06/17/2010 08:24 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

FLASHBACK: During Exxon Valdez Disaster, President Bush Got a Free Pass From the Press

During the 1989 man-made disaster, corporate media journalists didn't obsess over whether or not Bush was showing enough emotion. They didn't conduct poll after poll to figure out Bush's "grade" for handling the spill. They didn't fixate on stagecraft. And they certainly didn't include the president on lists of people who were "to blame for the oil spill," the way Time recently included Obama on such a list, blaming him for the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. (Why was Obama to "blame"? Because "shortly before" the disaster, he proposed allowing for more offshore drilling. And no, that doesn't make any sense.)

With Bush and the Exxon Valdez, the press didn't really seem to care what the president thought of the disaster or what he planned to do to fix the mess. Yet three presidents later, with the country once again under attack by oil-industry malfeasance, the press has been focusing most of its attention on the White House and demanding to know what the president is going to do to clear up the confusion. The press has also been spending countless hours calculating the supposedly immense political fallout. (Although, according to polling firms, there has not been any yet.)

In other words, the press gave Bush a free pass following the Exxon Valdez spill, while today, the same press corps seems determined to hang the oil spill around Obama's neck. Why the glaringly different approaches when covering epic oil spills?

And trust me, it wasn't like Bush was proactive in the wake of the Exxon Valdez calamity.


-He didn't travel to Alaska to monitor the cleanup or meet with locals.

-He didn't display much public emotion about the disaster.

-He didn't publicly flash anger about the spill.

-He didn't want the federal government to take over the cleanup.

-He didn't go on primetime TV to address the nation about the spill.

-He didn't meet with the CEO of Exxon at the White House to discuss the cleanup.

-He didn't send top administration officials to Alaska until five days after the spill.

The press reaction to Bush's almost chronic inactivity? Collective yawns. Based on the real-time coverage I've looked at, very few journalists cared what Bush thought about the spill, and even fewer dwelled on what the political ramifications would be. The topic was rarely even discussed.

Read the full Media Matters column, here.