New York Times: BP's man-made oil catastrophe a "natural disaster"



The New York Timess has been doing some fine reporting from the scene of the BP oil catastrophe. Back on the East Coast, not so much. In a story in this morning's Times conflating and comparing the response to the oil catastrophe with the response to Hurricane Katrina ("Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill"), Helene Cooper seems to think the human error behind a man-made oil rig is a "natural disaster":


Dear New York Times: What on earth is "natural" about this? Show your work, please.

It's awfully early in the game for the sort of jawdropping, slap-your-face journalistic inaccuracies we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. What nearly destroyed New Orleans then wasn't the natural disaster -- the hurricane -- but the very unnatural disaster of a Swiss cheese levee system misbuilt and mismanaged by the Army Corps of Engineers. The national media got it wrong then. Let's not be played this time, shall we?

Yesterday the comments from outraged New Orleanians (including Gambiteers) got the Los Angeles Times to take down a headline saying New Orleans was reacting to the oil catastrophe with a "yawn." "shrug." Great work. Let's keep letting them know: Not putting up with shoddy journalism this visit to the rodeo, because we've been here before, and before we know it, you'll be blaming us for this cock-up.

Edited to add: The New York Times isn't alone; it seems CNN thinks an oil explosion and subsequent water poisoning is a natural disaster as well:

The Coast Guard was conducting a flyover Friday morning to see if oil had reached Louisiana's coastline as federal, state and local officials scrambled to avert a natural disaster threatening to surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster 20 years ago in Alaska.

Why is this an important distinction to make now, before it becomes the standard shorthand to refer to the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon explosion? Because a natural disaster could not have been prevented, and because no one and no organization is responsible for a natural disaster. And the media don't need to be advancing that notion, no matter how subliminally. A pipeline spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico is (to paraphrase Treme's fictional Creighton Burnette) "a man made catastrophe" and "a f___up of epic proportions."

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