[Coral-List] Gulf eco-conspiracy

Osha Gray Davidson osha at oshadavidson.com
Wed Aug 11 13:22:12 EDT 2010

Bravo, Steve. There are always "journalists" (aka, hacks) who favor the
sensational over the truth. But the situation, even for those of us who are
trying to do our jobs, is made much more difficult when information from the
government is withheld longer than is necessary. I know that much of the
time there are legitimate reasons for not releasing information immediately.
But, as you pointed out, the reality is that conspiracy theories flourish in
a vacuum. As a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, I can
tell you that this topic is a top priority of the group: the late release of
information, and its counterpart: the difficulty of interviewing government
scientists directly and on the record.

These two problems came together for me recently while I was trying to write
a story about a photograph of a decomposing whale that went viral (the
photo) during the burn controversies.

In early July I wrote a NOAA media officer:

"I’m writing a piece for OnEarth magazine about the threats to Gulf wildlife
from the BP oil spill. The picture I attached came from a blog complete with
conspiracy theories about suppression of evidence. I wanted first to make
sure that this was indeed the whale referred to in your site’s story at

The media guy was great, very professional and helpful. I was referred to a
more senior NOAA media person who wrote: "I have contacted my marine mammal
experts about the dead whale, but I can tell you that I have heard them say
on a couple of occasions that the burned looking skin on some dead whales
results from floating under the hot sun."

I explained that I needed to interview one of those marine mammal experts on
the record. If I only quoted someone from NOAA media, conspiracy theorists
would (rightly) have condemned my piece as inadequate. That PR person didn't
respond to my request. In the end, I couldn't write about the whale photo (I
had a deadline), leaving the field open to the sensationalists/conspiracy

You want accurate reporting. I want to report accurately. If NOAA were more
helpful in providing timely information and access to scientists for
interviews, everyone (but the crazies) would be better-served.


Osha Gray Davidson
Phoenix, AZ

Correspondent, OnEarth magazine
Editor, El Phoenix Sun
Twitter @thephoenixsun
Member, Society of Environmental Journalists
Author of The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef

-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of
Steve.Gittings at noaa.gov
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 6:46 AM
To: James Cervino PhD.
Cc: 'Coral-List Subscribers'
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Gulf eco-conspiracy

I spent about 6 weeks working on the spill in one of the command centers,
doing occasional overflights and field visits, and twice a week doing open
houses with the public in towns from the Mississippi River to Cameron.  I
have to admit that from what I saw, the sky does not appears to be falling,
at least not for natural resources.  Yes, the crab observations are
definitely worth more attention.  They are a possible mechanism for oil to
get into the food chain.  I am hopeful, however, that the lack of fresh oil
offshore and in the bays will keep it from becoming a long-term problem.

The open houses that we started in June were one of the best decisions made
on this spill, in my opinion.  People were, and still are scared by what
they heard from the national media.  It was highly slanted to the negative,
and often inaccurate.  Not their fault alone.  The lack of daily or periodic
environmental updates from people on the inside made the problem inevitable.
Until the open houses started, there was no way for even local people to
hear from those on the ground or technical experts working on the inside.
Along with the open houses, there should have been periodic environmental
press conferences along the lines of what Kent Wells does for BP on the
technical activities of source control efforts.  A lesson for any of us
involved in these incidents in the future - don't hinder information flow
from inside experts.  Fear mongering, speculation, and conspiracy
accusations will gladly fill the space.


----- Original Message -----
From: "James Cervino PhD." <jcervino at whoi.edu>
Date: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 7:53 am
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Gulf eco-conspiracy
To: andrew ross <andyroo_of72 at yahoo.com>
Cc: 'Coral-List Subscribers' <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>

> Dear Andrew-
> The gas and oil think-tankers never ask the local communities how 
> truly bad it
> is, or they underestimate the power that the over-whelming truth will 
> get out. 
> The "Sky is not falling" folks need to take a trip to a local community
> gathering in each of the gulf states to see if the sky has not already 
> fell on
> the tops of their heads!  The FOG is getting thicker and the articles 
> like the
> NYT are already taking their toll on the American TV eye.....
> For evidence that the oil is already in the food chain:
> *************************************
> Dr. James M. Cervino
> Visiting Scientist
> Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
> Contact Information:
> NYC Address: 9-22 119st
> College Point New York, 11356
> Cell: 917-620*5287
> ************************************
> Quoting andrew ross <andyroo_of72 at yahoo.com>:
> * Jim and Quenton,I'm not a conspiracy nut, but I have to ask:Why are 
> these
> * (apparent cover-up) reports any more absurd then, for example (and not
> * looking to tread on delicate toes), the non-existant WMDs in Iraq?
> * This report is certainly not scientific, but I also don't read it as 
> trying
> * to be. It's a collection of personal stories and no firm evidence, 
> which is
> * also part of their story. Convenient and sensational, yes, but also 
> worth
> * taking a moment over as on this list we all read weeks of bright &
> * knowledgeable people talking of the terrifying toxicity of these
> * dispersants.Again, I'm not a conspiracy-guy and we should all take
> * like this with a grain of salt, but I'm also not fresh off the turnip
> * truck. Immediately discounting it as "Jerry Springer" can't be
> * --- On Tue, 8/10/10, Quenton Dokken <qdokken at gulfmex.org> wrote:
> *
> * From: Quenton Dokken <qdokken at gulfmex.org>
> * Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Gulf eco-conspiracy
> * To: "'Jim Hendee'" <jim.hendee at noaa.gov>, "'Coral-List Subscribers'"
> * <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> * Date: Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 3:53 AM
> *
> * Jim,
> *
> * You are absolutely correct.  The absurdity of some of the rhetoric
> * across the media has been mind numbing.  Unfortunately, we are the 
> nation of
> * the National Inquirer and Jerry Springer; no matter how absurd, 
> there is an
> * audience.
> *
> * Quenton Dokken, Ph.D.
> * Executive Director
> * Gulf of Mexico Foundation, Inc.
> * PMB 51 5403 Everhart Rd.
> * Corpus Christi, TX 78411
> *
> * Office:  3833 South Staples Suite S214
> *                 Corpus Christi, TX 78411
> *
> * 361-882-3939 o
> * 361-882-1262 f
> * 361-442-6064 c
> *
> * www.gulfmex.org
> *
> * -----Original Message-----
> * From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> * [ On Behalf Of Jim Hendee
> * Sent: Monday, August 09, 2010 11:04 AM
> * To: Coral-List Subscribers
> * Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Gulf eco-conspiracy
> *
> * Hi, Andrew...
> *
> *     Thanks for showing us that article,
> *
> *    
> * 
> * tml
> *
> * which the author of the piece calls the "crime of the century."  I would
> * like to respond to the article referenced in your post, something I
> * rarely do.
> *
> *     I should say here that even though I'm the Administrator of this
> * list, and I represent NOAA in what I say and do, I am herewith hoping
> * that I can successfully plop down a disclaimer right here and now and
> * say that the view below is mine as an individual, and not an official
> * (i.e., passed through chain-of-command) view.
> *
> *     I am so disgusted with this writer's type of non-scientific approach
> * to observation and reporting that I had written a couple of pages of 
> a
> * response, quoting the author and spelling out what was wrong with this
> * type of writing.  However, I despaired, because this is unfortunately
> * not new from these guys trying to get in "print" (actually, anybody 
> can
> * put junk on a blog these days) and/or trying to bring attention to a
> * subject, the latter of which is fine, but you have to wonder if the
> * former is more important to some of these writers.  So, I'm just going
> * to end with one quote.
> *
> * "The Gulf of Mexico from the Source into the shore is a giant kill
> *
> *     By inference I take it to mean that the ENTIRE Gulf of
> * Mexico--radiating out from the Source to the shores of Louisiana, across
> * to South Florida and the Keys, west to Texas, and down to the Gulf of
> * Campeche--is completely devoid of life.  Big zone, big kill.  Bad guys,
> * all in collusion.
> *
> *     How ridiculous.  We already know it's bad.  Why not put more time
> * into describing the huge amount of science that is now, and for years
> * ahead, going to go into figuring out the effects of this spill on the
> * ecosystem, and the engineering to make the unfortunately necessary oil
> * discovery process continue successfully.  Of course that would take 
> a
> * lot more research on the part of the writer, making it much more
> * difficult to make that deadline on Friday...
> *
> *     Jim
> *
> * On 8/9/2010 10:01 AM, andrew ross wrote:
> * > Jim and all,Have you seen this?
> * >
> * 
> * tml
> * > It's potentially a bit "men in black"-conspiracy, so I checked 
> with a
> * friend who runs snapper charters in Texas- there are no fish in his 
> favorite
> * spots, even spots many miles out that (to his knowledge) saw no oil.
> * >
> * > Little to do with coral directly, so I'll leave it up to you 
> whether or
> * not to post to the list.
> * > Andrew
> * >
> * >
> * >       
> *
> *
> *
> *
> *
> *
> *
> *
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