60 Minutes Spins for BP

60 MinutesMike Wallace must be spinning in his grave. Tonight, Scott Pelley presented a segment on 60 Minutes, BP Cries Foul in Massive Oil Spill Settlement. They describe it as, “Is BP backpedaling on a settlement with oil spill victims, or are some Gulf Coast businesses exploiting BP to the tune of more than $500 million?” But even as ridiculous as that sounds, it was worse.

Even if the story had been as evenhanded as that description makes it sound, it is a towering example of false equivalence. In the golden years with Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes took on the big guys and how they were screwing the little guys. Now? 60 Minutes wants us to decide whether the little guys are screwing the big guy BP, who just happens to have destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.

But the segment was not evenhanded. Even the people who were against BP’s whining didn’t defend the people who were supposedly scamming the criminally polluting corporation. They just made the argument that should have made 60 Minutes not do the story: BP made an agreement and now that the public pressure is off, they are trying to wriggle out of their agreement.

One thing that was never mentioned was that the more you clamp down on fraud, the more that actual deserving people get refused. So 60 Minutes mentioned a few cases that sounded outrageous, but made no mention of what are undoubtedly far more that were marginal but which BP also doesn’t want to pay. But such nuance is hard to get across when you spend so much time spinning for BP.

I did learn something really interesting: who is representing BP. It is none other than the man who brought you the 43rd President of the United States, Mr Ted Olson! The man could sell ice to Eskimos. And sure enough, he was brilliant on screen. But I couldn’t help but think that Pelley only asked him questions Pelley knew he could answer. Here’s a great example:

Scott Pelley: Is this a matter of BP’s attorneys just having been hoodwinked? You accepted a deal without fully realizing what it meant and now you’re stuck with it?

Ted Olson: No one could have anticipated that the system would go completely off the tracks, but that’s why you have appellate courts. And that’s why we have the Supreme Court. BP will take this as far as it is necessary to go to make sure that this settlement agreement is construed properly.

But check out the slippery logic that BP is using. It is wrong for small businesses to use the law to their advantage at BP’s expense. But it is right for BP to use the law to its advantage—including going to the Supreme Court where the conservatives are very likely to go their way. As it is, BP got a great deal in the settlement. They are just trying to make more money now. And I don’t blame them. That’s what companies do: little and small. And that’s all that’s going on here on both sides.

What’s appalling is that 60 Minutes thought that a third of their show ought to be dedicated to allowing BP to make their case in the court of public opinion. It’s disgraceful.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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