In an opinion piece published Tuesday by Politico Magazine, "No, BP Didn't Ruin the Gulf," author Geoff Morrell writes that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst off-shore oil spill in American history, was much less disastrous environmentally for the Gulf Coast than expected. He complains that "advocacy groups cherry-pick evidence" and "blame BP for any and all environmental problems afflicting the Gulf." And then, in the penultimate graf, the first-person plural appears:
BP has said consistently, for more than four years, that it would do the right thing. We meant what we said, and we’ve lived up to our word. To date, we have spent more than $27 billion on response, clean-up and claims.
That's because Morrell is no regular columnist, as Al Jazeera America's Will Wyman noticed.
A Politico piece argues the effects of the BP oil spill weren’t that bad. Fair enough. The writer? A flack for BP. http://t.co/m4uNAvQH7n?— Bill Wyman (@hitsville) October 22, 2014
Specifically, as his byline indicates, Morrell is the senior vice president of U.S. communications for BP, a company the former Pentagon press secretary joined in 2011, as Politico's Mike Allen reported back then. Morell's op-ed is the latest example of the news organization's cozy relationship with the company. BP has been a frequent advertiser in Allen's daily "Playbook" email; in fact, today's "Playbook" brings you two ads from BP about its "Commitment to America." As The Washington Post's Eric Wemple reported last year, "In recent months, BP has blanketed 'Playbook' with ads hyping the company’s status as 'America’s largest energy investor.' The free BP mentions authored by Allen tell a similar story." Wemple then cited favorable mentions of BP in "Playbook," including quotes from Morell—who, according to Mark Leibovich's This Town, is close friends with Allen.
Politico declined a request to comment on-the-record. A BP spokesman responded with this statement: “This is an opinion piece submitted by BP to an influential newspaper to counter several op-eds about the Gulf that previously were published in this and other media outlets. It’s no different than any other op-ed by any other company in any other publication.”
BP, which has advertised in The New Republic, certainly could use the positive press: Weeks ago, a federal judge found the company was "grossly negligent" in its actions leading up to the spill, exposing the company to potentially billions of dollars more in fines. The company is also unhappy that the civil settlement it agreed to in 2012 is costing well over the $7.8 billion payout expected. BP contested that the settlement encouraged fraud, and ever since has been involved in an extensive legal battle. If BP has called one thing right, it's that calculating just how much damage it caused to the Gulf is a hard number to pin down. That's why people are still studying it four years later. Numerous studies link BP's spill to dolphins, turtles, and seafood dying off in large numbers and the rise of deformities in shrimp and fish.
Updated to include BP's statement.