Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Your Petroleum Broadcasting System

Greg Palast says that the recent Frontline documentary about the BP spill, by focusing on BP's "management culture" and diverting attention from the other big companies, functioned largely as oil industry PR—and that PBS has a crappy record when it comes to investigative reporting on Big Energy.

Why am I picking on poor little PBS? I'll be the first to tell you they are the best you're going to get on the US boob tube. And PBS has spared us embarrassing scenes of Anderson Cooper pretending to save an oily pelican while floating in a canoe with Bobby Jindal.

Tonight, in a deep, serious voice, the PBS narrator intoned, If BP had paid attention to the warnings of experts and regulators, the Deepwater Horizon tragedy could have been prevented.

Damn right. And if PBS had paid attention to the oil story, maybe that too could have prevented the tragedy.

In 1998, a prestigious producer working with BBC Television approached PBS and Frontline with a bombshell of a project: The story of British Petroleum and its partners and revelations, then confidential, of reckless disregard, if not downright fraud, in preventing and containing massive oil spills.

PBS smacked it away.

Instead, Frontline's producer, WGBH, spent several million dollars on The Commanding Heights. The six-hour extravaganza was a panegyric to the entrepreneurial spirit of newly privatized oil and power companies. Production was paid for by Enron. But when Enron's Chairman Ken Lay was arrested, PBS had to find a new sugar daddy. The new loot poured in from Margaret Thatcher's privatized commander of the heights, British Petroleum.

I could give you twenty more examples of see no oil evil, though PBS' recent refusal to run Crude, about Chevron in the Amazon, certainly stands out.

The Public Broadcast System takes our tax money. It owes us something, no? If we can't get the real story about Big Oil, at least we deserve an apology.

"Management culture": I envision a Petri dish full of guys in ties wading through agar and nattering about bottom lines until they all go to that great autoclave in the sky.

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