Famed journalist Finley Peter Dunne said that his job was to “provide comfort to the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Associated Press national political editor Liz Sidoti is switching sides to work for BP as their new US head of communications.
“I’ll be joining an international company in the midst of a turnaround, one with both real challenges and real opportunities,” Sidoti wrote in an email to family and friends. “I’ll have my own large portfolio, managing a great group of professionals in the press shop, internal communications, speech writing and social/digital media sectors. And I’ll get the opportunity to tell BP’s story of how they are more safely providing a necessary resource for a world that depends on driving, light and heat.”
The problem with BP’s story is that it’s a tapestry of lies and fabrications created by its PR department to protect its image from public criticism for its wrongdoings, of which BP has a laundry list.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster consistently leaked 5,000 barrels of crude oil a day. But BP said it was leaking maybe between 1,000 and 5,000. BP’s lies and half-truths ultimately made them untrustworthy in the public eye.
“That hurt their credibility early on,” said Eastern Illinois University public relations instructor Timothy Coombs. “People wondered, How much can we trust you?”
BP’s diversion tactics didn’t just encompass verbal lies from spokespeople. They implemented much more heinous and covert tactics.
Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, destroyed more than 200 text messages that discussed the severity of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. He was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice. BP also tried to pay scientists along the Gulf Coast to conduct BP-biased research. The contracts had gag-orders written in, so if a scientist agreed to the contract, they could only share their research with BP.
BP was also recently alleged to have hired a PR firm to harass the company’s critics on social networking sites. The online “trolls” hired by BP resorted to actions like simple name calling, racist and sexist statements, and even used violent imagery in an attempt to intimidate BP critics.
This is the team that Sidoti wants to play for. She is trading in journalistic code and integrity for a corporate mess of lies and media manipulations. When journalists hang that press pass around their neck, they’re supposed to commit themselves to the benefit of society. Corporations are the enemy of journalists, and Sidoti has perverted her journalistic ethics and embraced everything that those in her profession have positioned themselves against.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.