Andrew Tyndall: ‘Enough Already!’ With Oil Spill Coverage

By Alex Weprin 

Analyst Andrew Tyndall writes about the coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Tyndall argues that the networks have spent a disproportionate amount of time on the disaster, especially when compared to other important events like the change of command in Afghanistan and the Gaza flotilla incident.

He also argues that the networks have focused on the human toll of the disaster, while the real damage will be environmental:

There comes a point where the local effects of the oil disaster become just that, a local news story, no longer of pressing concern to the national nightly newscasts. Why should the unemployment of a Louisiana oysterpacker be any more newsworthy, from a national perspective, than a laid-off California teacher or a long-term unemployed Michigan autoworker? Why should the empty beachfront bars of Pensacola attract more national attention than the casino recession on the Las Vegas Strip?

Granted, the damage to the marine ecosystem is a continuing and serious story of national importance–and sometimes when a New York based anchor travels down to the Gulf Coast an environmental lesson, for example by NBC’s Brian Williams, is what we get…

The Deepwater Horizon disaster is indeed a major news story. The problem for the networks is that they have confused those angles that are of pressing national concern with the regional consequences that properly belong to the news crews of their local affiliates. The big national environmental questions concern the future of offshore drilling, federal regulation of Big Oil, holding BP accountable, the restoration of the marine and wetlands ecosystems of the Mississippi Delta and the feasibility of transforming the national economy from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Tyndall says it reminds him of the coverage of Elian Gonzalez in 2000:

It reminds me of the spring of 2000, when a minor foreign policy story, with an interesting human interest angle, became a cause celebre because the national news media, having committed to its importance, could not let go until they had found resolution. The child custody case of Elian Gonzalez ended up logging an astonishing 503 minutes of coverage, the single biggest non-campaign story of that election year. I suppose we can expect to sit through a similar daily drumbeat of oil leak coverage all through the summer until that hole is finally plugged.

As Tyndall notes, the networks have committed themselves to this story, and seem reluctant to change their coverage until some sort of resolution is had.

Complex environmental and science stories are getting rarer and rarer on television, as TVNewser has noted before.

Early on during the spill, stories about the technology of offshore drilling and of the environmental impact were regular features, now they are slipping behind stories about the politics of the spill, and the human interest stories Tyndall argues belong on the local news.

What do you think, have the television news organizations spent too much time on the oil spill? Should they focus less on the human-interest side of the story and more on the environmental consequences? Or has the coverage been proportionate and fair?