White House Enacts Rules Inhibiting Media From Covering Oil Spill
The White House Thursday enacted stronger rules to prevent the media from showing what's happening with the oil spill in the Gulf Coast.
CNN's Anderson Cooper reported that evening, "The Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches -- 65 feet."
He elaborated, "Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. You have to call up the guy. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can't get close enough to take that picture."
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST: But we begin, as we do every night, "Keeping Them Honest".
This time, however, we're not talking about BP. We're talking about the government, a new a rule announced today backed by the force of law and the threat of fines and felony charges, a rule that will prevent reporters and photographers and anyone else from getting anywhere close to booms and oil-soaked wildlife and just about any place we need to be.
By now, you're probably familiar with cleanup crews stiff-arming the media, private security blocking cameras, ordinary workers clamming up, some not even saying who they're working for because they're afraid of losing their jobs.
BP has said again and again that's not their policy. Yet, again and again, it has happened. And we have seen it. But that's BP.
And now the government apparently is getting in on the act, despite what Admiral Thad Allen promised about transparency just nearly a month ago. Here is what he said back then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN (RET.), NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: I have put out a written directive -- and I can provide it for the record -- that says the media will have uninhibited access anywhere we're doing operations, except for two things, if it's a security or a safety problem. That is my policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Uninhibited access, unless it's a security or safety problem.
Well, the Coast Guard today announced new rules keeping photographers and reporters and anyone else from coming within 65 feet of any response vessel or booms out on the water or on beaches -- 65 feet.
Now, in order to get closer, you have to get direct permission from the Coast Guard captain of the Port of New Orleans. You have to call up the guy. What this means is that oil-soaked birds on islands surrounded by boom, you can't get close enough to take that picture.
Shots of oil on beaches with booms, stay 65 feet away. Pictures of oil-soaked booms uselessly laying in the water because they haven't been collected like they should, you can't get close enough to see that. And, believe me, that is out there.
But you only know that if you get close to it, and now you can't without permission. Violators could face a fine of $40,000 and Class D felony charges.
What's even more extraordinary is that the Coast Guard tried to make the exclusion zone 300 feet, before scaling it back to 65 feet.
Here is how Admiral Allen defends it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLEN: Well, it's not unusual at all for the Coast Guard to establish either safety or security zones around any number of facilities or activities for public safety or for the safety of the equipment itself. We would do this for marine events, fireworks demonstrations, cruise ships going in and out of port.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So, this is the exact same logic that federal wildlife officials used to prevent CNN on two occasions from getting pictures of oiled birds that have been collected, pictures like -- like the -- well, that we're about to show you which are obviously deeply disturbing, pictures of oiled gulls that we just happened to catch. Suddenly, we were told after -- after that day we couldn't catch it anymore. So, keeping prying eyes out of marshes, away from booms, off the beaches is now government policy.
When asked why now, after all this time, Thad Allen said he had gotten some complaints from local officials worried people might get hurt. Now, we don't know who these officials are. We would like to. But transparency is apparently not a high priority with Thad Allen either these days.
Maybe he is accurate and some officials are concerned. And that's their right. But we've heard far more from local officials about not being able to get a straight story from the government or BP. I have met countless local officials desperate for pictures to be taken and stories written about what is happening in their communities.
We're not the enemy here. Those of us down here trying to accurately show what's happening, we are not the enemy. I have not heard about any journalist who has disrupted relief efforts. No journalist wants to be seen as having slowed down the cleanup or made things worse. If a Coast Guard official asked me to move, I would move.
But to create a blanket rule that everyone has to stay 65 feet away boom and boats, that doesn't sound like transparency. Frankly, it's a lot like in Katrina when they tried to make it impossible to see recovery efforts of people who died in their homes.
If we can't show what is happening, warts and all, no one will see what's happening. And that makes it very easy to hide failure and hide incompetence and makes it very hard to highlight the hard work of cleanup crews and the Coast Guard. We are not the enemy here.
We found out today two public broadcasting journalists reporting on health issues say they have been blocked again and again from visiting a federal mobile medical unit in Venice, a trailer where cleanup workers are being treated. It's known locally as the BP compound. And these two reporters say everyone they have talked to, from BP to the Coast Guard, to Health and Human Services in Washington has been giving them the runaround.
We're not talking about a CIA station here. We're talking about a medical trailer that falls under the authority of, guess who, Thad Allen, the same Thad Allen who promised transparency all those weeks ago.
We are not the enemy here.
Actually, Anderson, to this administration, anyone trying to tell the truth to the American people is the enemy.
Maybe if folks like you would have accurately reported the background of Barack Obama when he was running for president he wouldn't have assumed you were going to continue to misrepresent and ignore facts for his benefit after if he got elected.
To anyone with even a lukewarm intelligence quotient, this was an eminently foreseeable consequence of the media treating candidate Obama like a rock star. If they had acted like journalists back then instead of groupies, maybe they'd be treated with more respect today.
Now that some press members actually want to act like reporters again and aggressively try to cover what's going on in the Gulf Coast, the White House must feel somewhat spurned by his previously complicit press thereby necessitating rules to keep them from getting close to the truth now that they mysteriously seem interested in reporting it.
Of course, those on the other side of the aisle are not at all surprised, for like so many of the promises this man made during the campaign, we didn't believe his most transparent administration in history pledge either.
Maybe in the future media won't allow their love for a candidate to make them so gullible and compliant, but I wouldn't count on it.
*****Update: Makes you wonder if Malia Obama will ask, "Have you plugged the media leaks yet Daddy?" (h/t NBer acumen).