09 Oct 2010

Was Obama Administration Lying or Incompetent on Oil Spill Reporting?

By Michael

Good public service, betrayal
of the public or just incompetence?

In recent days, a number of sources (NPR, Pete Dominick’s political talk show on satellite radio, the Los Angeles Times, etc.) reported that a commission studying the Gulf oil spill that began last April had completed its work and finished its report. President Obama established the commission last May. One thing that attracted press attention was how the White House dealt with information about the spill. In documents the commission released, the commission itself alleged that the White House intentionally withheld information about the true volume of oil flowing into the Gulf. Specifically, the administration consistently and grossly underestimated the volume of oil leaking in communications to the public. That in turn, could logically have affected the urgency and nature of the oil spill response and how the public perceived it.

Of course, the Obama administration immediately denied that their own underestimates had an effect on anything and it was thus an immaterial mistake. One can choose to believe that or reject it as routine political propaganda. However, a guest on Mr. Dominick’s show (I do not have a link for that broadcast) offered a different explanation for distorting or withholding information from the public. According to Mr. Dominick’s guest, the oil industry threatened to launch a massive propaganda attack on the Democratic party in the upcoming November elections if the true size of the leak was emphasized to the public. Naturally, that explanation has been attacked as error and/or propaganda.

Regardless of what you choose believe, we are left with the fact that the leak estimates given to the public were routinely far too low to now look credible. Initial estimates were 1,000 barrels/day and then raised to 5,000 barrels/day, when the reality all along was about 50,000 to 70,000 barrels/day. Was that due to honest error, political considerations or both? If it was just an error, we have gross government incompetence. That is what the oil spill commission itself argues directly. Or, maybe we have betrayal of the public trust in service of politics as usual. That is something the commission gently argues. Either way, it is real hard to see how the public was well-served.

Where I am going with this

In my first post here, I argued that the Democratic and Republian parties had not just failed, but that they had betrayed us. That was mostly naked opinion, with not much supporting fact or rationale. In my defense, there is only so much you can put in one blog post. Going forward, I will support my opinions with the facts and my fact sources, as I have done in this post. No one post alone will, or should, be convincing. But after a while, facts collectively will show that my opinions are defensible. My goal is to methodically and fairly argue how and why the two party system has become the catastrophe it is.

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