BP – More Arrogance, Less Accountability

It was interesting to listen to the radio coverage – on NPR and PRI – of BP CEO Tony Hayward’s appearances in Washington, DC as I drove around the city running errands (not on BP gas, though it hardly makes a difference).

The BP CEO talked about how sorry he was for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and about making it right, but the language seemed to me very, very careful – and in particular careful not to say something like “we fucked up.” You can imagine why: to say they did things wrong, cut corners in an attempt to boost profits, short-changed safety, etc., would be to admit to a probably criminal and actionable level of negligence.

Let’s not forget: people were killed. To admit that they were killed because of negligence would be to open one’s self up to charges of manslaughter. The problem of course is who would you put on trial, in jail? If I’m negligent and it leads to the death of someone, the lines of responsibility are clear. But what about this situation – should the BP CEO go to jail? Him and the entire board?

Maybe just the head of the Deepwater Horizon project. Perhaps you could determine exactly what caused the explosion and then punish whoever was responsible for that, though that seems unlikely and would be easy to defend against in a criminal court; the burden of doubt would get anyone off if it were necessary to determine the exact cause of the deaths.

The truth is the whole project is so big that no one will be punished for those deaths. In point of fact, that is more or less one of the reasons that corporations were created, and assumed the form they have now in the United States – to shield the people who own and operate them, and profit from them, from responsibility. Power, profit and privilege without accountability or responsibility.

It’s not just the deaths. Lawsuits – lots and lots of lawsuits, an avalanche of lawsuits – are going to come from this. From the families of the people who died, from fishermen in the Gulf, from tourist facilities along the coast, from environmental organizations, from the US government, from state and local governments…

And from BP shareholders. Talk about not maximizing shareholder value! First the stock price took a serious hit, and now BP is saying it will not issue dividends to its shareholders this year – for the first time since World War II.

On PRI (Public Radio International), a British shareholder was interviewed, complaining about BP’s decision to not issue a dividend. He contended that he was another victim of the spill, and that if there is money to compensate the victims in the Gulf, there should be money to compensate him for his losses – not just the $720 dividend, but also the $15,000 reduction in the value of his stock investment.

The breathtaking failure here to acknowledge the nature of stock investments is pretty staggering. Stocks are a bet on the performance of a company – it does well and you make money, it doesn’t and you don’t. Can people really have lost sight of this? His responsibility as a shareholder was to maximize his investment by making sure the company didn’t, say, take a short-sighted approach to safety, cutting corners to maximize profits; or by picking a board that would look out for his interest. If the company screws up, he has to take the hit.

Perhaps most surprising was the failure of the reporter to address this issue, the way in which these remarks were allowed to pass without comment. There’s fair and balanced, and then there’s simply a failure of nerve and of the point of journalism.

It made me think how much of our news is like this – bizarre statements allowed to go unchallenged, counterfactual claims (i.e., lies, creation science, etc.) given equal weight with the truth, shills from spin agencies allowed to pass off their views as objective and not a form of “paid endorsement.”

If reporters are not going to give some kind of perspective and judgement – noting when a source is biased and when a claim is false, as a bare minimum – then we might as well just read blogs, and soak up the random, uninformed rantings – such as this – of people who may have no training or real knowledge, and who are accountable to no one and nothing but their own egos.

And that’s why we need to shell out some real money, shekels, greenbacks for real journalism – for The Guardian, The New York Times, even The Economist – and maybe write an irritated letter to PRI on this instance of candy-ass coverage from an otherwise sterling source of news, journalism and radio essays.

Here’s some news coverage (though my remarks are based solely on listening to the radio while driving – hence a certain lack of detail)…

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