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Washington - Gulf Oil Leak Video Could Haunt Obama

Published on: June 18, 2010 11:23 AM
By: AP
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Boats are seen along the oil damaged shoreline in the northern reaches of Barataria Bay Thursday, June 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)Washington - Will the Gulf oil leak cam engulf President Barack Obama?

It’s nearly impossible to avoid the live video of the coal-gray oil gushing from BP’s well a mile below the Gulf of Mexico’s surface. According to an Associated Press-GfK Poll this week, 88 percent of the public has viewed it — a picture so sharp that it’s tantalizingly easy to wonder why someone doesn’t just stuff a rag into the ruptured pipe.

The video is a daily reminder that two months after the oil rig explosion that killed 11 and caused the massive leak and resulting environmental and economic damage, BP still hasn’t plugged the well. The AP-GfK Poll shows that so far people are more upset with BP than Obama: 83 percent disapprove of how the British-based oil company is handling the disaster, compared with 52 percent unhappy with the president.


It was the White House and Democratic lawmakers who originally pressed BP to make the videos available. Yet if the crude continues to flow, the images could morph into a vivid symbol of the intractable problems Obama has yet to solve to the satisfaction of a demanding public — not just the Gulf’s environmental disaster, but the limp economy and feeble job market, too.

“Certainly what they want is for us to focus on what they’ve done right,” Paul Freedman, who teaches about public opinion, media and politics at the University of Virginia, said of the White House. “And to the extent that that’s still a problem, I’m not sure it helps them,” he said of the video.

Democrats and environmental advocates say the relentless pictures are helpful politically because they highlight a problem that people know was caused by an oil company, not the president. They also hope the images — plus pictures of oil-covered birds and beaches — will win greater public acceptance of cleaner energy sources. Obama called for such a transition in an Oval Office speech Tuesday.
This image made from video released by British Petroleum (BP PLC) shows equipment being used to try and plug a gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 during a maneuver known as a "top kill" that has never before been tried 5,000 feet underwater. The oil giant's chief executive earlier gave the procedure a 60 to 70 percent chance of working, and President Barack Obama cautioned Wednesday there were "no guarantees." (AP Photo/BP PLC)
The biggest nightmare for the administration and Democrats seeking re-election in November would be for the video to become a 2010 version of how TV networks tallied the number of days American hostages were held in Iran during 1979 and 1980. Every day, newscasts depicted the count in the corner of the TV screen, fueling the public’s loss of patience with President Jimmy Carter and contributing to his re-election defeat by Ronald Reagan.

“If this becomes like the Iran hostage crisis, it’s very bad news for Obama,” said Darrell West, who studies campaigns and mass media at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution.

There was a taste of it Thursday.

“Today is the 59th day of the BP oil spill that has devastated much of the Gulf of Mexico,” is how Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., opened his House subcommittee’s hearing for questioning of BP chief executive Tony Hayward. CNN featured the gushing oil as an inset in its coverage of the hearing.

At that same session, Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said of the video feed, “People are watching that thing” on their computers. “It’s driving people crazy to watch that thing bubbling in Gulf.”

Some doubt the leak-cam will have much impact. Travis Ridout, a Washington State University political scientist who specializes in political advertising, says the images’ clout will fade because they vary little. Ridout said he expected the economy to have a far greater effect on voters.

Even so, some Republicans say the pictures might be useful this fall.

GOP political consultant Ron Bonjean says the images are “a daily poke in the eye to Americans,” and the GOP can use them against Obama by arguing, “If you can’t plug an oil leak, how can you create jobs, how can you reduce the deficit?”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he believes the video has hurt BP and Republicans like Sarah Palin who led the “Drill, baby, drill” cries of the 2008 presidential campaign. But he acknowledged, “I don’t know what the impact will be on the administration. People are frustrated, they’re angry at everybody involved.”

The AP-GfK Poll found that 74 percent feel angry that the blowout is being fixed so slowly.

The video is not on the White House website, though it links to a page that in turn links to the 12 underwater camera feeds that BP is making available. White House spokesman Bill Burton said the administration wanted the images public “in the interest of transparency,” but declined to discuss the political impact of the images.

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Read Comments (3)  —  Post Yours »


 Jun 18, 2010 at 12:43 PM anonymous Says:

what willhaunt the President is the shakedown of BP. Pouring oil on Pelikans should indicte the President for cruelty to animals and of course they others should be indicted to Exxon and Conoco which implied that BP skimped on drilling procedures and errouneously drilled the well.


 Jun 19, 2010 at 11:05 PM LIBERALISM IS A DISEASE!!!! Says:

Let us all ask together: Mr President, why didn't you accept the assistance of the 13 countries including the Dutch? Why were you more interested in protecting your union buddies than cleaning up the oil?

You should be brought up on charges for your gross incompetence!!


 Jun 20, 2010 at 10:51 AM Anonymous Says:

drill baby drill did mean 3 miles offshore 5000 feet below sea level and onther mile under bedrock ocean floor - it meant let's drill in alaska ect. where it 100 percent more safer. but the liberals as obama won't allow it.


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