Ever since learning that BP had decided to douse the Gulf of Mexico with “dispersants”—that is, toxic chemicals that break down oil slicks, making them less noticeable on the surface but even more deadly to the sea life below—I thought, This sounds familiar.
In fact, it sounds like a good metaphor for how the mass media function in our culture. All too often, the corporate media are the dispersant that makes the gush of oily corporate and political malfeasance—George Bush stealing the 2000 election, say, or lying us into the Iraq war–less noticeable on the surface. Though in the long run, vastly more toxic to our democracy.
The best current example of media-as-dispersant is the way that prior to the Deepwater Horizon rig sinking on April 22, most mainstream news outlets had been dutifully pushing the business line that teched-up off-shore drilling was as safe as Sarah Palin and, more recently, President Obama said it was. The corporate and conservative media came very close to making the corrupt relationship between Big Oil and the federal agency charged with regulating it as hard to spot as a drop of crude in the big blue sea—even with documented evidence that the regulators had accepted gifts, sex, drugs, and huge amounts of cash from the industry for years.
“As the United States examines the origins of the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico,” Fairness and Accuracy in Media wrote this week, “one factor that should not be overlooked is media coverage that served to cover up dangers rather than expose them. When President Barack Obama declared a new push for offshore drilling (3/31/10), asserting that ‘oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills’ (4/2/10), corporate news outlets echoed such pollyanna sentiments.” The talking point was that fear of drilling is so last century. Just two examples from FAIR’s compilation:
To fear oil spills from offshore rigs today is analogous to fearing air travel now because of prop plane crashes.
—Steven F. Hayward, Weekly Standard (4/26/10)
Some of the most ironic objections come from those who say offshore exploration will destroy beaches and coastlines, citing the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska as an example. The last serious spill from a drilling accident in U.S. waters was in 1969, off Santa Barbara, California.
—USA Today editorial (4/2/10)
FAIR went on to list serious accidents since those earlier disasters, many of them covered with only listless urgency while two oilmen ran the country. But after repeatedly hearing sunny pronouncements like those above, it can become a tiny bit easier for any of us to accept that, as Rand Paul said, “Sometimes accidents happen."