CBS Allows Obama Official to Shift Oil Spill Blame to BP; NBC, ABC Morning Shows Grill Salazar

Early Show's Harry Smith on Thursday conducted a softball interview with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, allowing the Obama official to pass the oil spill blame to BP. He tossed this easy question to the cabinet member: "...The CEO of BP says the environmental impact in the gulf is going to be minimal. Is this guy in touch with reality?"

In contrast, hosts on NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America grilled Salazar during similar segments on their shows. Surprisingly, it was GMA's George Stephanopoulos who most stridently demanded answers.

He complained, "You gave BP and other oil companies permits without getting the proper clearances. You failed to conduct four monthly inspections of the rig over the last year."

Stephanopoulos continued, "Are these failures your responsibility? You were secretary at the time." CBS's Smith, however, never asked how responsible the department and the Obama administration are. He also ignored criticism from Republican Congressman John Mica of Florida.

Stephanopoulos didn't avoid the subject. He played the following clip of Mica and forced Salazar to respond to it:

REP. JOHN MICA: I call this the Obama oil spill time line. I think this is the first time we have a public copy of this. This is their approval. It's basically a carte blanche recipe for disaster.

Over on NBC's Today, host Meredith Vieira grilled, "On Capitol Hill this week you acknowledged that the Interior Department had been lax in policing offshore drilling activities and had been weakened by corruption. So, do you now take responsibility, sir, at least in part, for what's happened in the gulf?"

After not getting an answer, Vieira tried again: "So, do you take direct responsibility for what's happened here?"

The best Smith could do was highlight the need for images of how much oil has spilled out. He observed, "But, here we are a month later, Mr. Secretary, I know your agencies have asked for these pictures and BP has not provided them. Why not? Are they in charge out there?"

This still but the onus on BP. The Early Show host continued to place the blame on the company: "Are you satisfied they are using, at least, the proper methods to try and disperse this oil?"

Only CBS allowed the Secretary to get away with such responsibility shifting. For instance, Stephanopoulos highlighted the numerous problems with the response and scolded, "It sounds like you're shifting the blame back. These [problems] all happened on your watch."

Now, ABC and NBC shouldn't be praised too much for finally challenging the Obama response. After all, the disaster is a month old. However, unlike the Early Show, at least they are doing it, albeit belatedly.

A transcript of the Stephanopoulos' interview with Salazar, which occurred at 7:14am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And for more on this, we're joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar down in Washington. Thank you for joining us, Mr. Secretary. You talk about everything we're doing. Yet, we still can't get an accurate measure of the flow out of British Petroleum. You know, you see some scientists estimate it could be five or ten-times, maybe more, than what BP is giving right now. Why can't we get an accurate estimate from BP? And will you demand it?

KEN SALAZAR (Interior Secretary): The answer is, we will get accurate numbers. We will not just rely on BP. We have our own efforts underway with NASA and other federal agencies, NOAA, the USGS, to make sure that we have accurate numbers. We need to have those numbers with respect to natural resource damages and a whole host of other things.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, sir- Excuse me. We're 31 days into this now. Why can't we get an accurate estimate?

SALAZAR: Yeah- there is a problem, in terms of the sub sea because you're 5,000 feet below. The robots that are working down there are working on what the immediate crisis and problem is. And that is stopping the source. Until we get this geyser stopped at the bottom of the ocean, it's going to continue to spread. And, so, the efforts have been focused on bringing the spill under control. And that essentially means killing the well. And, so, everything we have is being thrown at that particular problem. We will have good numbers for the American people and for everybody else. And they will be independent from B.P.

STEPHANOPOULOS: When?

SALAZAR: It's a matter of days to complete the satellite imagery and to make sure that we have good numbers that are out there. We have good numbers relative to the amount of oil that is now being collected through the so-called riser insertion tube, where there's approximately 3,000 barrels a day that are being collected and not going out to sea. So, we can give the numbers. In terms of how much oil has openly spilled into the Gulf Coast, I can assure you we're going to have good numbers that will be put together by NASA, by USGS, by NOAA and others who are working on this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You took some heat yesterday on Capitol Hill. Congressman John Mica of Florida, pointed out that your department gave BP a categorical exclusion last year from environmental regulations. Listen to what he said.

REP. JOHN MICA: I call this the Obama oil spill time line. I think this is the first time we have a public copy of this. This is their approval. It's basically a carte blanche recipe for disaster.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Carte blanche recipe for disaster. And that's not all. You gave BP and other oil companies permits without getting the proper clearances. You failed to conduct four monthly inspections of the rig over the last year. Approved dozens of projects without the right permits. Are these failures your responsibility? You were secretary at the time.

SALAZAR: You know, I think Congressman Mica should understand that this is not about finger-pointing. But, it's about solving an immediate problem. And the fact of it is there's responsibility to go around, from the companies to Congress, to the executive branch. The Congress is the one that mandates there be a 30-day approval of the exploration plans. And it's Congress has had that law in place for a number of years. And, so, Congress has a responsibility to step up and also to reform the laws of this country relative to the requirements of the development of energy in the outer continental shelf.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like you're shifting the blame back. These all happened on your watch.

SALAZAR: George- George- George, I'm not shifting the blame. I'm saying, we have responsibility here in the Department of Interior. We have been on a reform agenda from day one.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, are you optimistic about efforts to cap the well on Sunday?

SALAZAR: You know, I am very hopeful that will happen. But, it's not risk-free. There's a possibility it will not happen on Sunday. But, right now, the schedule is to go ahead and do the so-called dynamic kill and finally put this thing to bed on Sunday. At least with respect to this first phase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time this morning.

SALAZAR: Thank you, George.

ROBIN ROBERTS: Everyone's patience wearing thin on this right now.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org