Columns » Hightower

'BP' stands for Ban the Press from the Gulf




One bit of good news to come from British Petroleum's gushing oil disaster in the Gulf is that it might save America's struggling newspapers.

Not because the story is selling more papers, but because BP is pumping millions of advertising dollars into dozens of newspapers throughout the country. The oil giant is buying full-page ads almost daily to tell us what a super job it is doing to fix the mess it made.

"We will keep you informed," gushes BP's ongoing series of ads.

Really? One thing the ad campaign has studiously avoided mentioning is the corporation's aggressive effort to keep reporters and photographers away from the story. Journalists trying to do their job of informing the public — free of the self-serving bias in BP's ads — have repeatedly been denied access to the well site, public beaches and other areas affected by the spewing and spreading oil.

Incredibly, government officials have aided the cover-up. For example, when Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., scheduled a visit to some oil-slicked areas, he was to be accompanied by a few reporters. But at 10 p.m. the night before the trip, Nelson's office was called by a Homeland Security official and told no journalists would be allowed. Why? "No further elaboration" was offered, said Nelson's perplexed aide.

Likewise, when a New York Daily News reporter and photographer approached a public beach in Louisiana, a private contractor for BP told them to leave. Asked why, the contractor summoned the sheriff, who said journalists had to fill out paperwork for permission to enter, even though it is a public area, and then they would have to be escorted by a BP official.

BP's newspaper ads carry the title, "Making this Right." But a corporate ban on the free press adds another wrong to the litany of wrongs we've already suffered from this corporation. We don't need corporate censorship to be added to the list.

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