How One Conservation Group With Ties to Big Oil Can Influence the Gulf Spill Narrative

Photo via the Age

Yesterday, Tom Zeller Jr. and John Broder wrote a piece of news analysis that ran on the front page of the New York Times, suggesting that many of the fears surrounding the gulf oil crisis were overblown. The article aggravated many in the conservation community, because it was hung up on questions of just how big of deal this would turn out to be in the history books, instead of analyzing actual damage that was being done. They spoke to a number of experts who were oddly optimistic in their outlook -- and now, it turns out that there's a reason that at least one of them was so sunny: his conservation group has strong ties to the oil industry. ProPublica has the story:

With crude oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico every day, the conventional wisdom about last month's explosion and spill has been that this is an environmental disaster of unpredictable scale. The New York Times, in a story published today on Page One [2], challenged this conventional wisdom by citing several experts. One of those was from a nonprofit group called the Gulf of Mexico Foundation:

"The sky is not falling," said Quenton R. Dokken [3], a marine biologist and the executive director of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, a conservation group in Corpus Christi, Tex. "We've certainly stepped in a hole and we're going to have to work ourselves out of it, but it isn't the end of the Gulf of Mexico."

That seemed to be a pretty lax response to a veritable underground volcano of oil, pumping at the very least 210,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf a day -- so ProPublica decided to look into it. Anyone want to guess what they found out? Yes, that the Gulf of Mexico Foundation has extensive ties to the oil industry, and can therefore be reasonably said to have an interest in telling the New York Times that the spill isn't such a big deal. Here's what the non-profit journalist group found out: the Gulf of Mexico Foundation's
site says the group represents a "wide range of interests," including "agriculture, business, fisheries, industry, tourism, and the environment." But as it turns out, industry appears to be the most represented of those interests.

At least half of the 19 members of the group's board of directors [5] have direct ties to the offshore drilling industry. One of them is currently an executive at Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last month, causing millions of gallons of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seven of the GOM's other board members also work for oil companies, and oil companies routinely sponsor events held for the board of directors. Read the full account at ProPublica

Now, ProPublica's reporting has lead another of other sources to pick up the story, and the Times to print a correction in today's paper -- good thing there are such watchdog groups out there. Otherwise, we'd have no idea that the narrative about what's shaping up to be the biggest oil disaster in decades be shaped by spokespeople from the oil industry. It's an important principle to keep in mind, too, as you sift through all the reports bubbling up -- who has an interest in saying what? I'll be looking more closely into who may be in BP's pocket, for instance, in future posts.

More on the Gulf Oil Spill
Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill : The What, When and Where
BP Oil Spill : Videos to Catch Up

Tags: Newspapers | Oil | Television