Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Anderson Cooper is restoring my faith in journalism

Full credit to Anderson Cooper. In one hour this evening, he did more to awaken his countrymen to the horrors of unchecked neo-liberal corporatism than a thousand indie-film docs on Monsanto, GM or Enron combined.

Having been riveted by Cooper's 360 show during the aftermath of the disastrous Haiti earthquake earlier this year, I felt certain he would have the best daily on-the-ground coverage available from the Gulf of Mexico, where the unfettered oil leak contamination is worsening daily.

I was not disappointed. Unlike most broadcast journalists, Cooper does not shirk to use his considerable status and reach to effectively and boldly tell the story, and to hold the powerful to account. Tonight he did just that.

This evening's show was intelligently and unrelentingly critical of the callous reaction of British Petroleum to the growing Gulf of Mexico oil-spill catastrophe that they created but cannot seem to stop.

Cooper is completely in his element when reporting on the ground from a crisis situation. Back in the territory where he made his name five years ago by tirelessly covering the devastation and abysmal federal response to Hurricane Katrina, Cooper is now setting his sites on this huge multinational corporation (British Petroleum) overdue its comeuppance for generations of being everything rotten about Big Oil that the makers of There Will Be Blood tried hopelessly to tell us. And the wily Cooper knows precisely when, where and how hard to throw his punches for maximum effect.

Just for perspective's sake, BP is the fourth-largest corporation in the world. Its market capitalization at the end of last year stood at 181 billion USD, a figure that surpasses the GNP of entire nations, including Slovakia, Morocco and Chile.

And Anderson Cooper had at 'em. With few new developments today, save for yet another spectacular mishap on BP's part in containing the leak, Cooper stoically gave their CEO Tony Hayward full benefit of the doubt in trying gamely to understand his off-the-cuff explanation for clean-up workers' health complaints as being almost certain cases of food poisoning.

Together with Dr. Sanjay Gupta (who himself was most endearing in his chemically-challenged attempts at describing hydrocarbons as things "surrounded by hydrogen molecules"), Cooper efficiently swatted away Hayward's dubious food poisoning claim by pointing out these numerous sufferers of teary-eyed dizzyness and nausea didn't all eat at the same diner, after all. He also got Dr. Riki Ott to go on camera explaining what long-term effects (including increased cancer rates) she's documented from protected Exxon Valdez clean-up workers.

Next, Cooper got a couple of today's Gulf Coast clean-up workers on camera, even though they were scared of being fired for going against the non-disclosure agreements they'd signed with BP in order to obtain their $12 an hour clean-up jobs. They were speaking out about the lack of timely pay for services; about the lack of protective gear for their personal well-being (in particular, face masks); about the fact they felt they couldn't speak up for what they thought was right because of the waivers they were forced to sign. Cooper remarked on the irony of a British company stifling the free speech of American citizens.

In truth, it could just as easily have been an American or Japanese or Indian company, of course. But the historical precedent must rankle for any American with a passing knowledge of their country's founding history, especially with Hayward doing such a fabulous job of re-enacting King George III in every way that matters.

Not done there, Cooper did everything but hold his hat in his hand, humbly begging for anyone from BP to come onto his show for an interview, while explaining that there has been no shortage of direct invitations to do so. Then, in the last few minutes of his broadcast, a live meter reading of the estimated gallons of oil gushing into the Gulf was prominently displayed in the bottom-right corner of the screen. The figure increased at a rate of about nine gallons per second, with well over 34 million gallons already disgorged.

As the show ended, I realized something more significant than Katrina is now unfolding before us. Unbelievably, I wonder if we mightn't be looking back someday, remembering this time as the beginning of the end of Big Oil.

...if not the end of Big Business itself. In conjunction with Obama's bold words today, one can only assume that some kind of significant change in American capitalism is afoot.

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