Mother Jones human rights reporter Mac McClelland has been on the Gulf Coast since the early days of the Gulf oil disaster, and she's documented every last drop of it, it seems, from the Gulf's coastal communities, particularly from Grand Isle. Her most recent entry for Mother Jones is filled with oil wrestling, bar fights, sexual aggression (and frustration) and racism in the summertime getaway town that's now BP's Ground Zero. In this week's Gambit, I talked with McClelland about media restrictions reporting from the Gulf before the "amended" safety zone ruling as she was on her way back to Louisiana. Here's more:
Youve run into consistent problems getting access, but youve also gotten pretty close. Where in the chain of command is this miscommunication where BP, the Department of Interior, U.S. Coast Guard, have all said there is no media restriction, when on the ground, there is.
I wonder if its a miscommunication so much as a willful, you know, dishonest propaganda scheme. ... If I was a conspiracy theorist, which maybe Im not, but if I were, I feel like that would be evidence that theyve purposefully been keeping us away this whole time and they were just paying lip service to the idea of treating us fair. ... I feel like even while theyre saying, Yeah, press can go wherever they want, theyre definitely not telling their employees that. I mean, Ive had cleanup workers who work with subcontractors say specifically, We were told we cant let people through here. I feel like people arent being assholes just because they feel like it, I feel like theyre definitely being told the opposite of what the American public is being told.
Any idea who is telling them that?
In some cases it might be subcontractors. BP isnt doing that much personally. Theyre paying other people to do it, so they can even say, No, we didnt say people couldnt talk to people. Thats the subcontractors. So theyre outsourcing the blame on that situation. ... I would guess these conversations are being had in the creepy, incident command centers theyve been setting up, between the local authorities, the cops and the corporations. If only anybody could get into one of those meetings, I feel that would probably answer a lot of questions.
How long have you been reporting from the Gulf?
I've been here since May 3. I went to San Francisco for, like, two days and then I came back. I dont really count that time I was in California. I've totally been staying with locals. I used to live here. I went to the University of New Orleans for grad school. Thats whats allowed me to stay for so long, that Southern hospitality. I work for a nonprofit magazine that wouldve never been able to afford a hotel bill for 10 weeks. I dont even have a return ticket home yet, so I might still be here for another couple months. Ive been staying with friends, people on vacation, so they have houses open, and when I was in Grand Isle I ended up staying with strangers who were following me on Twitter and told me I could sleep at their house anytime. Which is totally invaluable because the subcontractors have totally taken over Grand Isle and theres nowhere to stay. I got the hook up. Louisianans are awesome.
Thank God for social networking, I guess.
Seriously. Its the most useful thing its ever done for me.
These safety zones will it affect the way you report, or has it? Will it limit your coverage?
The day they announced that I was on my way to Florida for a couple days, and Ill tell you what, the difference between Florida and Louisiana is staggering. Theyll let you do whatever the fk you want in Florida. The beaches are open because they dont want to discourage tourism, so anybody has total run of anything they want you can take pictures, talk to cleanup workers, theres no cops, its not like here where theres a creepy police state feel. The only thing I reported on site in Florida was they apparently dont care. I havent experienced it yet, but I bet I will soon. In the next couple days Ill be back in Louisiana. To be honest I havent decided what my strategy is yet, it seems to be kind of stupid to say Im just not going to follow that. How could they arrest me? Could they really? Are they really going to arrest anybody? Part of me wants to be a jerk and kind of call their bluff.
I was thinking the same thing
Go try and get arrested? And hope to God you can raise enough donations over the Internet to pay your $40,000 fine?
On one hand I feel like its a public relations nightmare for that to happen, but I feel as if theyre being really serious, and theyre not going to take it lightly, and use it as an example. I would be worried it would compromise the truth, I guess, and I wouldnt be reporting what I need to be reporting some innocuous thing outside the safety zone. Are you worried thats a possibility?
If I were going to follow the rules, and Im not saying definitively that Im not, yeah. All the stuff that I did so far, I was way closer than 65 feet. Every picture Ive taken of any oil related stuff was by boom. When I was kayaking around the barrier islands I had to go over boom, and all thats a felony now. It definitely would have inhibited my ability I probably wouldve only written half the stories I wouldve written if I had to stay that far away. Are they really not going to do that, just empty threats and a diversion tactic, or are they going to arrest the first person they can to make an example of that. If (I'm) the first person to get arrested, I feel like my readers would have my back. I feel like I could raise that $40,000 easily. At this point Im not totally prepared to let that if I see something I really need to see I feel like I might go anyway. I dont like conflict. Ive already been yelled at by so many police officers. Not a good way to spend your day. I hope I wont have any problems with it. I guess by this time next week, Ill know how that drama is going to go down.