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BP Sends PR Professionals To Gulf Coast To Pretend To Be Journalists


First Posted: 06/24/10 06:05 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 05:55 PM ET

You know, a lot has been said about BP and its contributions to the natural beauty of the Gulf Coast states. But what we haven't heard as much about are BP's contributions to journalism, have we? I mean, we've basically covered the fact that BP's been doing a good job at preventing journalism from happening. But all that's about to change, because BP is sending its own journalists to the region, dispatched abroad from their regular offices, in Hell.

Basically, having grown tired of blocking other reporters from covering the story, BP is going to spend its own money on a bunch of in-house PR professionals who will reliably block themselves from covering the story. It's precisely the sort of genius move you'd expect from the company that's now more despised than Goldman Sachs, the corporate fecal-demons of 2009. The pioneering work of these BP reporters will be collected in an online magazine called "Planet BP," which the Wall Street Journal's Benoit Faucon likens to Monty Python's famous song, "Always Look On The Bright Side of Life." It's an apt comparison:


Per Faucon:

But in Planet BP -- a BP online, in-house magazine -- a "BP reporter" dispatched to Louisiana managed to paint an even rosier picture of the disaster. "There is no reason to hate BP," one local seafood entrepreneur is quoted as saying, as the region relies on the oil industry for work.


Indeed, the April 20 spill on the Deepwater Horizon is being reinvented in Planet BP as a strike of luck.

"Much of the region's [nonfishing boat] businesses -- particularly the hotels -- have been prospering because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams," another report says. Indeed, one tourist official in a local town makes it clear that "BP has always been a very great partner of ours here...We have always valued the business that BP sent us."

Over at CJR, Ryan Chittum's gone deep into the belly of Planet BP to find "their greatest propaganda hits," and finds them to be, on balance, "tone-deaf," "obnoxious," possessed of no evident "shame" and heavily bent on happy-faced advertorial mush. But the term I'd add is "cliched," because the most ridiculous piece of "journalism" on offer is this article, cited by Chittum, penned by "reporter" Tom Seslar. Here's the lede:

Paul, a well-spoken man supplementing his Social Security income by driving a Houston taxi, sees BP's current image challenges as similar to what he faces all day long.

YES! It's the hoary old "conversation with a taxicab driver" story, a terrible reportorial habit that's ordinarily beaten out of reporters by editors, with shillelaghs!

"Your job is really a lot like mine," he said as soon as he learned why he was driving me to George Bush Intercontinental Airport just after sunrise. I was setting off on the first day of a trip as a BP reporter, planning to seek out and write about some of the people most immediately affected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People period, not just BP people.

Okay, so, it seems that the job of Houston taxicab drivers is to smilingly lie to people as they slowly ruin their lives. That's good to know. How does Seslar see his work? As it happens, our taxicab driver is there to provide him with that information as well.

When Paul had asked me where I was flying to, and whether it was for business or pleasure, I explained my aim as a BP journalist.


In recent weeks, Paul said, he has driven a number of people who were either coming to or leaving Houston to work on the oil spill in one way or another - everybody from BP employees and other response experts to news media people covering the big story.

"The spill is a sad, unfortunate situation," Paul offered as we rode along the freeway. "But I never know for sure how a particular rider feels about any subject. So no matter what topic comes up, I just stick to the facts. You can't go wrong if you stick to the facts.

"If I would try to spin it one way or the other, I'd run the risk of losing my credibility and offending somebody at the same time," Paul said to me. "That's why I see a similarity between how you and I both have to operate. Just stick to the facts and you can't go wrong."

Yeah, BP! You can learn a lot from this magical taxicab driver!

Paul's sage advice reaffirmed what I've learned about communication through 37 years of work for BP (or its heritage companies) and during earlier jobs as a reporter for three large daily newspapers and a wire service.

What? You've done PR for BP for 37 years? And prior to that, you worked for "three large daily newspapers and a wire service?" And you're still doing the whole "taxicab confessions" thing?

But things soon take a turn for the serious:

"Of course," Paul added as we approached the airport, "I pretty much have to depend on the news media for the facts that I try to stick to. And you never can be absolutely sure about what they're telling you."


He's surely right. There's nothing simple about understanding the oil spill and its impacts. At least that's what I assume I'll continue finding as I move ever deeper into the territory of the massive spill response in days ahead.

TRANSLATION: My challenge will be to artfully and skillfully deceive, inveigle, and obfuscate. But one advantage I have is that I can rely on the inherent complications of this crisis to assist me.

If you too are interested in exploring this very complex state of affairs and meeting some of the people most closely involved, you're invited to come along on our trek.

SHOW ME YOUR MEDALLION FIRST, HACK.

RELATED:
BP Magazine Discovers Bright Side to Oil Spill [Wall Street Journal]
"BP Journalists" and Their Greatest Propaganda Hits [Columbia Journalism Review]

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