Columns » Hightower

BP fights its gusher with a PR flood




I hate to ask a rude question in the midst of a national disaster, but here goes: How much money is BP spending on the almost-daily full-page newspaper ads it's running all across the country to tell us how committed the corporate giant is to serving the public interest?

Oh, and a follow-up question, please: Instead of wasting tons of newsprint on buffing the corporate image, wouldn't it be better if BP shipped that paper directly to the Gulf Coast to help absorb the oil that's oozing onshore from its well?

But the corporate response to disaster is always to try papering it over with PR, which is why BP has quietly hired Anne Womack-Kolton. Who? She's a crisis management consultant for a global public relations outfit, and her specialty is in "high stakes communications" and "political risk management" for corporate clients. Now, she's on board with BP as its "head of U.S. media relations."

Womack-Kolton has handled oily situations before, having been press secretary for Dick Cheney in the 2004 campaign, then becoming head of the PR shop in George W's energy department. She had also been on Cheney's media team when he caught flack for convening a secret energy task force at the start of the Bush regime.

That closed-door task force, which included several BP executives, devised the industry-coddling regulatory policies that led directly to the current catastrophe gushing from BP's well. So, joining the oil giant is really a homecoming for Womack-Kolton.

As we've learned from the mushrooming Gulf horror, BP's interest is not in telling the truth to the public or the government, but in covering its own corporate butt and serving its private interests.

This is why President Obama needs to take control away from BP's executives and PR hacks now — and take direct charge of this national emergency.

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