The Emperor's New Clothes (TENC) *

Please send this link to a friend. You may post any TENC article on the Internet as long as you cite Emperor's Clothes as the source, credit the author(s), and state the URL, which in this case is

To receive Emperor's Clothes articles by email, subscribe to the TENC Newsletter. Just send a blank email with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to  You will receive a confirmation email within a day.  (If you donít, please check your email filter.) Please reply to that email and add to your personal address book.

Our readers make TENC possible. Please donate!


The reporters demanded: 'Why doesn't the government remove BP from control?'

The Great White House Press Corps Semi-Rebellion
Research and commentary by Jared Israel
Legal research and editing by Samantha Criscione

* Introduction 

* Excerpt from transcript of May 21, 2010 White House Press Briefing dealing with BP and the Gulf

* Comments by Jared Israel, indented in blue font, throughout the Press Briefing transcript



Apparently feeling some of the same anger and dismay as most everyone else, at the White House press briefing on May 21, 2010 the press corps semi-rebelled. 

"Semi" because, although they rose up against Obama's policy of putting BP in charge of the Gulf disaster response, their rebellion did not last.  Nevertheless it was stunning.  The Washington press corps, comprised of leading reporters from leading media, may be the least likely group of rebels in the modern world; perhaps in the ancient world as well. They depend on the good will of the administration in power. White House press briefings are like formal dances; if not always choreographed, they certainly sometimes are, and they are always demanding of protocol: one step forward, one step back, never step out of line and don't step on the press secretary's delicate toes.

Not so on May 21.

The press corps rebellion did not go unreported, but it was downplayed and misrepresented, as in the following excerpt from Fox News :

[Excerpt from "Gibbs Cracks Whip" begins here]

The tension may be reaching new heights. CBS correspondent Chip Reid revealed on air Friday that White House officials called reporters into the West Wing on Friday to scold them for asking too many questions about the Gulf of Mexico spill. One report identified [White House press secretary] Gibbs as the one doing the scolding.

The dressing-down came after the press secretary faced a barrage of questions about why the administration wasn't doing more to ensure the leak is plugged and mitigate the environmental damage to the coastline.
[My emphasis -- J.I.]

-- "Gibbs Cracks Whip as Administration Faces New Criticism"[1]

[Excerpt from "Gibbs Cracks Whip" ends here]

Regarding the first paragraph, not only did Gibbs try to silence reporters by calling them to the White House, as if they were ambassadors from an offending state, but Chip Reid from CBS publicly exposed this act of attempted repression. So an intense struggle.

Regarding the second paragraph, it is striking that this description of what happened at the press briefing is from Fox, which is supposedly Obama's Enemy #1. Striking because press secretary Robert Gibbs would have found the briefing a lot less nerve racking if, as Fox claims, reporters had only asked "why the administration wasn't doing more." In fact the reason Gibbs called reporters into the West Wing and read them the riot act was that, as you will see from the transcript, the reporters had demanded to know something very different: why the administration put BP's managers in charge of the disaster response and keeps them there. And Gibbs wanted the reporters to drop the issue.

This is quite unusual. I have never heard of the White House openly calling reporters in to reprimand them for asking a question in a press briefing, which is after all their job. I am  not saying the White House doesn't ever bring pressure to bear on reporters, but this open show of repressive power is remarkable.  It means that keeping BP in charge of the ongoing disaster and not having this questioned is extremely important to the Obama administration. Which of course raises the question: why?

The government's reaction became even more striking during the following week.  Apparently the intensity and persistence of the reporters at the briefing -- repeatedly demanding to know why BP was in charge of oil removal, cleanup, drilling a relief well, the always-about-to-work cappings, and whether to use dispersant, and if so, how much and which and where -- and Gibbs' inability to justify BP being in charge (and his nervousness about sticking his neck out by lying, as we shall see), convinced the Obama administration that action was urgently needed, and there followed an onslaught unique in this administration's history.

In the following week, three heavyweights -- top Obama advisor David Axelrod, National Incident Coordinator Thad Allen, and President Obama himself -- did aggressively what press secretary Gibbs had done half-heartedly: argued that the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 required that the federal government put BP in operational control of the disaster response, with the government limited to oversight.

This heavyweight attack, plus direct pressure on reporters by the Obama administration, and, I would imagine, by the reporters' employers, seems to have silenced the semi-rebellion, at least for now.

But in claiming that BP's current role was required by federal law, Obama, Axelrod and Allen lied, as I prove below.

Why would the Obama administration lie about federal laws that can easily be found and read on the Internet, just for the sake of keeping BP -- which ordinary people despise -- in charge? 

By lying, these men took an extreme risk. In a matter of hours, any  researcher can read the Oil Pollution Act [2] and the associated Clean Water Act [3] , and thus discover that the claim that the law requires BP to oversee all parts of the disaster response, with the federal government limited to oversight, is a fabrication. Not a questionable interpretation, but a pure fabrication.

Obama has made this false description of federal pollution law the basis of his Gulf policy. Surely leading Republican congressmen and senators know the contents of the law. For the past two months they could have exposed Obama's Gulf policy as based on a lie, thereby doing the Democrats serious damage in a midterm election year. But they have not.

In effect if not by agreement, Democratic and Republican leaders are acting in concert to misrepresent federal law.


The obvious explanation is that, for its own reasons (discussed below), BP has wanted to control the disaster response, and leading politicians in both parties have needed to give BP what it wants, either because a) BP has a hold on these people (perhaps financial), or b) because oil giants other than BP want to establish the precedent that when an oil disaster occurs, the perpetrating oil company is allowed to take charge of the response, thus framing the disaster as an unfortunate accident, rather than being barred from participation, which would frame said disaster as a criminal act. And so the industry is using its immense influence to make sure BP is kept in charge.

Perhaps both a) and b) are true, or perhaps there is some other or additional explanation. Before we can profitably speculate, we must get clear on some questions of fact, one of which is: what happened at this press briefing to cause the White House to call reporters in for a dressing down, and then to send three key figures -- the President, his most powerful advisor, and the Gulf Incident Commander -- to lie to the public about federal law?

During the press briefing, secretary Gibbs and reporters sometimes discuss issues other than BP and the Gulf. In the transcript of the press briefing, posted below, I have deleted those discussions (which comprise about half the text), with notes indicating the locations of the deletions. Other than that, every word dealing with BP and the Gulf has been kept, just as in the original.

All notes and comments in brackets are mine.

-- Jared Israel
Emperor's Clothes


Transcript of questions and answers about BP and the Gulf, White House Press Briefing, May 21, 2010

With comments by Jared Israel


The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
May 21, 2010 12:57 P.M. EDT
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 5/21/10
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Full text at

[I have deleted the beginning of the transcript, in which White House Press Secretary Gibbs discusses Obama's schedule for the next week and answers miscellaneous questions.

Reporters are identified in the transcript only as "Q" for "question." However, in the briefing Gibbs sometimes addresses reporters by name; I have highlighted those names in red the first time they appear in each exchange. The number of different names, and the way reporters return to their own arguments and pick up and press arguments made by their colleagues (both of which are good ways to get Gibbs to stop calling on them), indicate the depth of the rebellion of this highly tamed group, apparently so distressed that the southeastern U.S. is being destroyed that they discover, to their surprise, that they are vertebrates after all.

All comments in brackets and emphasis are mine. -- J.I.]

Q So on BP, the President referred to it today as a disaster, a disaster in the Gulf. And Iím wondering if -- well, I guess if you could explain why the federal government isnít treating it like it would treat a normal disaster, where you should have come in and take charge. I know you have the expertise at BPís level and the other companies, but why isnít the federal government sort of taking over this operation?

MR. GIBBS: I think weíve gone through this question. We went through this question yesterday. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, for reasons that were obvious in 1990, put the liability and the responsibility for recovery and cleanup with the company rather than with the taxpayers. Thatís why--

Q No, Iím not asking a financial question. Iím asking a management question.

[Apparently this reporter -- Gibbs later identifies her as "Jennifer" -- has read the Oil Pollution Act or has heard that while it makes polluters like BP financially responsible for the discharge of oil and other hazardous substances, with the possibility of immense fines being levied on individual BP managers (BP managers could be personally fined as much as $3000 for every barrel of polluting oil, with equivalent charges for other pollutants, e.g. methane gas!), it does not state that BP must or even should be involved in cleanup or any other aspect of disaster response, let alone be in charge.  The law only requires that they pay the bills and do as they are told. 

Jennifer is at first confused by Gibbs' nonsensical explanation, then stunned. Sensing the mood in the room, Gibbs realizes he is on thin ice and tries to reassert authority and drown the issue in verbiage by pompously and rather ludicrously listing government agencies and their functions, as if he were teaching an elementary civics class. -- J.I.]

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no -- no, no, but the management question is a financial question. Understand --

Q How?

MR. GIBBS: Because theyíre responsible for the cleanup and they have to pay for it. Theyíre not two separate questions. So it is --

Q Thereís no legal way to sort of separate that out and say, we send the federal disaster experts --

MR. GIBBS: Again, the Oil Pollution Act -- letís be clear -- Iíve tried to explain this many times. They are responsible for, and we are overseeing that response. That includes -- as I discussed yesterday, there are many different departments and agencies that are involved here. The Department of Interior and what used to be the Minerals Management Service is in charge of regulation and drilling issues. NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] deals with a series of issues including water sampling, detection of oil inside the water. The Department of Homeland Security is where the Coast Guard is housed. The Coast Guard obviously was on the scene right after the original explosion, and Thad Allen, the head of the Coast Guard, is the National Incident Coordinator. The Environmental Protection Agency does air and water quality testing. And once oil hits land, they have purview over that.

Q I just want to be clear that I understand what youíre saying, that youíre legally not allowed to take sort of command and control of the whole situation.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, again, weíre -- Jennifer, they are responsible for and we are overseeing the recovery response. I will add that SBA [Small Business Administration] is also in the area dealing with disasters for fishermen because NOAA has closed 19 percent of the Gulf for fishing. And SBA is there to provide low-interest loans for people that have had economic damages as a result of that disaster.

But understand, Jennifer, as Iíve -- I think Iíve also said on a number of occasions, the technical expertise to clean up and deal with the equipment that is 5,000 feet below the surface of the sea, thatís equipment that BP has; thatís the equipment that other oil companies have. That is not based on equipment that the federal government has in storage.

[Notice that the flustered Mr. Gibbs has just stuck foot in mouth.  Having retreated to the argument that BP is needed for technical reasons, he talks too much, saying, "thatís equipment that BP has; thatís the equipment that other oil companies have." Aahh.  Since other oil companies have the equipment and would be perfectly willing to work for the Feds (at BP's expense!), could you tell me again why the government needs BP?

In fact, according to BP, BP relies on subcontractors for 90% of drilling work [4]. BP's main function in drilling wells is to direct the work of these subcontractors, which, as documented in the letter Congressmen Waxman and Stupak sent to BP CEO Tony Hayward, means forcing them to a) work so fast that they can't possibly do things right (because time costs money) and b) violate workplace and process safety laws (because safe procedures cost money).  As Waxman and Stupak wrote, even though BP itself saw Macondo (or Deepwater Horizon) as a "nightmare well" nevertheless:

"BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure." [5]

So the government needs BP because BP managers have the technical knowhow, which consists of taking insane risks as long as said risks might benefit BP, and sure this may produce further disasters but don't worry because everything is being overseen by the government, which relies entirely on BP's knowhow, which caused the well to blow up in the first place.

Right. Gotcha.  Makes sense to me.

-- J.I.]

Q I understand, Iíll let this go because Iím using up my time. Thatís not really the question I was asking, is whether youíre physically doing the work. Iím asking why you donít take control of the whole operation.

MR. GIBBS: Again, maybe Iím just not being -- over the course of several weeks have not been clear on this. It is their responsibility. They have the legal responsibility and the technical expertise to plug the hole. Obviously Secretary Chu, Secretary Salazar, Secretary Napolitano, and others, have been involved in efforts with other scientists, both government and nongovernmental scientists, in conjunction with British Petroleum, which has been working in conjunction with other corporations and other oil companies.

So I guess -- Iím happy to try to sift through the question. I just -- they are responsible and we are overseeing to ensure that what theyíre doing is what needs to be done.

Q But if theyíre not getting the job done, does the government just stand there as a spectator and hope for the best?

MR. GIBBS: Chip, thereís nothing that would denote that the federal government has stood there and hoped for the best. I mean, the premise of your question doesnít match any single -- hold on, let me finish this.

Q Youíre confident theyíre getting the job done?

MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me finish this. That doesnít match any single action that our government has undertaken since the call came in that this rig had exploded in the Gulf. So, you know, the premise of your question doesnít fit any of the actions that are currently happening on behalf of the federal government in the Gulf of Mexico.

Q But Robert, thereís a whole problem here with BP in that every piece of information that theyíve delivered -- every piece of information hasnít been -- has turned out not to be true when it comes to the amount of oil thatís spilling, how many leaks there were, I mean, and every single -- so you guys are having to rely on them -- and I understand youíre saying that theyíre legally responsible.

MR. GIBBS: Itís not -- we are --

Q The government has to rely on them for the technical expertise, I understand that, but do they have the credibility any more? I mean, why not just say, you know what, weíre going to -- weíre running this thing; you guys arenít running this thing -- weíre running it.

MR. GIBBS: Again, Chuck, we are overseeing the response -- okay? I don't know what you think -- we are working each and every day. That's why Secretary Chu -- the Department of Energy -- it sounds technical -- the Department of Energy doesnít have purview over oil, oil drilling. That's not in their governmental sphere. But Secretary Chu has been down there working through a whole host of ideas, including enhanced imaging to get a better look at a disaster that's 5,000 feet underneath the water.

We have taken every step. We have pushed relentlessly for BP to do what is necessary to contain what is leaking, to deal with both the environmental and the economic impacts of what, as the President said today, is unquestionably a disaster. One of the questions you asked, Jennifer, was, this is not something -- thereís not a -- you may have been -- be confused about the notion of a disaster declaration that --

Q But Iím wondering if thereís something analogous to that, where you could just -- like an AIG or a disaster where --

MR. GIBBS: Thereís -- the Oil Pollution Act is where -- the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 is what governs how one responds to and who pays for a spill.

Q But then when I asked if youíre legally non-able to step in and take actual control, you said, no. So Iím just confused.

MR. GIBBS: Again, I don't -- I guess Iím confused at what are you -- what are you asking then.

Q If BP is not accomplishing the task, why doesnít the federal government come in and take over and get the job done?

Q So that they can --

Q Federalize it -- can you just federalize it?


Q Well, why?

MR. GIBBS: Well, weíre -- let me just -- I also want to address Jakeís question. BP is working -- and I would refer you to BP on the actual efforts that they're undertaking and they will undertake as the course of this weekend -- different ideas on how to stop the leak both out of the pipe, which theyíve done through the insertion tube, as well as whatís going on in the riser.

I would say relating to some of the earlier questioning, weíve asked them to provide more public data on air and water quality, and we asked them 10 days ago and reiterated in a letter yesterday to provide video footage of whatís happening 5,000 feet underneath the sea --

Q Why didnít you order them to do that rather than ask them?

MR. GIBBS: Because itís -- you canít do that from a private company. We -- the information -- first of all, the --

Q You had the authority to tell AIG what to do.

MR. GIBBS: Pardon?

Q You took over AIG.

MR. GIBBS: Well, we -- the company is largely in receivership. That's -- thereís a difference between --

Q Well, I know, but I mean, isnít there a way to declare some sort of emergency --

MR. GIBBS: I hate to -- let me just get through -- let me get through Chipís question.

[Gibbs never answers Jennifer's question, "isnít there a way to declare some sort of emergency," which is her final attempt in this press briefing to get Gibbs to explain why the federal government can't simply fire BP.  In trying to silence her, Gibbs has put forward several variations of the following statement:

"Again, the Oil Pollution Act -- letís be clear -- Iíve tried to explain this many times. They are responsible for, and we are overseeing that response."
[My emphasis -- J.I.]
-- To read this quote
in context, go here.

So according to Gibbs, the Oil Pollution Act makes BP "responsible for" taking charge of the disaster response, while the government is limited to "overseeing" what BP does.

This is wrong on both counts.

First, engaging in verbal trickery, Gibbs is misrepresenting how the Oil Pollution Act -- and the Clean Water Act, with which it works in tandem -- use the word "responsible," which can indicate duty (as in, 'You are the surviving parent, so you are responsible for raising your daughter') or liability (as in, 'You are the owner of the car, so you are responsible for paying the parking ticket'). In the above quote, he is claiming the law makes BP "responsible" in the sense of having the duty to take charge of plugging the well and cleaning up the mess. Elsewhere in the briefing he says BP is liable for various expenses, as well. So he claims federal pollution law makes BP "responsible" in both senses of the word.

But this is untrue.

The Clean Water and Oil Pollution acts do use "responsible" in a way that applies to BP; under both acts, BP qualifies as a "responsible party."  What do they mean by "responsible party"?  In a nutshell, the owner or lessee of a vessel, oil well site or port that might produce a discharge of oil, gas or other pollutant.  What is the responsibility of the responsible party?  To have sufficient financial resources that, in case of a discharge, said party can pay the recovery costs. Every reference to the "responsible party" in both acts involves liabilities -- when the responsible party does and does not have to pay and how much. 

Gibbs repeatedly cites the Oil Pollution Act, but in that act the term "responsible party" only appears in the section "Oil Pollution Liability and compensations."

Neither law requires that the responsible party be involved in (let alone take charge of) the actual disaster response. Just that it pay.

So then who has the duty of taking charge of a hydrocarbon disaster site? The President or his designated representative(s):

{Excerpt from Clean Water Act starts here}

(2) Discharge posing substantial threat to public health or welfare

A) If a discharge, or a substantial threat of a discharge, of oil or a hazardous substance from a vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility is of such a size or character as to be a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States (including but not limited to fish, shellfish, wildlife, other natural resources, and the public and private beaches and shorelines of the United States), the President shall [note that this is a requirement, not a possibility! Ė J.I.] direct all Federal, State, and private actions to remove the discharge or to mitigate or prevent the threat of the discharge.

(B) In carrying out this paragraph, the President may, without regard to any other provision of law governing contracting procedures or employment of personnel by the Federal Government--

(i) remove or arrange for the removal of the discharge, or mitigate or prevent the substantial threat of the discharge; and

(ii) remove and, if necessary, destroy a vessel discharging, or threatening to discharge, by whatever means are available."
[My emphasis -- J.I.]

{Excerpt from Clean Water Act starts here}

So, to answer Jennifer's question, in an emergency such as the present one, indeed, in any pollution emergency posing "a substantial threat" (meaning it could be a far less serious threat than the Gulf disaster), all relevant federal contracts are suspended, and the president has total control, including the right to use deadly force against vessels belonging to private companies if they are adding to the pollution, for example by spraying the dispersant Corexit. 

Three more thoughts:

1) When one is arguing that a law requires a certain action, the simplest way to prove it is to quote the relevant text from the law. Defenders of the line that federal law requires that Obama put BP in control of the disaster response do not quote any such text because there is none to quote. You know, it is the same awkwardness Mr. Lewis Carroll's Walrus and Carpenter encountered when they tried to have a chat with the Oysters after feasting on them, except Obama and company did not eat the text of Title 33 of the U.S. Code, (chapters 26 and 40); they made it up.

2) Regarding Lewis Carroll's poem [7] about the Walrus, the Carpenter and the Oysters, it seems to me that parts of it shed light on present circumstance, so, without further ado, here is Mr. Carroll:

On the Political Economy of Oysterhood (i.e., the brotherhood of Oysters)
The Walrus and the Carpenter (that would be Mr. Gibbs and his employer, Mr. Obama) brief the oysters:

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot --
And whether pigs have wings."

Some time later, W & C (or G & O) again address said Oysters:

"I weep for you," the Walrus said.
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size.
Holding his pocket handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter.
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none --
And that was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Now here is the $64 question: Are we oysters?

3) It is amusing that when Jennifer asks "
isnít there a way to declare some sort of emergency," Gibbs suddenly discovers an overwhelming urge to respond more fully to Chip, regarding whom Gibbs had previously felt no urge to respond at all. -- J.I.]

MR. GIBBS: Chip, that's proprietary video that was in the Joint Information Center and was working through -- the command had the video in order to see for the response efforts that we were doing on -- in conjunction with them, that video is now public.

Q Robert, can I ask --

Q Can I ask a question? Thank you.

[This reporter changes the subject, allowing Gibbs not to return to Jennifer's question. This discussion, which I have deleted, ends with one of the reporters returning to BP. -- J.I.]

Q Thank you, Robert. On BP, there is an official who said -- from BP -- who says that he expects that the leak would be plugged some time next week, as early as next week. How much confidence does the White House have in that timeline, that they could actually get this --

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, theyíre going to undergo -- and they can explain the technical nature of this better -- the process of trying to clog this leak with heavy mud, injecting that into the system I think beginning sometime this weekend. I would point you to them in terms of the degree to which they think thatís going to be successful. We continue to work on with them ideas for how to both plug and contain what is leaking, even as BP begins to drill a longer-term solution through a relief well.

Q But obviously theyíre telling you, this is what we think will work. What is the confidence level from the White House? Do you think theyíre going to be able to stop this by next week?

MR. GIBBS: Weíre certainly hopeful, yes.

Q And then back to Jenniferís question -- I mean, if they canít, does there come a point when the White House has to say, listen, we need to take charge of this -- not just from an oversight point of view; weíre going to step in and weíre going to bring in whatever --

MR. GIBBS: The National Incident Coordinator in [sic!] Thad Allen, agencies throughout the government, have been working on the ground since right after this explosion in the Gulf to do all that we can to plug this leak; to contain what was leaking; to deal with what happens in the event, and as we have seen, that that oil gets to land; we now know some of that oil has begun to get into the loop current, and how do we deal with that; sampling -- water quality sampling and how we deal with both surface and subsea dispersants.

So we have -- weíve been there every day of this crisis, and we will stay there until this hole is plugged, until we deal with what is either in the water or on the surface, and the impacts of that both environmentally and economically, which will probably take quite some time to sift through.

[Notice that Gibbs has answered this crystal clear, succinct follow-up to Jennifer's question with a filibuster: a lot of chatter that is tiring to read or listen to, apparently a favorite rapier in Gibbs' debating arsenal. As in: 'We have no argument, exhaust the opponent.' -- J.I.]

Q Robert, a follow --

Q Hang on a second, hang on -- but you will still just be essentially assisting in any way possible as many times as they want to keep trying something that doesnít work? So youíre not going to walk in --

MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, weíre focused on --

Q -- if that doesnít work, well, weíll wait and see, and theyíll try something else.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, Dan, this notion that the government is simply waiting and seeing -- again, Dan, if youíve got an idea of how to plug this hole, I'm happy to put you in charge of -- with John Holdren here, with Secretary Chu, or somebody at the Joint Information Command. Everything --

Q -- that the White House has, that this administration has --

MR. GIBBS: Everything that can be done is being done. Thatís why we have scientists here and throughout the administration that are working on trying to make that happen.

Q Robert, the questions about federalizing --

[Apparently this reporter is intending to ask about federalizing the disaster response, but another reporter intervenes, changing the subject. After the subsequent discussion, which I have deleted, a reporter, apparently Chip Reid from CBS, tries to get an answer once again on BP.  Notice his tone, irritated and argumentative. Definitely not the way reporters are supposed to talk to Mr. Gibbs at press briefings. -- J.I.]

Q Iíd love to get at least initially a yes or no answer to this question. Is the President satisfied with BPís response?

MR. GIBBS: The President is not satisfied that weíve plugged a hole in the floor of the ocean thatís leaking a barrel -- thousands of barrels of oil a day and polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

Q Is the President satisfied with BP?

MR. GIBBS: We are continuing to push BP to do everything that they can.

Q So, no ďyesĒ or ďnoĒ on whether youíre satisfied with BP.

MR. GIBBS: I thought I gave you a fairly fulsome answer.

Q Does he have full confidence in BP?

MR. GIBBS: Again, we are asking BP to do -- to take the steps that we believe are necessary.


[Gibbs has called on someone else but the reporter who has been arguing with him, apparently Chip Reid from CBS, refuses to relinquish the floor. -- J.I.]

Q I have another question. You sent out that Tweet about -- it was 10 days between the time you first asked for the live video and when you got the video.

MR. GIBBS: May 11th.

[As Chip Reid raised earlier, BP dragged its feet letting the public see video footage of the oil gushing up into the ocean. To universal disgust, the Obama administration asked BP to make that footage available -- Obama didn't order them to do it, or tell the Coast Guard to get some other oil people or the engineer corps to do it. Finally, after 10 days BP managers got tired of having to listen to the government begging, and made the video image available. Truly a humiliating moment for the Federal government, but the Feds appear to have a high tolerance for humiliation, when the source is BP. -- J.I.]

Q And on the other hand, which sounds like youíre asking without any kind of power behind it at all, and on the other hand you say youíve got your boot on their throat. That sounds like theyíre wearing the boot if they can just go along for 10 days. I mean, seriously, Robert, thereís this growing perception that the United States, that the government is somewhat powerless to make BP do what it wants them to do if it canít even get them to put a live feed of video up for 10 days.

MR. GIBBS: Chip, we have pushed them to make things more public. There are laws that govern the proprietary information of companies.

[Permit me to interrupt Mr. Gibbs so I can focus on what he has just said.  Chip Reid is talking about BP refusing to make a  video camera available so the people of the U.S. can see what is happening to their country; not BP's.  But apparently, in Mr. Gibb's delicate mind, U.S. territorial waters in the Gulf have become the property of BP, and therefore information about how BP is destroying those waters is "the proprietary information of companies." -- J.I.]

[MR. GIBBS continues] We canít change each and every one of those laws, Chip. We will work every day to ensure that BP is doing everything that it can do, everything that we believe it should do. We asked again yesterday that they make more transparent their air and water quality samples, that they update their website on that on a daily basis, that they provide live video footage of what is happening on the floor of the ocean 5,000 feet beneath it.

And we will continue to push any company, and the President and the team here will continue to push all elements of the government, to get this right. We are facing a disaster, the magnitude of which we likely have never seen before, in terms of a blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. And weíre doing everything humanly possible and technologically possible to deal with that.

[Notice that Obama is now not only unable to order BP to do anything (let alone, to do nothing), but he cannot order government officials to do anything either.  He is limited to "push[ing] all elements of the government, to get this right."  A chief executive, but so little power.

What baloney.

Following Gibbs' sad tale, the discussion goes off-topic, happily for Gibbs. Then, relentlessly, it returns to BP. -- J.I.]

Q Quickly, you just said about the air and water quality, that theyíre doing the testing.

MR. GIBBS: No, no --

Q Why isnít the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] doing the --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no, no -- again, EPA does air and water quality testing. NOAA does water quality testing. They also do testing and weíre asking them to make public their samples of that testing. The EPA --

Q So the EPA rechecks the tests, and does their own?

MR. GIBBS: And does -- they do their own testing, yes. Itís all up on a website if you want to look at water -- air and water quality samples.

Q Secretary Napolitano is still the person I guess thatís overall in charge. Is there any concern --

MR. GIBBS: No, the National Incident Commander has been for several weeks Thad Allen and, again, as I said -- well, let me, because -- Iím apparently not being clear. Thad Allen has postponed his retirement from the Coast Guard to continue on as the National Incident Commander. A new Commandant of the Coast Guard will be put in. Theyíll be able to focus on their job while Admiral Allen focuses on -- as the overall National Incident Commander, as is required by law.

Q Are you guys confident that Secretary Napolitano is not being taken too much away, considering the other part of her job at Homeland Secretary?

MR. GIBBS: Again, the Coast Guard is part of DHS [Department of Homeland Security] --

Q I understand.

MR. GIBBS: -- so thereís some equity there. Again, the National Incident Commander is Thad Allen -- okay? Secretary Napolitano certainly has equities in this based on the fact that DHS is there. Secretary Salazar has equities because of DOI [Department of the Interior] and MMS [Minerals Management Service]. The Department of Commerce is where NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] sits -- they have equities in this. The Environmental Protection Agency has equities.

Q No, I understand, but are you at all -- is there any concern here that sheís being taken away --

MR. GIBBS: Based on what?

Q Just how much time she has to spend here, she had to testify on the Hill, and considering the Times Square -- that sheís being taken away from any of her duties having to do with --

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard anybody say that.

[Questions unrelated to BP. Deleted. -- J.I.]

Q Okay. And on the Gulf oil spill, I want to ask it this way -- is there anything that in the process of dealing with this, you have found in the 1990 law that limits the federal governmentís authority in ways you wish it did not? Anything incumbent?

MR. GIBBS: Not that Iím aware of except what weíve asked -- obviously, weíve set up -- weíve sent up structures that change liability in order to ensure that a disaster of this magnitude is not -- the economic damages are -- that are going to be -- that our citizens are going to suffer through are adequately compensated even if they're beyond the $75 million liability threshold that the law currently has.

[Notice two things. First, increasingly nervous about "the law," meaning the Oil Pollution and Clean Water acts, Gibbs has just taken six tries to complete one sentence.

Second, the reporter has asked Gibbs if there is anything "in the 1990 law that limits the federal governmentís authority in ways you wish it did not?" So the question is about federal authority, not BP financial liability

Avoiding this question, Gibbs talks about a supposed liability threshold. In fact, if the "responsible party" causes a water-polluting disaster through negligence or willful misconduct, there is no liability cap under federal law. [8] But Gibb's diversionary and misleading statement aside, the key point is: he does not want to answer the question about the extent of federal authority under the pollution laws. -- J.I.]

Q But the law itself has not created limitations that you wish did not exist?

MR. GIBBS: I will look through the exact legislation that was set up and see if thereís anything as a part that's in there.

[The reporter has stuck to his or her guns. Unable to wriggle out from under the issue, Gibbs pleads ignorance.

As I pointed out, earlier in the briefing Gibbs said, condescendingly:

"Again, the Oil Pollution Act -- letís be clear -- Iíve tried to explain this many times. They are responsible for, and we are overseeing that response."
[My emphasis -- J.I.]
-- To read this quote
in context, go here.

And now he discovers he doesn't know what is in "the exact legislation that was set up," and promises to study it?  What has he been trying "to explain [...] many times"? The inexact legislation that was not set up?

Which Mr. Gibbs is lying? The one who knows the law requires the government to put BP in charge, or the one who doesn't know what was in the exact legislation that was set up?  Or both?

I vote for both. My impression is that Gibbs is competent, and that therefore, knowing the administration is using federal pollution laws to justify putting BP in charge, he has studied or been tutored about these laws. When the briefing begins, he knows federal pollution law does not really require that BP be in charge, but he does not know the press corps is going to rebel. Now he is thinking, 'What if one of them gets up during the evening news and says, 'The government is lying about BP having to be in charge, and Gibbs is the liar'?

Gibbs is stating that he is not conversant with the law so that he will have a defense -- ignorance -- if he is accused of lying.

Next a reporter asks a question, changing the subject; I have deleted that text. Then the discussion returns to BP. -- J.I.]

Q Who runs the Joint Command Center down in the Gulf? Is that a federal government --

MR. GIBBS: Yes, the Joint Information Center and the Command Center -- I mean obviously itís --

Q BP doesnít run it?

MR. GIBBS: No. They have a center I believe in Houston.

[On July 3, I called the following contact numbers then listed on the so-called "Unified Command" website,

* Vessels of Opportunity (boats) -- (866) 279-7983

* Assistance Hotline/Boom Reports -- (281) 366-5511

* Environmental Hotline/Community Information (then listed on another page on the website as Oiled
Shoreline) -- (8660 448-5816

* Wildlife Distress Hotline -- (866) 557-1401

* Joint Information Center -- (713) 323-1670

In every case but the last, the 713 number, the person answering the phone said, "BP Horizon response, this is so-and-so, may I help you?" (I will explain what happened at the 713 number shortly.) 

Some time later in July, the so-called "Unified Command" set up a second website at

Going to that website's home page, one is greeted by the following graphic, the website's title:

Unlike the titles of every other government website I have seen, the above title is neither straightforward nor functional. Rather, this title, including the pretty image of marsh grass with the word "Restore" in bold over it, makes a salesman's pitch, trying to sell us two feel-good claims:

1) The first is that the disaster is basically over, so the only problem now is: to restore.

As you may recall, BP has been putting forward that line one way or another from the start.

In reality the deepwater well (actual name: "Macondo")
is still broken, and greater disasters may lie ahead. 

A) Regarding possible disasters, we know we cannot rely on BP to tell the truth.  Or, more accurately, we know that if BP managers see any benefit, and sometimes just to stay in practice, they will surely lie.

B) Being in control of the Gulf disaster site, BP may have taken or may take measures, which we don't yet know about, which make sense in terms of the goals of BP managers -- such as preventing criminal prosecutions, preventing financial losses to themselves and BP, and maintaining BP's stock price (critical for said managers to keep control of BP assets) -- even though they know the measures in question would pose immense risks for human beings and the environment, now or in the future. This is because, for them, position is everything (their position); therefore they are willing to take any risks (our risks).

Case in point: BP's current capping of the well. Experts have warned that if the Macondo well (popularly known as "Deepwater Horizon") has been damaged badly enough, capping it can lead to undermining the integrity of the ocean floor, thus causing a bigger disaster.  But the operating philosophy of BP managers is "working the risk/reward equation" (see email from BP engineer Cocales, which can be read in Congressmen Waxman and Stupak's letter, footnote [5] ). Given that the big risk here is to ordinary people and the environment in the U.S. and other nations, BP managers apparently calculated that they were likely to lose big financially if they did not put a cap the well, and hence, for the second time, they have capped it. Our risk is a risk they are willing to take.

Here is an excerpt from a AP dispatch last week, which demonstrates that the government is empowering BO's risk/reward philosophy:

[Excerpt from Associated Press dispatch starts here]

The government's point man on the disaster, retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, will decide again later Tuesday whether to continue the test of the experimental cap -- meaning the oil would stay blocked in.

He said Monday the amount of oil leaking was so far inconsequential. But ever since the flow of oil was closed off Thursday, engineers have been glued to underwater cameras and pressure and seismic [! -- J.I.] readings, trying to determine whether the cap is displacing pressure and causing leaks underground, which could make the sea bed unstable and cause the well to collapse. [Please note that the well collapsing would unleash staggering ocean forces. This is an authentic BP game of Russian roulette: they pull the trigger and then learn whether there is a bullet in the chamber. The bullet is immense; the head is ours; we may or may not survive. -- J.I.]

"As a condition of moving forward with the well-integrity test, BP has to report to us any anomalies and act on those within four hours," Allen said Monday.
[My emphasis -- J.I.]
-- Associated Press, July 20, 2010

[Excerpt from Associated Press dispatch ends here]

Some thoughts about this:

First, in the recent past, government regulators have hit BP with the largest and second largest fines in U.S. history for "willful" and "egregiously willful" violations of U.S. worker safety laws, which caused multiple fatalities, and for refusing to eliminate those violation despite having promised to do so in an agreement, based on which BP managers escaped criminal prosecution
[10]. According to Congressional Energy and Commerce Committee leaders Waxman and Stupak, BP managers perpetrated the current disaster by pressuring subcontractors to violate safety laws (see footnote [5] ), meaning that when BP chief Hayward repeatedly told Congress that safety was BP's main concern he was lying through his teeth (which, by the way, constitutes perjury). And yet the government is relying on this company, which Congress and federal regulators have found to be both criminally reckless and wildly dishonest, to responsibly "report to us any anomalies and act on those within four hours," even though what Mr. Obama's representative Thad Allen is gambling with here is nothing less than the stability of the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico! Meaning, the possibility of unspeakable disaster.

Second, based on what occult powers could Thad Allen be sure that, even if BP managers were to report "anomalies,"  there would be any course of action they could adopt "within four hours" that would in fact prevent a disaster they might already have set in motion? And even if there was some such course of action, how could Thad Allen be sure BP managers would know what it was? And even if they did know what it was, how could Thad Allen be sure BP managers would not decide that, based on BP-style reasoning, it would be in BP's interest not to adopt it?

To get some ideas of the risks we are taking, courtesy of BP and their government enablers, take a look at this video, showing how Jefferson Island in Louisiana, and a good deal more, disappeared into a gigantic maelstrom in Lake Peigneur caused by the mistaken position of an oil drilling operation using a 14 inch drill bit.  And then, as you watch, remember that the forces involved in the Gulf, given the weight of the water and dimensions of the oil and gas reservoir, are many orders of magnitude greater.

We can see the operation of BP-style reasoning in BP's use of dispersant.

BP has sprayed approximately two million gallons of Corexit dispersant and who-knows-what-else in the air and on and under the water surface of the Gulf. They have done this despite widespread warnings from experts because: a) the financial liabilities of BP and BP managers should (according to law) be based on the measurable quantity of polluting oil, and dispersants make it impossible to measure the full extent of the oil; b) the less oil people can see, the less upset they are, and dispersants make oil invisible; c) the spectacle of BP exercising control over the disaster response -- for example, demonstrating its power by defying the EPA's limp request that BP stop using Corexit -- promotes stock market confidence.

Corexit use has already become a serious health problem and may become a real health disaster, affecting nobody-knows-how-many people. Below is a video of an interview with Kerry Kennedy, head of the RFK Human Rights Center, who talked to workers in BP-controlled clean-up crews, whom BP had told not to wear respirators and not to see non-BP doctors when they develop symptoms of chemical poisoning:

If your browser does not display the video, please go to

2) The second feel-good claim implied by the title "" is that all the damage can be undone, as when you restore an old car. But broken lives, even the lives of the humblest creatures, not to mention the lives of people, are not so easily restored.

On July 23, when I first looked at , the home page featured an automatically repeating slide show including a picture of a pelican identified as one of 21 rescued birds the Coast Guard had flown to a presently uncontaminated coastal area in Florida:

Caption as it appeared on ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A brown pelican prepares to take flight after being released at Gulfside City Park in Sanibel Island, Fla., July 12, 2010. Twenty-one pelicans and 11 northern gannets were rehabilitated and then transported to Southwest Florida aboard a Coast Guard aircraft after being found oiled near the coasts of Louisiana and Alabama.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nick Ameen.

The picture of the pelican is charming, and I am of course glad for the 21 birds, but this is hype. Like Hope, painted on a disaster.

What about the unknown number of pelicans -- 21 hundred? 21 thousand? -- that have already died, quietly or at least out of earshot?  Not to mention other birds, fish, manatees, whales, alligators. Are we not to be allowed even the authenticity of loss? 

And regarding the workers whom Ms. Kennedy interviewed, will a future update of the  homepage showcase some worker, spanking clean, with a caption identifying him as part of a group of 21 the Coast Guard has just flown to new jobs that they can perform despite disabilities caused by exposure to hazardous substances?

The new website has a notice on the top of every page, the like of which I have never seen on a .gov website. The image below is part of a screenshot from July 29:

Why do they have this "Official Website of the United States Government" banner on every page? Are they trying to convince us? Or themselves?

The home page runs a slide show, which, on July 23, included, besides the pelican, a picture of Obama and one of a Coast Guard Lieutenant named Ernie Brown, thus supporting the "Official Website of the United States Government" theme, but if one accessed any of the menu items on the right side of the page -- "File a claim," "Report a concern," "Volunteer," or "Make a suggestion" -- the phone numbers offered were mostly the ones from BP that I called four weeks ago; you know, "BP Horizon response, this is so-and-so, may I help you?" 

I looked at the website today (July 29) and the slides have changed, but the show goes on.

Below is a screenshot of the contact page, posted in two parts. (To see the screenshot in one piece and full sized, with easier to read text, go here and click on the image to enlarge it.)

Below is left side of contact page, July 29, 2010

Below is right side of contact page, July 29, 2010

The toll free numbers I called July 3 are all there. Possibly they have updated the phone greeting from "BP Horizon response," to "Unified Command, may I help you?" Just so do we evolve: one nation, Unified, under BP.

But then again, perhaps they still answer, "BP Horizon," because consider, if you will, the following strange features of the Unified Command contact page. 

On the one hand, there is the 'we-are-the-U.S.-government' banner at the top; the conspicuous ".gov" in the website title; and all the government links at the bottom right of the page, including, the website of the U.S. Department of Justice, which does prosecute corporate criminals.

And then, on the other hand, very prominently, "BP PLC" (BP's official name) and "BP Horizon hotlines."  BP, by far the worst criminal violator of U.S. worker and process safety laws and the biggest environmental criminal in U.S. history -- especially but not only because of the deepwater disaster -- and there it is, on the same page as

It would appear the Obama administration and the BP managers are aiming to achieve somewhat different effects here. 

Obama is telling people:

'See? That's my picture on the home page, and it says "We are a government website," plus there's a U.S. flag. So we are in charge!' 

His goal is to prevent the people from marching into Washington with pitchforks, as in the old Frankenstein movie. 

BP managers have problems of their own.  As Tony Hayward told a Stanford University audience in May 2009:

"Our primary purpose in life is to create value for our shareholders." [11]

Which translates, maintain and if possible increase BP's stock price. To achieve that, BP managers need to reassure their stockholders that, far from any risk of being destroyed:

'We are the dominant partner in a new kind of partnership that includes even the U.S. Justice department!  Even disaster makes BP stronger! Everybody is on board, under BP!'

Hence, on the contact page the national toll free poison center number -- 2221222 -- is listed not under the Joint Information Center's banner, but under BP's. Health, booms, oiled animals, cleanup, suggestions, claims, volunteers, training, you name it: Whatever the question, BP is the answer.

We have come a long way since reading Mr. Gibbs' claim that the Joint Information Center was not run by BP, so let me return to said claim via the following route. 

Four weeks ago, after calling the toll free numbers I listed earlier, I called one of the two 713 numbers listed for the Joint Information Center.  A man answered, "Joint Information Center," and I said, "You didn't answer 'BP'!  You're not BP?"  "No," said he, "Coast Guard."  "What a relief," said I. "Every other number I call is answered 'BP.'  I thought they had taken everything over, like 'The Body Snatchers.' With BP taking almost all incoming calls, can't they just handle them according to their special interests?"  "Oh no, no, no," he reassured me. "We are all in the same room together.  We share all information, immediately."

The Coast Guard man sounded anxious to be helpful, but my mother taught me not to take candy from strangers, so I called all the BP numbers again and asked, "Where are you located?"  I was told Louisiana, Mississippi and, several times, Texas.  So unless the government has rewritten the laws of physics, they are not all in the same room.

And whoever it is that officially runs any particular office, BP is not only controlling whether to remove or disperse the oil, the fate of cleanup workers, and decisions about what to do to that hole they drilled with willful disregard for worker and process safety, (see footnote [5] ). They are also controlling interactions with the public concerning everything from suggestions on disaster response to reports of animals covered with oil to claims.  Which means they get to decide how to handle every phone call. An awkward situation for us, since BP managers have an extreme interest in what information does and does not get reported, what suggestions are and are not followed, how financial claims are dealt with, and so on.

After Gibbs' misleading remark that BP does not run the Joint Information Center, there is some unrelated discussion that I've  deleted.  Then a reporter named Margaret brings up BP. -- J.I.]

MR. GIBBS: Margaret.

Q Thank you. On the BP oil spill, is the federal government exerting as much control as legally possible --


Q -- in your oversight?


Q Or -- Iíll just finish my question for the sake of finishing it --

MR. GIBBS: Okay, I can say yes to the first part.

Q Are there any powers that the federal government has held off on using either because you feel --

MR. GIBBS: None that Iím aware of.

Q -- that it would be disruptive or send the wrong message about government interference in private business?

MR. GIBBS: Meaning what?

Q Is there any sort of level of control or oversight that you could assume that --


Q -- you have not yet assumed?

MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, again, the premise of your question is somehow the federal government is not doing everything that is humanly possible to stop the leak.

Q Itís not -- okay, but Iím not trying to premise that in a political fashion. Iím asking a technical question --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, Iím not reading it in a political fashion. Iím -- again, Iím not trying to be flip here, but that's -- inherent in your question was that weíre -- that somehow -- youíre asking whether or not we think weíre doing -- thereís something we could be doing that weíre not --

Q That youíre not doing for a good reason, I mean, is what Iím asking. The government doesnít come at something with everything in the playbook all the time unless you think itís the right thing to do. Iím asking because I don't know the answer. Are there powers that theoretically you have that you have chosen not to exercise --

MR. GIBBS: Theoretical powers? (Laughter.)

Q Are there powers that you have chosen not to exercise yet because you think it would be unwise, but that you have in your back pocket as something additional you could throw out to clean up?

MR. GIBBS: No. No, again, we're doing everything humanly and technologically possible. Obviously we follow the law. I think that's inherent in -- or at least if itís not, I'd like to make it overt -- obviously we're following the law.

[Unrelated questions. Deleted. -- J.I.]

Q And back on BP really fast. Back on the current questions, basically are all federal options on the table -- going back to that question.

MR. GIBBS: Such as?

Q Meaning, are you going to take more of an aggressive role in oversight? I mean, like yesterday on CNN --

MR. GIBBS: Again, thereís nothing that -- thereís nothing that we think can and should be done that isnít being done. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Q Okay, well, will there be any efforts to try to change that? Because, I mean, many people have been talking about this comment from the EPA Administrator yesterday on CNN. She was asked by I guess Wolf that if there is -- whatís the relationship with BP and the federal government. She said, ďTrust but verify.Ē And so many people are saying if youíve got to verify, thereís no trust. So with that, again, will you try to --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think thatís a monitor [i.e., "trust but verify" is a mode of interaction -- J.I.] that follows our relationship with countries around the world, not just with companies that do business in the Gulf.

[Permit me to interrupt Gibbs to point out that:

A) He has just justified U.S. relations with BP in U.S. territorial waters in the Gulf by equating them with U.S. relations with foreign states.  So BP is a sovereign entity when operating on U.S. territory!

B) BP signed a consent agreement (itself outrageously lenient) to repair criminal safety violations that caused the massacre of workers at its Texas City refinery in 2005 and then, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "willfully" (OSHA's word) kept the old deadly violations and added many new ones.  Regarding which, see footnote
[10]. So much for trusting BP. -- J.I.]

[MR. GIBBS continues] I'm not going to get into the explanation of historical ďtrust but verify,Ē but again, we have -- BP has the obligation and responsibility to plug the hole in the floor of the ocean and to respond to the oil that has leaked out -- with our oversight, the strong oversight and strong response that we'll continue to exercise.

Yes, sir.

Q Robert, thank you. Coming back to BP, and not to be presumptuous about some of the other questions.

MR. GIBBS: We didnít leave. (Laughter.)

Q Thereís sort of a -- BPís response from the get-go. One of the first things they did was they tried to buy people off with five grand if they wouldn't pursue future liability. And thereís a lot of information --

MR. GIBBS: I think the Attorney General of Alabama and -- as well as we communicated through this administration that trying to hire people to -- trying to hire fishermen that couldn't fish anymore because NOAA had closed part of it, asking them to help and paying them to lay boom but then prohibiting them from, as fishermen, ever filing economic claims was not the right thing to do.

[So BP uses its position of control of the disaster response to blackmail the fishermen whom it has put out of work, and the government nevertheless leaves BP in charge of the disaster response. (But with a reprimand from Gibbs!)

Since according to press spokesman Gibbs, the Obama administration relates to BP within the territorial U.S. as it does to foreign states outside the territorial U.S., perhaps the U.S. should formalize this by giving BP what was called in late 19th century China a "concession area," a territory carved out of the U.S. that BP managers would rule, enjoying full immunity from prosecution. Perhaps the Southeast is available? -- J.I.] 

Q I haven't gotten to the question yet. I'm saying that's the first thing they did. And in general, thereís the sense that they provide information with an eye-dropper. And then the video --

MR. GIBBS: Which is why we've asked them to be more transparent about air and water quality samples and about a video footage of whatís happening 5,000 feet beneath the sea.

Q No, no, but the video on CBS the other night of Coast Guard officials on that ship with what were described as BP contractors threatening to arrest journalists for merely taking pictures -- all of this put together --

MR. GIBBS: Are you talking about 60 Minutes?

Q No, I'm talking about it was on -- Chip would know -- it was on -- and so all of this paints --

MR. GIBBS: I did not see the particular --

Q They threatened to arrest a CBS crew for taking pictures -- for daring to take pictures --

Q And they said that BP had told them that they --

Q So all of this paints --

MR. GIBBS: Who was threatening to arrest?

Q There were two agents on the boat, too. It was a BP boat and BP had --

Q Why is the Coast Guard being co-opted with BP officials and threatening the arrest of journalists for trying to take pictures?

[Perhaps because the concession area has already been set up? --J.I.]

MR. GIBBS: I'd have to look at the story. Other than -- I'd have to look at what CBS reported. I just haven't seen that story.

[Sure he hasn't. The threat to arrest the CBS crew was big news.  Assuming they are not comatose, Obama's staff knew Coast Guard officers were filmed threatening to arrest a CBS crew, avowedly on BP's orders. Gibbs was surely briefed on the incident. 

At this point a reporter conveniently raises the important issue of whether a creature sighted on the White House lawn is a mole or a vole, and light banter follows, immediately after which Gibbs says "thank you" and ends the briefing on this light note, as if nothing had happened in the briefing, or for that matter in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jared Israel
Emperor's Clothes ]


Footnotes and Further Reading


[1] "Gibbs Cracks Whip as Administration Faces New Criticism," May 26, 2010,

[2] Oil Pollution Act of 1990, at

[3] Clean Water Act,

[4] Regarding 90% of BP's drilling work being done by subcontractors, the exact quote is:

" ĎSince service companies account for 90% of the hours spent planning and executing wells, it is crucial that we take their performance as seriously as we take our own,í says Ahmed Hashmi, commercial director for drilling and completions."
-- "Drilling Beyond the Best," BP magazine Frontiers, Issue 11, December 2004

[5] The letter from Congressmen Waxman and Stupak to BP CEO Hayward can be read at

[6] From the U.S. Code Online via GPO Access
[Laws in effect as of January 3, 2007]
[CITE: 33USC1321]
[Page 404-424]
Go to and search for the words "size or character"

The research on the Oil Pollution and Clean Water acts was done by my colleague Samantha Criscione, who is expert in analyzing engineering law.
-- J.I.

[7] "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a poem from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, a marvelous book in which Carroll alas predicted the spirit of political life today. The illustrations are by John Tenniel.

You can read the book online or download it free at Definitely worth the time. You can read the full text of the poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter," at

[8] According to the Oil Pollution Act the liability cap

"does not apply if the incident was proximately caused by --

(A) gross negligence or willful misconduct of, or

(B) the violation of an applicable Federal safety, construction, or operating regulation by,

the responsible party, an agent or employee of the responsible party, or a person acting pursuant to a contractual relationship with the responsible party [...]."

-- Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Title 33 U.S. Code, Section 2704 ("Limits on liability"), Subsections (c) (1), 2006 edition, pages 647-648.
Available as text at
or as PDF file at

[9] "Is experimental well cap making disaster worse?" by Colleen Long and Matthew Daly, Associated Press Writers, On Tuesday July 20, 2010, 12:14 pm EDT

Also posted at  http://www.caribbeanbusiness...&ct_id=3&ct_name=1

[10] In 2005 and again in 2009 BP was hit with the largest fines in U.S. history for criminal safety violations at its Texas City refinery. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), over 90% of the 2005 violations were "willfully egregious" (i.e., knowingly very bad) and most of the remainder were "willful," meaning BP managers flaunted life-threatening petrochemical safety requirements, which, by the way, caused the deaths of 15 workers and wounded 170 others (many quite horribly) that year at that one refinery alone.  BP promised (in seemingly earnest tones) to correct the violations, conditional on which the government halted criminal action, but in 2009 OSHA levied even larger fines, charging that BP knowingly refused to correct many old violations, and created new ones.

You can read OSHA's uncharacteristically harsh press releases about the 2005 fines at or
and about the 2009 fines at or

And yet in a July 2 statement on cleanup work in the Gulf, which you can read at , OSHA repeatedly refers to BP as if it were properly viewed as a partner in guaranteeing worker safety and health. According to that OSHA page, BP is acting entirely correctly.  For this to be true, BP would have to have made a 180 degree change in the way it treats workers, in which case OSHA would merely be reporting a fact, a positive fact.  The immediate problem with believing this is that the OSHA page does not refute (indeed, does not even mention) the charges made by residents of the Gulf, by New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler (and Nadler quotes Louisiana health officials) and by others that BP's use of the dispersant Corexit is creating a health nightmare. Nor does OSHA mention, let alone refute, the charge made by Kerry Kennedy (see video above) and by cleanup workers that BP is again guilty of willfully egregious worker safety and health abuses. The fact that OSHA entirely ignores these charges concerning the company it has designated the worst violator of workplace safety laws makes one wonder if OSHA officials have come under pressure to present BP in a favorable light, and are complying.  A most disturbing thought.

[11] Tony Hayward, "Entrepreneurial Spirit Still Needed," Speech at conference at Stanford University Business School, May 12, 2009
Quoted text appears in youtube video, "BP's CEO Tony Hayward: 'We had too many people that were working to save the world'"
Video of entire speech is at


Make a donation to Emperor's Clothes


Our work depends on donations. If you find Emperor's Clothes useful, please help us to cover our expenses. Every donation helps, big or small!

Our best is yet to come!

Here's how you can donate:

* Make a donation at our secure server

* Make a donation using PayPal

* Send a check made out to Emperor's Clothes to:
Emperor's Clothes
P.O. Box 610-321
Newton, MA 02461-0321

* Or, call us at
1 617 858-0944 and make a donation over the phone.
Please, if you get voicemail, leave your number and we'll call you back.

Thanks for making a donation!


Please send this link to a friend. You may post any TENC article on the Internet as long as you cite Emperor's Clothes as the source, credit the author(s), and state the URL, which in this case is

To receive Emperor's Clothes articles by email, subscribe to the TENC Newsletter. Just send a blank email with SUBSCRIBE in the subject line to  You will receive a confirmation email within a day.  (If you donít, please check your email filter.) Please reply to that email and add to your personal address book.

The Emperor's New Clothes (TENC) *