For more than a month, the American Gulf Coast has been threatened by a gigantic oil spill, caused by the April 21 explosion of a British Petroleum deepwater rig. Yet unlike five years ago — when the media were quick to put the onus on the Bush administration for its handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — for four weeks, ABC, CBS and NBC failed to scrutinize the administration’s ineffectual response to this disaster, now blasted even by such Democratic stalwarts as ex-Clinton operative James Carville.
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On Wednesday’s Good Morning America, Carville accused the President of “political stupidity” for not making the oil spill a top priority. “It just looks like he’s not involved in this! Man, you have got to get down here and take control of this! Put somebody in charge of this and get this thing moving! We’re about to die down here!” Carville specifically faulted Obama for not deploying sufficient federal resources to protect the valuable marshes in southern Louisiana.
While the media fancy themselves as government watchdogs, such criticisms were virtually absent from the first four weeks of the networks’ oil spill coverage. MRC analysts studied all 157 stories about the spill aired on ABC, CBS and NBC’s evening newscasts from April 21 through May 20. We discovered that only two of those stories (a measly 1%) actually centered on evaluations of how Obama and his top officials were handling the crisis, while another seven stories included minor references to criticisms of the administration. Thus, in the first full month after the spill, 95 percent of network evening news stories were devoid of any criticism of the President and top officials.
In contrast, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast five years ago, the networks waited barely 72 hours to blast the federal response. NBC’s Brian Williams, on the September 1, 2005 Nightly News, channeled the complaints of those who demanded to know: “Why isn’t more being done, and faster?” Over on CBS that night, anchor Bob Schieffer cast the President as “under growing criticism for a slow response,” while correspondent John Roberts (now with CNN) touted how “editorial pages across the nation aimed sharp barbs at Mr. Bush.”
Read More: By Rich Noyes, Newsbusters