Monday, May 17, 2010

"At least act like you care"

"And now you know the news, for Friday May 14th, 2010. I'm Shepard Smith. Thanks for having us in your home tonight..."
This is how every Fox Report ends. Many consider the program to be distinct from others on the Fox News Channel because, well, it really is all about the news. Mr. Smith takes pride in his one full hour with no opinion or pundits. But May 14th was an exception. Friday's show did not end like most others. The usual amusing toss to Bill O'Reilly was missing.
"...Before we go, by all accounts millions of gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. But nobody can be sure how much, and nobody can guarantee that anybody will be able to stop it in days or even months..."
This is where any follower of Mr. Smith knows things can get interesting. He has a past. He made headlines instead of reporting them after screaming out on FNC's online show, Strategy Room, "We are America. We do not f*cking torture." While this hit a nerve with many, it made him a sort of hero to others. Many praised Smith for his coverage of Hurricane Katrina. While reporting on the government's poor response, his temper clearly got the best of him, which only made him better.
When one looks back at the news anchor's most poignant moments, there is often a connection, the South. Born in Holly Springs, Mississippi, he now spends most of his days in Manhattan. And while he has adopted the New York Yankees as his own, the obvious pride he exudes at the very mention of anything Ole Miss, where he attended, makes it quite clear he's never forgotten home. Still making frequent trips back for college football games, he even delivered the university's annual commencement address in 2008. You'd never know he left 2 credits short of graduation. Oh, and he's also an avid New York Giants fan. Nothing to do with Smith's New York address, but instead the team's quarterback, Eli Manning... he's an Ole Miss graduate.
Smith's love for Mississippi runs deep. His southern roots often showcased on air and off. It may not be a coincidence that when Shepard is at his best, his affection for home is most evident. Katrina was one example, and now the Gulf oil spill is another.
"...and now the chief executive of British Petroleum Tony Hayward, who's declined invitations to appear on this program, tries to minimize the situation by telling a British newspaper it's a relatively small leak, compared to the volume of water in the Gulf. The same Tony Hayward who said to another British newspaper on the prospects of lawsuits against his company, Come on, this is America, there will be frivolous lawsuits."
BP's CEO Tony Hayward said just that. Talking to the Guardian he tried, in his own way, to put things into perspective, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." Such comments suggest he's never seen the photos of the oil slick from space. One of the most repeated facts about the Great Wall of China; it's the only manmade object visible from space. One can argue this oil slick is now the second. As for how much oil has and is spilling out into the Gulf, no one really knows. Scientists are questioning BP's numbers, along with the numbers our own government has suggested. Looking at satellite images the administration's estimate was 5,000 barrels a day. However scientists believe it could be between 25,000 and 80,000 barrels a day (70,000 barrels a day would be equivalent to Alaska's Exxon Valdez spill every four days). Newly discovered oil plumes, including one that is 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick is evidence that the leak is, indeed, substantially worse than the estimates Mr. Hayward and our government have given.
Of course, we can't forget this is America. Mr. Hayward hasn't. He is expressing, to British newspapers, his very clear feelings toward us Americans. Expecting an onslaught of lawsuits, he told the Times of London that because "this is America," many of the claims will be "illegitimate." BP got hundreds of Louisiana fishermen who are, at the very least temporarily out of work, to sign contracts. Those contracts- making them employees of BP as they help clean the oil slick. A seemingly kind gesture by the company to put those most affected by the spill to work. However, their signatures stood for much more. By signing the contract the fishermen we saying they would "hold harmless and indemnify … release, waive and forever discharge the BP Exploration and Production, Inc., its subsidiaries, affiliates, officers, directors, regular employees, and independent contractors … from all claims and damages." These men, who needed to feed their families, were signing away their ability to get compensation from BP. With each signature was one less "frivolous" American lawsuit Hayward had to worry about. Many of the fishermen hastily signed the wordy contract out of desperation, and overlooking those key points. Others who had spent their entire lives on boats, unable to read that they were signing over their future, their family's future, and perhaps the future of the entire region, to BP and Mr. Hayward. Luckily many caught on. The media caught on. Shepard Smith caught on. Exposed, the company ripped up those contracts.
"A bit of commentary now. Mr. Hayward, your company is among those responsible for what may become the worst ecological disaster in American history and you speak of it in these terms? Billions upon billions of dollars in damage already, and you cast us aside as litigious, and act as if what's happening in the Gulf is no big deal, relatively speaking. Mr. Hayward, that Gulf is the source of life for millions upon millions of people, plants and other creatures of this earth. Jobs are lost, beaches and birds are tarred, fisheries are closed, tourists are canceling, economies are threatened and people from Florida to Texas are, in some cases, concerned for their very livelihoods, and you speak of comparative volume? Mr. Hayward, British Petroleum has caused the proud people of the Gulf region great pain. If you think your statements on this subject are helping your company's cause, you are wrong. And if you think the people of the Gulf region and across America will take lying down without a fight what your company has done to our Gulf and our people, you are horribly mistaken. Our water is now polluted, our coast is now soiled. Our fish and turtles, and shrimp and oysters are harmed. Many of our people are now out of a job. And 11 hardworking men are dead from an explosion on the rig that carried your company's name. Remember that, Mr. Hayward? We do."
Eleven men are dead. Eleven husbands, fathers, and sons. While this part of the story is no longer in the headline, we remember. Jason Anderson, Aaron Burkeen, Donald Clark, Stephen Curtis, Roy Kemp, Karl Kleppinger, Gordon Jones, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, and Chanes Roshto. Their bodies never recovered and may never be recovered. Mr. Hayward, this is America. These men are America. While no one can change that they died, we can try to keep this catastrophe from getting worse ecologically, and also make necessary changes in the industry that will help keep such accidents from happening again. Changes that will help ensure the other husbands, fathers, and sons come home tonight. While working on an oil rig will likely always be dangerous, it's clear improvements to safety must be made.
We can't know where this oil spill will be placed in history. It could eclipse Exxon Valdez, which many expect, or be just become a simple side note. Perhaps there is still time for us to influence how many pages of our children's textbooks will be dedicated to the Gulf Oil Spill. Whether it's a containment dome or a miracle, we still do not know what will bring relief. And while it is hard to tell just how detrimental the disaster will be on BP's image and bottom line, it is even harder to understand Tony Hayward's choice of words on the matter. Today, his company's legacy teeters with each decision he makes. Perhaps Shepard Smith's last words to Hayward Friday night said it best,
"On your watch, these are extremely difficult times for us litigious Americans. At least Act like you care."