingly first brought up the allegations.

Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, David Mattingly from CNN. We got this from the Jefferson County Parish, an elected official there who says that as soon as the President left all but a dozen workers had -- that were there that BP brought in this morning had left the beach.

He says that BP shipped in about 300 to 400 workers this morning about 7:30 a.m. And as soon as the President left all the workers left except for about a dozen.

Could you comment on that, what was BP trying to accomplish and what was going on there?

DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Well, I think you should first recognize that I think as the President and Admiral Allen and many have said, we've moved in considerably more people to fight this battle on the locations where the oil is.

You should also recognize that these individuals are working out in the heat of the sun. These are long days. They start early in the morning, and they stop in the evening.

So the fact that they were leaving the location late in the afternoon is not unusual. It's not associated with the President arriving.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles there saying these were just normal workers going off shift. And again, we would have liked to have them on with us tonight to answer those questions. The invitation stands as always.

Now, if he knows something we don't, we're all ears. Joining me now is Jefferson Parish Councilman, Chris Roberts who is leveling the allegations against BP.

Councilman Roberts, all right, tell us what happened as far as you know.

CHRIS ROBERTS, COUNCILMAN, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, basically at about 7:30 this morning on school buses, a number of workers came in, approximately 300 to 400. They were given t-shirts. They were given hazmat gear, shovels and rakes and positioned out on the beach to begin working. We have not seen that level or cavalry of people working on Grand Isle.

COOPER: You visited Grand Isle before.

ROBERTS: Absolutely, we're virtually in Grand Isle every day. We visit on the beach. We go by boat. We go by helicopter tour.

COOPER: How many workers do they usually have on the beach?

ROBERTS: I would say probably about 20, max.

COOPER: Twenty workers.

ROBERTS: Correct, correct.

COOPER: And how many workers were on the beach when the President was there?

ROBERTS: 300 to 400, today.

COOPER: 300 to 400.

ROBERTS: Correct.

COOPER: So that is clearly a huge difference.

ROBERTS: Big difference and we don't think it's a coincidence that it was today.

COOPER: So when BP says, well, look, this was just a normal course of events and part of fact that, that look, we are deploying more resources, you don't think this was just part of the normal deployment?

ROBERTS: I'll tell you that we're in this event well beyond a month now. Oil has been washing ashore in Grand Isle for almost two weeks. This is the first time that we've seen any level of troops that have been placed there as far as manpower to be able to clean up the beach, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it happened today.

They came in at 7:30. The President stayed until the mid-afternoon. Just about the time he left, the workers left. But we don't blame the federal government here. I think it's insulting to the federal government, to the state government and local government for BP to come in and try and pull off this dog and pony show which virtually led everyone to believe that they were on top of things, and they are not.

COOPER: There's a lot of different moving pieces to this -- to this whole operation, and the operation under water is one thing.

ROBERTS: Correct.

COOPER: And we'll talk about that later tonight.

But have you been satisfied at the level of cleanup, the resources put to the cleanup by BP over the last few weeks, I mean, not just on your beach? We were down in Pass a Loutre --

ROBERTS: Sure.

COOPER: -- with the governor a couple days ago and there was not a single person out there cleaning up those marshes.

ROBERTS: It's gotten better I'll tell you that. We had an incident last week where we had a number of boats that were positioned there that had the skimming devices. Oil was coming in from the Gulf of Mexico into Barataria Pass. Those boats weren't moving. Our emergency management director went in and virtually commandeered the boats and positioned them to where they needed to be and got them to working. It's gotten better since then.

The federal government has had meetings. They brought the Admiral down and they've met with the local leaders. The President had them assign someone directly to work with each parish and that seems to be working better.

I just think it's a shame, that you know, BP in the midst of all that's going on would try and seize the opportunity because of the President being here and the governors being here to try and make it look as though that they have what they need and have the people on the ground responding which is just not -- not the case.

COOPER: So the question tomorrow is I guess will 300 to 400 workers show up?

ROBERTS: That's a big question, that's something that we've asked too.

COOPER: And even if -- if it wasn't going to happen previously, if this was a stunt, it would still --

ROBERTS: Oh they're working tonight --

COOPER: -- it would still be in BP's best interest to get 300 to 400 workers to show up there tomorrow so that people don't say --

ROBERTS: There is no question about it. And as you said earlier, when -- when some of these workers were approached by our emergency management staff, they said that they were under strict orders not to talk to anyone.

COOPER: So these workers, it wasn't even just workers not talking to reporters?

ROBERTS: Right. They were not talking to -- to any of our emergency management officials. The sheriff's office did manage to get one person to speak with them, and that individual said they were hired yesterday and told to report to a staging area at 7:30 this morning, so it just doesn't add up.

COOPER: And the other thing that's annoying about this, if it's true, is that you've got a lot of fishermen who would like to be employed by BP going out and helping.

ROBERTS: There is no question.

COOPER: And they are -- they've put their names in and they have taken courses, and they were sitting around waiting to be called to help in this effort.

ROBERTS: There is no question about it. When you look at this time of year, May through September is our time of year, particularly on Grand Isle, because you talk about the shrimping season opens May 1st and tourism goes on throughout this entire time. This is Memorial Day Weekend; this was usually the first big weekend, the big rodeo that had to be virtually cancelled, the fishing part of it this weekend.

And you've got a number of people that are sitting around that are virtually unemployed. So they are looking to come to work. They know the island and they know what needs to be done there. And instead of busing people in from the outside, you would think some of these people that you've been impacting --

COOPER: Right.

ROBERTS: -- would be the ones you would --

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And a lot of these fishermen who I've talked to, they said look I got a $5,000 check from BP.

ROBERTS: Right.

COOPER: But they would -- I mean, given that this is prime shrimping season.

ROBERTS: They would rather work. They'd rather work.

COOPER: Right, they'd certainly rather work but also this is prime shrimping season. They would be making a heck of a lot more than $5,000 over the course of a month.

ROBERTS: No question.

COOPER: That they have been sitting around.

ROBERTS: And the thing for us is that we went through a very cold winter. And typically, when you talk about a Louisiana fishermen, their year happens between May --

COOPER: Right.

ROBERTS: -- and the end of the summer.

So it takes being able to be successful during that time to survive all year long.

COOPER: Councilman, I appreciate you being with us.

ROBERTS: No. Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you very much. Good luck to your parish.

ROBERTS: Thank you.

COOPER: Chris Roberts thanks again.

Again, we tried to get BP to come on the program tonight, and we said this literally every night. The invitation remains. Only I'm not sure -- they will be on lots of other people's programs. I'm not sure why they won't on this one. But I'd welcome them. And I won't bite them or anything. I'll be nice.

Let us know what you think. We just want some answers. The live chat is up and running at AC360.com.

*****Update: After some additional research, I have learned that any use of Jefferson Parish school buses would have to be cleared with the district's transportation department. 
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.