Time Machine: BP, The Beast and Olbermann

In our July 18 issue, I write about how our newspaper garnered national attention when we became affiliated with The Daily Beast.

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, most of us in Pensacola saw it as a tragedy but believed the well would be capped soon. It wasn’t until the following weekend that I heard from media friends in New Orleans that BP might not be able to seal the well and stop the spill.

Soon events began to move very quickly as we realized that tar balls would reach our beaches.

On Saturday, May 1, BP, Coast Guard and DEP held a meeting with Gov. Charlie Crist and local officials about how to prepare for the spill reaching our shores. I was kicked out of the meeting but got help from Crist to get back in the room.

We also found out that BP officials on May 1 were meeting with commercial fishermen in Bayou La Batre, Ala. and trying to get them to sign waivers for $5,000 checks.

On Tuesday, May 4, BP held its first town hall meeting at the Pensacola Beach Community Church. The meeting didn’t go well.

That night, I reported on this marathon of events on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” having been up for nearly 72 hours surviving on pots of coffee, Bud Light and NY Nick’s wings. Here is the transcript of the segment:

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York. No confirmed reports as yet of oil having reached the shore as a result of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico—but in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: Huge numbers of dead jellyfish washing up  along the beach on the Mississippi coastline.

Meanwhile, the oil conglomerate, B.P., attempting damage control for containment, as well as for its own image—the latter might be described as bribery.

We‘ll begin with the effort to stem the volcano of oil spewing from the bed of the Gulf, B.P. claiming some glimmers of progress today.  A company spokesman is saying that crews have finished building a containment dome—a four-story, 70-ton structure the company is going to lower over one of the three leaks in attempt to catch the escaping oil.  The other two domes to be finished tomorrow—with all three domes to be lowered and installed over the weekend coming up.

RO Note: The domes didn’t work. Later in May, I learned from petroleum experts that the only way to cap the well was to drill another one and fill the original well with concrete – which is what BP eventually did.

The Associated Press reporting that shipping along the Mississippi River, though, could soon be limited, the slick moving precariously close to a key shipping lane, the Southwest Pass, allowing ships carrying food, rubber, and more, and, yes, oil, to enter that waterway.

The latest map from NOAA making it appears as if the massive slick has shrunk.  Tomorrow‘s projection there is in mustard yellow.

Scientists are saying that wind and currents breaking it up, but the volume of oil is still expected to grow.

Reverberations far afield, Governor Schwarzenegger tonight announcing he is withdrawing his support from a state plan to expand oil drilling off the coast of California.  The Republican governor is saying that the TV images of the oil spill have changed his mind about the safety of oil platforms in the ocean.

B.P.‘s CEO, Tony Hayward, and B.P. American chairman and president, Lamar McKay, are arriving at the Department of the Interior this afternoon for a meeting with Interior Secretary Salazar and Homeland Secretary Napolitano.  Among items to be discussed: what exactly was meant by a fact sheet on the company Web site that said B.P. takes responsibility for cleaning up the spill and will pay compensation for, quote, “legitimate and objectively verifiable claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses.”

On the “Today Show” this morning, CEO Hayward accepting the liability while still managing to pass the buck.


HAYWARD:  It wasn‘t our accident but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up, and that‘s what we intend to do.


OLBERMANN:  It wasn‘t our accident.  But if not B.P., who would be responsible?


HAYWARD:  The drilling rig was a translation drilling rig.  It was their rig and their equipment that failed, run by their people, their processes.


OLBERMANN:  Outsourcing—as American as apple pie. White House Press Secretary Gibbs is saying today that the administration‘s commitment was for B.P. to pay for all costs associated with the spill.  But the federal law may be on B.P.‘s side, something called the Oil Pollution Act passed in response to the Exxon Valdez spill, caps B.P.‘s liability at $75 million—what would be a relatively measly sum

Florida‘s Bill Nelson, one of three Democratic senators today introducing legislation to raise the liability limit dramatically to $10 billion, but that could not apply retroactively. 

Then there are the limits B.P. representatives were trying to impose one victim at a time, circulating this settlement agreement among Gulf Coast residents over the weekend—reportedly offering payments up to $5,000 in exchange for signing a waiver in which one agrees not to sue the company.

The CEO, Mr. Hayward, claiming to National Public Radio that it was an early misstep involving a standard contract with the team we‘re using that was eliminated very early in the process.  The misstep, we presume, not the team.

After he interviewed to Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation,” about the politics of the oil spill, Olbermann turned to me.

OLBERMANN:  That we know about the B.P. waiver agreement offering up to $5,000 to Gulf Coast residents in exchange for their signatures waiving liability before all this hit shore is due to the reporting of Rick Outzen in “The Daily Beast,” a contributor to the Web site, also the editor and publisher of “Independent News,” a northwest Florida alternative newsweekly.  He joins us now. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

RICK OUTZEN, CONTRIBUTOR, “THE DAILY BEAST‘:  Oh, it‘s good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, this B.P. CEO, Mr. Hayward, today called the waivers “an early misstep that involved a standard contract with the team we‘re using that was eliminated very early in the process.” Do you believe that?

OUTZEN:  Not at all.  These are guys that have already had two other huge environmental disasters in the last five years.  One in Texas, a refinery that exploded there.  Then we had a spill—a leak in Alaska that contaminated the tundra and a pond.

These people know what they‘re doing.  We have a copy of the waiver. It specifically cites the spill that happened on April 20th. This isn‘t something that accidentally was put into a packet of claim sheets like they‘re trying to tell us today.  This was very—part of a—definitely, a legal strategy to limit their liability.

OLBERMANN:  In addition to the waivers that would limit liability, there is this federal law that would cap the exposure to B.P. at $75 million, based on your reporting of what the damage is likely to be.  I mean, my guess before is that‘s about one one-hundredth of the cost this is going to turn out to be.  Is that—is that a relatively good guess?

OUTZEN:  You know, Reuters late yesterday reported that they thought it would be $14 billion.


OUTZEN:  Congressman Jeff Miller today, Keith, told the locals here in Pensacola, Florida, that he was going to work with the other congressmen from the Gulf States and try to get B.P. to put up $1 billion into an escrow fund to help local and state governments do the cleanup work.

We‘ve got all our governments down here strapped for money, like they are all over the country, and all of a sudden, they‘re going to have to foot the bill for cleanup until B.P. puts up some money.

OLBERMANN:  I understand, you got into a meeting that was held by Florida Governor Crist over the weekend.  It sounds like that was as much fun as it sounds like from here.  They discussed potential damage and B.P. And how did—how did that come about and what did you learn at that meeting?

OUTZEN:  Well, you know, I was the only person asked to leave the meeting.  It was prior to Governor Crist arriving there.  B.P., who really dominated the room—they were about six or seven B.P. representatives in a room of only about 20 state and local officials, and the United States Coast Guard.

B.P. came up and introduced themselves to everybody. And when he found out that I was with “The Daily Beast” and the media, I was kindly asked to leave.  It was—actually, Governor Crist got me back into the room, I waited by the elevator and just sort of walked in with his entourage.  So, they couldn‘t say much with the governor having his hand on my shoulder.

OLBERMANN:  Is information from meetings like that trickling down? Are local officials being briefed?  Are local resources, volunteers, being set up to be utilized to their fullest capacity as this thing becomes, you know, a shore problem and not just an ocean problem?

OUTZEN:  It‘s really more of a sham.  They tell us that they want our input.  They have the Escambia County here, they‘ve put their best minds at it and they‘ve come up with a plan to keep the oil out of Pensacola Bay and the Santa Rosa Sound and protect the fishing beds.  But they submitted the plan on Friday, and as of 7:00 tonight, we still have yet to hear whether the Coast Guard or DEP are going to approve the plan.

Today, we had a town hall meeting.  Over 350 people on Pensacola Beach, DEP, B.P. kept saying, we don‘t know what‘s going to happen to your beach.  We don‘t know what it‘s going to look like, what the damage is going to be.But then they said, but we want your ideas.  Please, give us your ideas.

So for the next hour and a half, scared, anxious, upset people shared ideas about something that B.P. told them they didn‘t know what it was going to look like.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m gathering—

OUTZEN:  Nobody took notes, either.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I‘m gathering that the one congressman‘s verdict of this is chocolate milk coming inbound, probably didn‘t carry too much weight. Rick Outzen, contributor to “The Daily Beast” at Pensacola for us tonight—great thanks, Rick.

OUTZEN:  Thank you.