PR attempt by BP

Marlena Chertock

The surface of the water glistens at the site of the spill, as oil continues to flow from the wellhead some 5,000 feet below. Photo and caption by Dave Martin-AP, courtesy of The Washington Post.

After the oil spill on April 20 BP had their reputation to look after. A cover-up or public relations stunt had to be employed. BP spent millions on commercials to send out a message to the public, keep up their positive image and ensure people would still buy their products.

BP has even directed Google searches for “oil spill” back to the company itself, making sure that only a BP-approved version of the story gets to readers. This monopolizing of the news is bordering on unethical. News that journalists work hard to report on must get to readers in a clear, fair, accurate and unbiased story. Journalists adhere to these ethical values of objectivity, fairness and accuracy in reporting that BP does not need to follow. By controlling where readers are getting their information, through directing Google searches, BP is in effect manipulating and distorting the news.

This monopolizing and distortion of the facts must cease immediately; readers must get the real story to understand what is happening. It is the right of readers to get the factual information; this is freedom of the press, after all.

Additionally, BP has been avoiding the media. The company executives and workers refuse to talk to journalists or come on news shows and block journalists from interviewing workers cleaning up the beaches. Transparency would only be helpful in such a situation. But BP is going for the opposite—the company is opting for closing the lines of communication and keeping information from the public.

President Obama inspects a tar ball during his visit to the beach in Port Fourchon, La. Photo and caption by Jim Watson-AFP/Getty Images, courtesy of The Washington Post.

BP should also stop spending millions of dollars on commercials and putting forth a positive image and should instead put whatever money they have into cleaning the environmental catastrophe they have caused.

Oil seeps into the land, water and animal skin and remains for years. It may take decades, generations before this spill is fully cleaned up. It is not known for sure the kind of long-term impact the oil will have on the environment.

How could a billion-dollar oil company begin drilling into the Earth without a backup or emergency plan, just in case. Things go wrong, parts shut down, horrible disasters occur. BP should have been prepared with emergency plans for a rig explosion, for billions of barrels of oil seeping into the environment. Companies that are already impacting the environment should be regulated to ensure they have such backup plans in place should an emergency ever happen. That is why schools and buildings have fire drills and Code Blue or Code Red lock-downs. These emergency plans have been thought up, discussed, taught, employed and practiced. BP and other major companies should be enforced to do the same.

What is known is that BP’s public relations engines have been hard at work to improve their public image. Public relations stunts have been around since the 1800s, probably even before. A famous image-booster occurred in 1900s.

Many know that John D. Rockefeller owned Standard Oil, a successful oil company. But some are not aware that he also owned a mine in Colorado. The Ludlow mine employed thousands of workers who also lived there in tent colonies.

The Ludlow Mine tent colony. Photo from the University of Denver website.

In April 1914 the miners began a 14-month strike due to low salaries, horrible working conditions and unsafe procedures. At the start of the protests, Rockefeller ordered a crackdown. 19 people were killed when the Colorado National Guard fired on the protesting miners. The miners, women and children were trapped under the tents, suffocated and burned to death. The miners armed themselves and attacked the Guards. The event came to be known as the “Ludlow Massacre.”

This was a black mark on the Rockefeller name. With the aid of public relations man Ivy Lee, Rockefeller began to improve his image.

Lee had to get the public to forget about the coverage of the massacre. He had to undo the damage.

Lee told Rockefeller to hand dimes out to people on the street and get into philanthropy. The Rockefeller foundation was formed.

Megan Stockamp, left, and Maia Kauchak protest against the BP oil company in front of a company gas station in Pensacola, Fla. Photo and caption by Joe Raedle-Getty Images, courtesy of The Washington Post.

Calming the unrest surrounding the massacre was difficult to do, but somehow Lee worked public relations magic—and trickery.

In his own public image Lee was viewed as a paid liar. But he was successful at his public relations work and he did improve the Rockefeller name.

Though BP may be upping their public relations to improve their image, not everyone will fall for it. The public must find accurate, factual, unbiased sources for news to find the full story. Hopefully people will take newsgathering into their own initiative.

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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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