Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Truth and Turtles Die in the Gulf

 Kurt Luedtke, who was a helluva newspaperman before he became a helluva screenwriter (Out of Africa, Absence of Malice), invented "Commander Whitehead" to penetrate boundaries of official secrecy during disasters. When he was a reporter for the Detroit Free Press,  "Whitehead" got him past National Guard sentries during the Detroit riot and into a hospital room full of survivors of a Great Lakes ship sinking.

But that was then and the Great BP Oil Catastrophe is now.  There's no "Whitehead" to enable journalists to get at the truth of  what's happening on the Gulf Coast.  The entire operation  is a lesson in corporate power to control government and information.

Even before the Coast Guard adopted its infamous new 65-feet-from-the-boom rule to prevent journalists from seeing actual damage, coverage of oil company crimes was thwarted by badged thuggery.  Turns out BP long ago bought the local police and sheriffs in Gulf Coast  counties whose jobs and economies are dependent on oil drilling or refining. One Louisiana parish has initiated 57 extra police shifts per week devoted exclusively to BP security detail -- and paid for by BP directly to the sheriff's office. These vigilantes detain journalists attempting to photograph BP activities, turn them over to BP's own security thugs for questioning, and censor in the camera photographs that BP doesn't like.

As early as last May, Newsweek reported that local and federal lawmen in cahoots with BP were blocking access to sites where damage resulting from the spill was most visible. Two weeks later the New York Times reported that "journalists struggling to document the impact (of the catastrophe) found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials."

And now comes the tale of Rachel Polish, as disclosed by a blog-journalist named Georgianne Nienaber "with considerable input from residents of the Louisiana Delta."

When Ms. Nienaber posted criticism of the new Coast Guard secrecy rules as a violation of the First Amendment, Rachel Polish put on one of her official hats and, as Petty Officer Rachel Polish of the Deepwater Horizon Response team,  posted a rebuttal.

PO Polish is indeed a Coast Guard reservist, on duty as press liaison for the government agency spearheading the federal role in dealing with the disaster.

But she wears other hats, as well.  A year ago, Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (Ogilvy PR) announced Rachel Polish as Vice President of Digital Strategy of the 360 Digital Influence Group on the West Coast.

And who is Ogilvy's biggest client?  BP Oil.

Get the picture?  The Coast Guard enacts new rules prohibiting journalists from seeing first-hand what's going on.  In effect, it forces journalists "covering" the catastrophe to get their information solely from the Coast Guard press liaison -- who happens to be a well-paid flack for BP's public relations firm.

Don't you just love the way the United States of Corporate America works?

Commander Whtehead, wherever you are, it's time to return to duty. They're hiding biocide behind a badge.

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