Earth Day this year comes just two days after the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf. This time last year, oil was pouring into the ocean and spreading towards the beaches of Louisiana. American citizens would watch the oil slick creep forward and engineers battle the leak for weeks, as nauseating photos of oil-logged avian and mammalian bodies flooded the media.
In the U.S., coverage of the spill for the past year has been heavily focused on villains: BP, above all. That's been reflected in stories on the anniversary of the spill. When not hawking the tale of the profit-driven Machiavelli, the greedy corporate murderer of dolphins and destroyer of livelihoods, the media instead switches to blaming the government; the left-leaning media voices decry poor regulation--not being hard enough on drilling companies--while right-leaning pens write that it was, on the contrary, an overly-restrictive liberal approach to drilling on land that led to the risky ocean endeavor in the first place. Mostly, though, BP serves as the primary villain, helped along by its massive PR blunders in the months following the accident.
No BP Villain in China
But from farther away, it seems the story looks a little different. Take, for example, the Chinese coverage of the spill's anniversary. BP is almost entirely absent from those headlines--which makes sense, given that the Chinese media have taken a very optimistic position on the longterm environmental damage to the Gulf. Though government-run Xinhua covered a number of angles, including quotes from the head of the presidential commission on the spill and a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, it was the AP survey that generally made the headlines. The survey in question was a poll of researchers, who rated the current Gulf health as a 68 on a 1 to 100 scale, only a few points below the 71 they gave last summer when asked to rate the ecosystem before the spill. In the U.S., media outlets reported the number with a massive dose of salt, especially considering the nearly simultaneous story that BP had worked to influence research in the wake of the spill. U.S. stories on the survey thus noted places where the slicks persist and offering a sample of the skepticism of Louisiana coastal residents. Meanwhile, many stories have been written questioning Not so with the Chinese media. Xinhua took the AP writeup straight while Communist newspaper the People's Daily ran a similarly sunny story, not reporting the survey numbers but declaring that, despite continuing concerns, "scientists believe that the ecological situation in the Gulf of Mexico has almost returned to normal."
BP Spill as French Entertainment
French seem to see the story as an epic drama, beginning with a quote from Bob Dudley: "I beg your forgiveness for what happened last year."
"The British giant had to relearn humility," write Fabrice Nodé-Langlois and Frédéric De Monicault in Le Figaro. To meet some of the direct "costs of the catastrophe," they point out, "it had to relieve itself of many assets," while "pilloried by the American administration and Barack Obama personally, sanctioned in the markets, boycotted by consumers, it was brought to its knees."
Le Monde's Marc Roche focuses similarly on the pride-before-fall narrative. "Devoid of the arrogance of his British predecessors, is first simple and modest, [Dudley] is a peerless diplomat." Roche describes his challenge as "sacrifice the fat to save the muscle," adding poetically, "he will have to swim against the tide."
Carefully Weighing the Facts in Germany
The story as seen in the German media is framed slightly differently, with a heavy emphasis on the consequences of the disaster--figuring out what they are and what actually happened. In Die Welt, Uwe Schmitt covers a number of conspiracy theories floated among Louisiana inhabitants who feel "betrayed" by BP and the government. Schmit looks at both sides of the story, debunking some notions, and pointing out that the fascinating thing is that "the most precious and delicate ecosystem in the U.S. suffered greatly and yet proved to be surprisingly robust." Still, the story also covers the question of whether BP numbers and research on the spill can be trusted, and the suspicion that at the very least, BP "carelessly placed profit before safety."
In fact, while things seem to be going well, says Reymer Klüver in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, citing crab fisherman finding, in place of fishing, cleanup work, and hotels that would have depended on tourism booked by BP instead, this "impression is deceptive." Klüver writes from Washington to German readers that "The longterm effects of the catastrophe simply aren't to be underestimated. Just a few examples: whoever goes out with fishermen to the saltwater marshes of Barataria Bay .... will even today see brownish black, tenaciously sticky oilslicks among the reeds. No one knows exactly what really happened with all the oil. Since the beginning of the year, for example, the Institute for Marine Mammals in Gulfport has retrieved ten times as many dead dolphin babies from the beaches of Alabama and Mississippi as usual." One might leave Klüver's writeup feeling less generous toward BP. He notes that "In December BP submitted a statement to the U.S. Department of Justice in which the British accused the American agencies of having overestimated the amount of leaked oil by between 20 and 50 percent." Yet he points out that BP's insistence on finding a more scientific measurement of the amount leaked might not help it that much, "for company must pay a 1100-dollar fee for each barrel of oil that flowed into the Gulf--in the case of gross negligence, up to 4300 dollars." Klüver then goes on to talk about the ensuing political battle over deep water drilling.