In one corner we have a political party owned and controlled by oil companies, and whose 2008 Presidential candidate backed a “Drill, Baby, Drill” agenda. In the other we have a President who has fought for an energy policy that reduced the nation’s dependence on oil, and a political party that has promoted increased government regulation over corporations. Which side politically benefits from an oil spill that highlights the dangers of drilling and of unregulated energy companies? According to much of the traditional media, it’s the pro-drilling, anti-regulation camp.
The nonsense and political disinformation
around the politics of the BP oil spill is stunning. Each day we are told that President Obama’s entire agenda has been undermined
by BP’s reckless action, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Media: It’s Always the Government’s Fault
According to the traditional media, every problem is caused by the government. Wall Street thievery? It’s government’s fault for not effectively regulating. The BP Oil spill? Blame government for (a) inadequate regulation, (b)not moving on the problem more quickly and (c) not stopping the spill.
And while government is blamed, the primarily Republican Senators, Governors, and House members paid by corporations to prevent regulation are let off the hook. Even worse, the media highlights attacks on government by the Bobby Jindal’s and Haley Barbour’s, ignoring how their anti-regulatory positions are to blame.
The media has run away from confronting politicians preaching “Drill, Baby, Drill,” preferring to blame President Obama. No wonder Obama has spoken more aggressively against corporate greed and Republican hypocrisy in recent days; he realizes how the media’s trying to make him the fall guy for the Bush-Cheney love affair with Big Oil.
Voters Not Fooled
As the recent primaries showed, voters are not being fooled by false media narratives. Across the nation, post BP spill polls show increased support for Democrats. I’m not suggesting a cause and effect, but instead arguing that the media’s belief that the spill is hurting Democrats lacks a factual basis.
If anything, BP shows that Obama and the Democrats need to be even more aggressive in regulating corporations, and puts Republicans on the defensive. It’s not only Rand Paul who has lost ground by defending BP; the spill puts pro-oil Republicans (virtually the entire party) in a tough position this fall with voters.
BP has also created momentum for Obama’s push for new energy policies, giving new life to climate change legislation that Republicans and oil-state Dems were prepared to block. Republicans have no choice but to defend Big Oil and oppose new energy policies and regulations, undermining their populist “Tea Party” image.
The Arkansas Campaign
We will get a good test of the impact of the BP spill in next Tuesday’s Halter-Lincoln Senate runoff in Arkansas. The League of Conservation Voters ran a killer ad against Lincoln last week, highlighting her as the biggest recipient of oil company donations.
Should, as many expect, Halter wins this race, it will clearly send a message that voters were angry over Lincoln’s cozy relations with Big Oil.
But that won’t be how the media plays it.
The media will say that Halter’s win reflects growing anti-Obama anger that has been stirred by his failure to stop the spill. Lincoln’s oil donations will be forgotten, and the narrative that voters are mad at “big government,” not corporations, will continue.
Try as he might, even Barack Obama cannot change a media narrative where government incompetence is completely disconnected from industry pressure, and where corporate wrongs are isolated rather than systemic acts.
But I think voters are not fooled.
Randy Shaw is the author of Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century, which will be out in paperback in July.