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Chicken Little Blew it Again


A month after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Big Media is finally getting some pictures of oily birds and mucked-up shoreline. It’s the story they wanted to tell:

When it began April 20, Louisiana and the world feared a quick and dramatic result, a black tsunami washing over one of the world's most productive and valuable coastal ecosystems. Expecting a disaster with iconic images to rival the environmental mugging of Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez, the planet's media rushed to the scene. Within days fishing towns like Venice and Hopedale became datelines in newspapers from Paris to Hong Kong, which painted pictures of a culture bracing for ecosystem Armageddon.

It is certainly true that valuable and delicate things are being harmed. But this is unfolding not so much as a major disaster and more like an accidental tragedy:

In fact, the consensus building among scientists and oil spill experts this week was that BP's mistake likely will never result in a black wave soaking miles of coast in thick layers of black oil. Instead, Louisiana is probably in for a years-long war of mostly small skirmishes against random, low-volume oilings of coastal marshes and beaches.

"I think we're looking at many months of intense activity, but then years of follow-up work," said Robert Barham, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Big Media—and the mainstream audience—simply doesn’t have the patience to follow a decade of “minor skirmishes”. There may be an occasional report, but without the captivating disaster shots, this event will disperse from our cultural consciousness just like the oil that was going to destroy the Gulf.

Those with an axe to grind already have another shibboleth to use in their sermons. Facts don’t matter as much as the storyline.