When Politico ran an article last year titled “What BP Owes America,” a big disclaimer was scrolled across the top of the piece: “Opinion.” The article, written by the President of the National Audubon Society, argued that BP needed to take more responsibility for the devastating environmental effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
When Politico Magazine ran an article on Wednesday titled “No, BP Didn’t Ruin The Gulf,” there was no disclaimer. The article, written by an executive of BP, argued that the Gulf of Mexico has “inherent resilience” when it comes to oil spills and that environmentalists are overreacting about its impacts.
In addition to lacking a disclaimer, the article did not disclose that the article was written by BP senior vice president of communications Geoff Morrell until the bottom of the piece. So, to an objective observer, the article looks, on its face, like a regular piece of journalism, written by a journalist employed by Politico Magazine.
This lack of attribution is a problem, most notably because it tricks readers into thinking they’re getting something they’re not. Readers have to go through ten paragraphs of someone telling them that the environmental impact of BP’s historic oil spill was of “short duration and in a limited geographic area” before they know that the person they’re listening to is one of BP’s top executives.
Why? Why not just put that disclosure at the top of the article? A Politico spokesperson told ThinkProgress that all opinion articles have the attribution and affiliation of the author at the bottom of the page, which looks to be true. But all other articles have an immediate disclaimer that the piece is “opinion.” Why not on this article?
It could have to do with the fact that BP, as other journalists have pointed out, is one of the most frequent advertisers on Politico’s daily email newsletter “Playbook.” A week-long ad in Playbook goes for about $35,000, and BP seems to buy those ads a lot.
for folks confused why people are upset about bp's op-ed in politico: pic.twitter.com/9ZDMfkrkFi
— Mike Casca (@cascamike) October 22, 2014
According to New York Magazine’s Joe Coscarelli, those ads may buy journalistic loyalty. Politico’s Mike Allen, who writes Playbook, has been accused of writing so glowingly about Playbook’s biggest advertisers that his work is sometimes indistinguishable from paid advertisements.
Politico’s spokesperson denied that ads in Playbook would have anything to do with the most recent BP article, saying that Politico Magazine has no connection to Playbook, or to any other POLITICO newsletter, “except that they are published by the same company.”
Reasons for the lack of disclosure aside, there are problems with the article itself. It cites BP’s billion-dollar effort to determine the spill’s environmental impact to the Gulf, it’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Though that assessment isn’t finished, BP’s Morrell writes that it shows “the Gulf environment is rebounding and that most of the environmental impact was of short duration and in limited geographic area.”
It’s all roses from there. The Gulf is inherently resilient, Morell writes, and most of the light sweet crude oil dissolved or evaporated before it reached land. The massive response effort “greatly minimized the spill’s impact on wildlife and their habitats.” Environmentalists, he said, are blaming all of the Gulf’s problems — its massive dead zone, coastal erosion, and other pollution — on the BP oil spill.
Morell is right about a few of those things — the Gulf is inherently resilient, and and a lot of the oil did evaporate before it reached land. But the dispersants used to break up the oil were dangerous, holding carcinogenic pollutants that are soaked up by human skin. There was a massive spill response that helped save thousands of animals and ecosystems that would have otherwise perished, but those workers now face higher risks of sickness and cancer.
Other factors — climate change, overfishing, deep sea metal mining — are harming the health of the Gulf and the entire ocean. But the fact remains: the BP oil spill still greatly harmed the Gulf of Mexico. And scientists don’t even yet know how bad those effects will be, especially to the deep sea. In July, a scientist who led a study on the impacts of the BP spill and found a wider range of impact that previously believed told ThinkProgress that he was worried about how much we don’t yet know.
“What we still don’t know, and what we need to all keep in mind, is that there’s the potential for sub-acute impact,” Penn State University’s Charles Fisher said at the time. “In other words, things that might have happened to corals’ reproductive system — slower acting cancers, changes in the fitness of the animal. These are very hard to detect and they’ll take a long time for us to see whats going on.”
Here’s what we do know, though: a federal judge has found that BP was “grossly negligent” in helping cause the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest oil spill in U.S. history. That oil spill, four years later, is still killing wildlife and impacting the health of the Gulf. Hopefully, the resiliency of the Gulf ecosystem will allow it to recover. But we don’t yet know if it will. And nothing any BP executive writes in Politico is going to change that.