May 27th, 2010
01:38 PM ET

Gulf oil spill: The blame game widens

As patience runs low and pressure mounts for a federal takeover of the the Gulf Coast oil spill response, the finger pointing is spreading further and wider. We look at who’s getting the flak from commentators and editorials.

Who’s to blame: President Obama?
Being commander in chief, to some, means President Obama should also be chief blame-taker. Many, including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, accuse him and his administration of not properly responding to the oil spill. A story in the New Orleans Times-Picayune highlights how some say Obama needs to take charge.

"Where is the President? Does he not understand the magnitude of what is probably the worst environmental disaster in the country? And then we get mixed messages from his various Cabinet secretaries who come down and they say, looks like they are satisfied with the coordination going on," said Rep. Steve Scalise in remarks on the House floor Tuesday just around the time the White House was letting it be known that the president would be visiting the Gulf on Friday.

Glenn Greenwald, a former constitutional lawyer and a columnist at, writes in the New York Times that when something goes wrong, presidents become an easy target.

[They get] blamed for “allowing it to happen,” even if there was nothing they could have done to prevent it and nothing they can do to fix it. As more and more Americans come to understand the true magnitude of the oil spill disaster, it will matter little that President Obama was not at fault.

Far more significant will be the perception that he failed to “protect” us from this threat, a potentially devastating belief in a society where “protecting us from harm” has come to be seen as the president’s overarching responsibility (far higher than what the Constitution actually describes as the prime presidential duty: “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution”).

Put simply, unless the oil spill is brought under control quickly, Obama as the holder of centralized political power is likely to be blamed for these failures whether or not that blame is fair.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein also writes:

Obama is not blameless. A month before the spill, he insinuated himself into the "Drill, baby, drill" camp by agreeing to a deal, first proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, in which offshore drilling and nuclear power would be added to legislation taxing carbon fuels and promoting alternative energy.

Who’s to blame: BP?
BP is getting the most flak for the incident as more evidence points toward how the British-based oil company could have averted the disaster in the first place.

The Times-Picayune pointed out in an editorial that although rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton were also responsible for the disaster, now the worst oil spill in U.S. history, rig operator BP ultimately has to shoulder the blame.

But they were working under the direction of BP. And BP executives overruled the contractors in at least one critical decision, involving when to drain the mud fluid needed to keep the well from blowing up. During Wednesday's hearing of the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service investigation of the explosion, the rig's chief mechanic testified that he was in a planning meeting 11 hours before the explosion at which the BP "company man" overruled the drillers.

In a opinion piece on, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré says the oil spill belongs to BP and no one else.

BP's reaction was much like Toyota's when it was confronted with safety issues. It, too, focused on PR to protect its brand, versus telling the truth, and sent out its engineers to talk about the problem and the fix.

Environmentalists, seafood suppliers and restaurant owners are also channeling their anger toward BP. Two seafood dealers are among at least 13 plaintiffs in a $5 million class action lawsuit that claims businesses were devastated by the spill. The lawsuit blames BP, Halliburton, Cameron Industries and Transocean for the blowout. Halliburton, however, claimed that its work was consistent with normal oilfield practices.

Who’s to blame: Transocean?
BP aside, many also want Transocean to be held accountable. In fact, survivors of the oil rig explosion urged members of a House committee Thursday to hold Transocean and BP accountable for the incident, according to CNN.

Two employees of rig owner Transocean, meanwhile, accused the company of putting profits above lives and cutting back on safety and employees leading up to the explosion. When workers complained of needing more help, "They just kept telling us they'd see what they could do," said engineer Doug Brown, 50, of Vancouver, Washington.

Who’s to blame: Former President George W. Bush?
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who appeared on Fox Business Network on Tuesday, implied that the root causes for the spill rested on the shoulders of the administration(s) that preceded this one, the LA Times writes. When asked whether the Obama administration should take the blame for the lack of response, Dodd turned the finger to George W. Bush.

"Well, you know, they come into office a year ago with all of this. And so, after the last eight years … to lay this at Obama's doorstep, in light of years and years of regulatory permissiveness when it comes to these kinds of operations occurring - it didn't occur in the last year and a half," Dodd said.

Who’s to blame: Nobody
Taking the middle ground were radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and politician Rand Paul. They blame no one. Limbaugh initially speculated that the spill might have been the doing of environmental terrorist, Time's Klein notes, but later said the ocean would take care of this on its own.

The oil was "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is."

Rand Paul ... dismissed the disaster with a blithe "accidents happen."

Who’s to blame: Us, drivers?
Canadian newspaper Montreal Gazette said we have to take a slice of the blame pie, too. The logic: If we consumed less oil, there would be less of drilling and less oil spills.

We bought the minivans, SUVs and luxury cars that drank fuel. … [We] forgot the oil crisis and we bought the cars. With our cars, we push the oil companies out into the oceans. Let's take our own share of the blame.

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Filed under: BP • Gulf Coast Oil Spill
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Marc

    BP is to blame for pushing their contractors into unsafe procedures. Both contractors are at fault for not standing up for proper procedures and precautions. BP is paying them, however, which makes them the most responsible of the three.

    As far as Klein's statement,
    The oil was "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is."

    This is a great comment, which reflects the level of ignorance that we have in the American media. Yes, oil is natural, and it naturally stays underground too, where it naturally belongs. It may also naturally leak into the oceans or onto the land at a naturally slow flow rate, not the 20,000 barrels a day that we have unleashed unnaturally.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jonesy

    Marc, Klein didn't make that statement – he was reporting what Rush Limbaugh said: The oil was "natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is."

    If you have suggestions to stop the oilflow go to the BP website and send it to them.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jim the Anvil

    I truly wonder how close LBP (Lying BP) was to cutting & runnin' after the incident which caused this sad mess. My guess, based on the lies, mis-truths & deceptions that have gone on so far – PRETTY CLOSE. Just too many witnesses and survivors for these human vermin to pull off a cut 'n run. But I bet they're better at cut 'n run than fixin' leaks.

    June 9, 2010 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. ed in tourism

    I talk to a lot of folks in tourism that have been effected by the gulf oil spill. While there is no doubt that BP could have had better standards, the US government could have mobilized it resources far faster. But there is a bigger player that has not even be mentioned. When I talk with these businesses I ask is business down-and they all say yes-significantly , I also ask is there any oil on the beach or in the water near by, and most of them say no. The press has so poorly managed this that they have made everyone a victim by not accurately describing the true nature of the spill. It is significant no doubt but there are many beaches, towns and businesses that have not been effected by the spill, but you have not heard about that and BP and the US governement will be responsible and take the blame and the payment for such losses when the press is really to blame

    July 28, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
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