Count me among those who are a little bored with the media narrative that President Obama doesn’t appear “angry” enough about the BP oil spill. Sure, symbolism is important in times like these and the public wants to know that its commander-in-chief is sufficiently engaged and cares about what’s happening. But shouldn’t the media focus something like 80% of its attention on what the federal government is actually doing and some portion of the remainder on whether the White House message machine is having a good or bad week? I haven’t done a comprehensive study, but it feels like the opposite has been the case this week.
President Obama, in the region today, just gave a short press briefing in which he warned BP not to be “nickeling and diming” Gulf residents and businesses who are filing claims of economic damage against the company. Noting that BP is spending some $50 million on a public relations campaign to manage its image and is due to pay out $10.5 billion in dividends to shareholders, the President said the government will be watching to ensure BP pays fairly and quickly on claims files. (UPDATE: I had originally written that BP’s was spending $50 on its PR campaign. This was obviously a typo. Apologies.)
“We’re already starting to see, on the local level, folks having problems,” Obama said, adding that in the Gulf are “federal folks to look over BP’s shoulder” to see if the company is stalling on payments to people injured by the leak.
Ignoring politics for a moment, the real test of whether Obama is actually handling this crisis properly will come when enough time has gone by to see whether the government really did hold BP’s feet to the fire over these restitution payments. This could be one of the most important role the federal government plays in this tragic environmental catastrophe. The other important jobs for the Administration are to coordinate cleanup and containment efforts among federal, state and local officials and to ensure BP reimburses these entities for their outlays.