June 24, 2010

I keep reading all kinds of conspiracy theories as to why the press is unable to cover the Gulf oil spill and its cleanup. People say all kinds of crazy things when there's an information vacuum. But I'm starting to wonder if there's really some sensational explanation for why BP gets to keep the press from reporting on the cleanup sites, because I haven't heard a good reason yet. Now that Helen Thomas is gone, there's no one capable of asking a question until they get a real answer:

Mac McClelland, whose reporting from the Gulf for Mother Jones has been indispensable, brings us this latest bag of bull from BP, which insists that it’s not trying to restrict press access to public spaces.

According to McClelland, this was filmed on non-BP property in Houma last week by Drew Wheelan of the American Birding Association, who was stopped from filming by a Louisiana state Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's deputy:

Wheelan: “Am I violating any laws or anything like that?”

Officer: “Um…not particularly. BP doesn’t want people filming.”

Wheelan: “Well, I’m not on their property so BP doesn’t have anything to say about what I do right now.”

Officer: “Let me explain: BP doesn’t want any filming. So all I can really do is strongly suggest that you not film anything right now. If that makes any sense.”

It makes no sense, unless, of course, BP has some authority over police and sheriff’s departments in Louisiana, a scenario that BP denies but which seems to crop up again and again. WDSU-TV’s Scott Walker, whose own encounter with an official who attempted to deny him access to a public beach went viral, received an apology from a BP flack nine days later.

Wheelan’s encounter didn’t stop there. Read McClelland’s entire report, and the next time someone asks you “Well, what do you want President Obama to do?”, tell them he could start by looking into why a foreign corporation seems to be allowed to act with extralegal authority on U.S. soil. It’s the sort of thing you’d think the Tea Party might care about, too.

UPDATE: (via Drew Wheelan) The original story on Mother Jones Magazine has been corrected, and I would like to correct it here. It was NOT the Louisiana State Police, but the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's department that pulled me over, bullied me and harassed me at the behest of BP. Please direct all anger at them, and not the State Police who have been very cooperative in this debacle.

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