British Petroleum has stooped to a new low, if that's at all possible. As if spewing over 80 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico were not a sufficiently criminal activity, they are now attempting a cover-up and have facilitated, working alongside the police of New Orleans, a blockade of sorts of hard-hitting journalists from getting their hands on what's actually taking place in the ravaged Big Easy. It is truly a sham of epic proportions. And now, word of a big hurricane with winds of up to 90 MPH rolling into town has surfaced. Trouble, it appears, has just begun in the Bayou.
Mitigating the Exposure
Mother Jones, known for hard-hitting, deep-digging, no-holds-barred journalism, has approached coverage of the on-going and seemingly perpetual BP oil spill with the same vigor as usual in its reporting. Unfortunately, they've got some competition, or as astronaut Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 once said before going down, "Houston, we've had a problem!" The problem? BP is doing everything in its power to stop journalists dead in their tracks and scare them away from exposing their crime of poisoning the Gulf.
A crucial case study reflecting BP's behavior is its treatment of Mother Jones human rights' reporter Mac McClelland, along with its treatment of Drew Wheelan, a conservation coordinator for the American Birding Association -- very threatening and dangerous people indeed!
The Wheelan Incident and the BP Private Police Force
In a piece titled "La. Police Doing BP's Dirty Work," McClelland reports on how BP and the Louisiana police force have been working hand-in-hand to prevent journalists from doing their job exposing the truth. In opening the article she laments, "'[I]t's been...three days since four contractors wouldn't let me through the Pointe Aux Chenes marina outside Montegut, Louisiana. And though as of June 16 the federal government was saying helicopters could fly reporters as low as 1,500 feet around spill sites, on June 17 I was on a helicopter that was prohibited from flying below 3,000 feet (and whose pilot flipped silent birds at the 'military guys' coming over the radio and hassling him about being in the area at all)." In sum, BP is undertaking an explicit campaign to facilitate censorship and this has been something McClelland has had to combat throughout her reporting journeys. But it gets worse.
The Tail That Wags the Dog: BP Telling the Louisiana Police Who's Boss
In a situation resembling the nefarious military contractor Blackwater leading operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in place of the regular standing military, something that is probably much more commonplace than we will ever know as common citizens, BP's private security has also been in the lead on "policing" efforts on the Gulf Coast in New Orleans. Yet, rather than policing the real criminals -- BP -- the Louisiana Police force has instead formed a quid pro quo relationship with BP and is policing the honorable journalists exposing the criminals. Indeed, they have things backwards. Last week, reported McClelland, Wheelan "was filming ... across the street from the BP building/Deepwater Horizon response command in Houma, Louisiana...[He] was standing in a field that did not belong to the oil company when a police officer approached him and asked him for ID and 'strongly suggest[ed]' that he get lost since 'BP doesn't want people filming.' " The video can be seen here, and at right:
After this incident, Wheelan was set free -- sort of -- until he found himself being followed for the next 20 minutes by two unmarked security guards, after which he was pulled over. On an interview with Salon.com's Glen Greenwald, McClelland explains, "[He was pulled] over, except now he ha[d] somebody in the car with him, and it [was] a guy whose badge says Chief BP Security. So the cop went back to BP to pick up this security guy, and brought him back, and together they pulled over this conservation coordinator. Basically the cop just stood by while the BP guy asked this citizen they had pulled over questions for 20 minutes. He asked him who he worked for, who he answered to, what he was doing there, why he was in Louisiana, etc., etc. And then after, he called in, the BP guy was calling in information about this guy as he was answering it, and after about 20 minutes they let him go." In a word, creepy.
The American Civil Liberties Union Responds
In response to this act of corporate censorship and the police of New Orleans working hand-in-glove alongside BP's private police, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) issued an "Open Letter Concerning Media and Local Access to the Oil Spill."(pdf) The statement reads,
[M]embers of the public have the right under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to film, record, photograph, and document anything they observe in a public place. No one -- neither law enforcement nor a private corporation -- has the legal right to interfere with public access to public places or the recording of activities that occur there. Nor may law enforcement officials cooperate with private companies in denying such access to the public.
McClelland reported that the ACLU may file a lawsuit if this behavior persists.
The Final Paradigm
In the end, it comes down to a fairly simple paradigm: the police can actively work against the people trying to expose BP's criminal behavior, or the police can work alongside BP in their attempt to silence the exposers. Law, ultimately, is on the side of the exposers. And lest we forget while this shameful saga persists, hurricanes are now looming in the Gulf and the spill persists unabated.