The Nation’s Editors React to President Obama’s Oval Office Speech on the Oil Spill

The editors of the New York Times were decidedly unimpressed with President Obama’s speech on the oil spill last night:

We know that the country is eager for reassurance. We’re not sure the American people got it from a speech that was short on specifics and devoid of self-criticism. Certainly, we hope that Mr. Obama was right when he predicted that in “coming weeks and days,” up to 90 percent of the oil leaking from the well will be captured and the well finally capped by this summer. But he was less than frank about his administration’s faltering efforts to manage this vast environmental and human disaster.

Fifty-six days into the spill and it is not clear who is responsible — BP, federal, state or local authorities — for the most basic decisions, like when to deploy booms to protect sensitive wetlands.

while those of the Boston Herald were, if anything, less so:

This time he really, really means it.

Yes, on Day 57 of the worst oil spill in the nation’s history, President Barack Obama made yet another attempt to convince the American people that he’s in charge, that he cares and that he’s determined to have BP pay for the “environmental degradation” it has caused.


But there is also convincing evidence that the lack of an early coordinated response to protect the coastline – the failure to deploy enough containing boom, the failure to deploy it in the right spots, the inability to get cleanup crews to the right place at the right time, tales of crews trampling wildlife sanctuaries and pelican nests – compounded the problem.

So while the president tried to convince a skeptical nation that he was indeed in charge now, this was too little, too late.

The Chicago Tribune’s editors, typically accurate barometers of center-right opinion, leap to the defense of BP. Sort of:

No, we’re probably stuck with BP and its kind because we need oil. We especially need domestic drilling. The president dutifully asserted that, “We need to know the facts before we allow deepwater drilling to continue” — although it surely will. And for all the president’s hopeful remarks Tuesday night about moving the nation away from fossil fuels toward alternative energy sources, we’ll be relying on petroleum for decades. Remember, offshore rigs provide some 30 percent of this nation’s domestic oil production. We cannot function without it.

You have to wonder how much of our longstanding resentment stems from the fact that this industry exerts influence over more of our movement, productivity and comfort — more of our lives, really — than we might like. That said, our dependence on Big Oil is nobody’s fault but our own. We’re not about to park our cars, trucks, planes and trains, shut down our factories and swear off petrochemicals.

and the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editors are four square behind the president’s plans:

Obama is right to pressure BP to create an escrow fund to compensate those affected by the spill. “We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused,” he said.

There is evidence that the oil company has been slow to pay legitimate claims. But BP certainly can afford to meet its obligations. The company earned $17 billion last year alone, and finished the year with $8 billion in cash reserves.

There is concern among its shareholders that BP won’t pay upcoming dividends, due to the spill. But shareholder profits must take a backseat to the firm’s liabilities from what Obama called “the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.”

Obama said the compensation fund would not be controlled by BP. That’s appropriate. To ensure legitimate claims are paid out in a fair and timely manner, the account should be administered by an independent, third party.

Obama appropriately used his speech as an opportunity to press his agenda for clean and renewable energy. “For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels,” he said. “The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.”

The Gulf spill should spur Congress to act in a bipartisan manner and pass a bill that moves this country to a future fueled by better energy alternatives.

The concrete upshot of the president’s remarks last night is that we will have yet another commission headed by yet another Harvard-educated lawyer and Democratic apparatchik focusing like a laser beam, in all likelihood a highly attenuated laser beam, on the spill, the cleanup, and compensating those whom the spill has injured, physically or economically. The good news is that as Secretary of the Navy and a former Mississippi governor Ray Mabus has at least a little management experience under his belt and may well know how to accomplish something.

I think the president erred last night in not picking a single theme and sticking to it. He could have blamed everything on BP. He could have reassured the country that his administration had matters firmly in hand. He could have told us that our dependence on oil made a spill like the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe inevitable. As it was he blamed everything on BP, reassured the country that his administration had matters firmly in hand, and urged on us the importance of reducing our dependence on oil. That’s a mixed message and as such is not likely to assuage anybody’s concerns very much. IMO the reactions of the editors of the countries’ major newspapers confirms that.

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