There is no doubt that President Obama has been given a free pass by the press in this country. And the lack of scrutiny has never been more obvious than in the news media’s coverage of the Gulf oil spill.

If George Bush were president and his administration was hiding facts and responding so slowly to what might be one of the most staggering environmental disasters since the Exxon Valdez, we would be calling for his head.

What’s happening – or not happening – in Washington to resolve the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is slimier than the gobs of spilled oil, heavy traces of which are now being discovered beneath the surface.

Late last week it was reported by the Associated Press that precious wetlands are now being threatened, which means our environment will be affected both offshore and now on land.

“Brown ooze from the spill coated marsh grasses and hung in the shallow water of a wetland at Louisiana’s southeastern tip, the first heavy oil seen on shore so far,” the AP reported. “Gov. Bobby Jindal declared Wednesday it was just the outer edge of the real spill, much heavier than an oily sheen seen before.”

The report quoted Jindal: “This is the heavy oil that everyone’s been fearing that is here now.”

“The wetlands at the mouth of the Mississippi are home to rare birds, mammals and a wide variety of marine life” the AP explained.

Oil is leaking into the Gulf in ways more insidious than the oil we see spreading like tar across the surface. It is seeping from the ocean floor and sneaking across the sea. Fishing is already banned in an ever-widening area stretching from Louisiana, drifting toward Florida and apparently aimed almost directly at Key West, a fishing haven for sportsmen for 100 years.

There are reports the oil could reach Florida in the next seven days.

The AP described the threat:
“In addition to the oil washing up in Louisiana, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that a small portion of the slick had entered the so-called loop current, a stream of fast moving water that circulates around the Gulf before bending around Florida and up the Atlantic coast. Its arrival may portend a wider environmental catastrophe affecting the Florida Keys and tourist-dotted beaches along that state’s east coast.”

Obama has escaped condemnation for a simple reason that is symbolized by the sneaky crawl of oil globs that are moving virtually undetected by the human eye beneath the surface.

This is a tragedy that occurred almost out of sight, out of public view.

There was an underground explosion that rose like an inferno from the ocean floor and blew up a drilling rig. We did not see the 11 men who died, blown to bits by this toxic chemical bomb.

During Hurricane Katrina’s decimation of New Orleans, we watched human suffering around the clock on television and in vivid newspaper photographs of persons literally hanging on for dear life, some perched atop the roofs of their houses as the rising waters swirled around them.

Many did not make it. More than 1,800 persons died in Katrina and its aftermath. So the deaths of 11 persons, regardless of how swift and violent their demise, pales by comparison. Or does it?
Workers in natural gas exploration in the Gulf have been dying at a rate of one every 45 days since 1990, according to a news story in the Orlando Sentinel.

But we neither read about nor see video coverage of these deaths.

There is no denying that Bush was slow to respond to Katrina, and he paid the price. He did not arrive on the scene fast enough, shouted the editorials. His administration was slow, plodding and inept, chorused the critics.

People lost their lives in New Orleans and bureaucrats eventually lost their jobs in Washington, but not fast enough to satisfy the press and the public.

Criticism for lack of quick action, though, should be equally shared by those of all political parties. We should make no exception because some calamities may be more predictable than others; we’re talking about what happens when disaster strikes – and we elect our representatives to provide results, not excuses.

It took Obama 11 days to visit the scene of the oil spill. That’s too long. Initial estimates said the leak was spewing 42,000 gallons of oil per day. Now the estimate is 210,000 gallons a day – 5,000 barrels. A journalist corrected the figure, not the administration.

Washington and the Obama administration still refuse to release actual, scientific reports on the level of oil rushing into the ocean. This is despicable, and the people in Washington should be forced to come clean.

Expert marine biologists are screaming for attention, but the administration is too busy trying to put a good spin on Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Pennsylvania.

These experts are predicting catastrophic consequences to our ecosystems that could last for decades – because of the oil spill and because of the lack of data being analyzed and shared with the public.

But it’s not just the environment – water, marshlands, wildlife – that is being tainted by this disaster. Obama and his administration are also being tainted. And the mainstream media share complicity for not demanding more accountability, for letting the president get away with failing to act swiftly and with offering less than full disclosure.

It is at times such as these that we see how superficial the press can be. This disaster occurred 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. We did not see those 11 men who were killed as they tried to make a living. We do not see the birds that cannot fly, and the oil-soaked fish, and the spawning beds that are dying beneath the ocean.

So we remain silent and we continue to give Obama and his cronies a pass.

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:
[email protected]

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