No Capping Spill Story

News orgs up coverage, bristle at Obama barb

WITH OIL still rushing into
the Gulf of Mexico nearly
two months after a deadly
explosion aboard a BP-leased rig, television
news divisions continue to collectively
blanket the story, seizing the opportunity
to burnish their brands and
hopefully convert a few new viewers.

“This is one of those seminal moments
when a network news division proves
its worth,” says Rick Kaplan, executive
producer of the CBS Evening News With
Katie Couric
. “This is it.”

Indeed, covering the disaster is as
much about news orgs’ fight for relevance
at a time when they all face cutbacks
and ratings drains, as it is a matter
of doing the right thing, executives
say. “There is always opportunity,” says
Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC
World News With Diane Sawyer
. “But in
this case, I would say the word is much
more ‘responsibility.’”

News personnel bristled at a broadside
from President Obama, who told
Gulf Coast residents during a May 28
visit: “The media may get tired of the
story, but we will not.”

“I found Obama’s comments curious,” NBC Nightly News
anchor Brian Williams said during a phone interview from
Grand Isle, La., last week. “Often, it is true. And often, politicians
are allowed to say it with some gumption and with some
moral authority because we’re often guilty. I just thought this
time, he had it backward.”

In fact, it was the media that pressured BP to release video
of the gusher on the ocean floor, via constant on-air badgering
and Freedom of Information Act requests. And according
to the loquacious Plaquemines Parish
President Billy Nungesser, the administration
is watching TV. As Nungesser
told CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Obama
expressed pique that he was learning
details of the disaster from CNN.

“I was surprised to hear that my name
was invoked in a meeting [with the
president],” Cooper says. “But if there’s
a lot of media down here, I think that’s a
good thing. People here want their stories
told; they want the world to witness
what’s going on down here.”

News execs plan to stay for some time
on the story. It is relatively economical
to cover (Williams flew on all-coach Jet-
Blue), and viewers are showing their appetite
for updates. Real-time video of the
oil leak from the ocean floor is one of the
most popular links on

“This is a real catastrophe,” says CBS
News’ Kaplan. “People’s way of life has
been destroyed. And it has the potential
to be permanent. We can’t let our fellow
countrymen down. We have to try
to hold BP’s feet to the fire and hold the
president accountable. Enough with the
great rhetoric. We need to shut the hole
and clean the oil out of the water.”

Irrespective of the latest effort to stanch the gusher, the environmental
impact will continue for decades. “I don’t think
we’re going to have Gulf fatigue in the next three or four
weeks,” says Bob Epstein, executive producer of NBC Nightly
. “It’s only getting worse.”

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