One of the interesting sideshows of the Gulf Spill media coverage was that provided by Billy Nungesser, the Plaquemines Parish president. He is now a media star which is something he clearly relishes. He found himself during the event being courted by Admiral Allen, by high-level administration officials, and by Coast Guard leaders. This courting went way beyond his role as a local elected official. Billy had clout, he was a force to be reckoned with.
Now he is working hard to stay in the media limelight using some of the same tactics that got him here in the first place--by saying outrageous and provocative things. Doesn't matter if they are nonsensical, stupid, naive or dishonest--he says the kinds of things that make people stop their channel switching or pick up a paper to read a headline.
In the typical hyperbole he likes to use he says in this article in the Times-Picayune: "We have to severely change the chain of command. Neither BP nor the Coast Guard has given us a plan."
Apparently he hasn't heard of an Incident Action Plan. Or maybe he's been too busy doing CNN interviews to read Adm Allen's press briefings where the plans were laid out day to day.
Because he thinks there was no plan, he concludes that we need a change in the chain of command. Coast Guard should not be in charge of oil spills because: "They are the ones to put out the fire; they are not the ones to gut the house and rebuild it," he said. Having a little hard time following the logic here. Coast Guard shouldn't respond to oil spills because they don't build houses? Or does he mean they are not good at cleaning up beaches?
At any rate, his answer is to put local officials in charge. I wonder if he had any idea that he should be in charge? Like his fellow parish president Taffaro who testified to Congress (apparently to many nods of agreement) that he should have run the response.
Nungesser suggests that the chain of command should be changed because: "I still cannot tell you who is in charge of the operations. Nobody wants to stand up and say 'It is my fault.'" He said neither BP nor the Coast Guard have been "truthful or forthcoming in this disaster."
Apparently whoever is in charge, be it President Obama, Admiral Allen or whoever, in order to be seen as being in charge they first have to say "It was all my fault." Well, President Nungesser, if you want so badly to be in charge maybe you should start by saying it was all your fault. Then we'll all know, just like you, who is in charge.
Seriously, the real problem here is the fact that someone with the attention-getting desire of Billy Nungesser gets to be so much a part of a response like this. Why was he treated so gingerly by the response leaders? Because he had clout based on the media's treatment of him. Why did the media treat him so? Did he have anything of value to offer? Any real meaningful insights? Any information not available from anyone else? No. He just kept making outrageous statements about Adm. Allen being an embarrassment to the nation, about BP lying, about the failures of everyone involved. The media loved it, gave him excessive air time, and as a result he had a very damaging impact on the response. (Wonder why? Read my previous post about moving boom around unnecessarily and deploying it where it wasn't needed based on local politicians (read Nungesser) complaints).
The media should share the blame for the mistakes made in the response by response leaders having to take this guy so seriously. Not that I expect them to own up to it. I just hope Anderson Cooper and the Times-Picayune will finally have enough of this guy. I know I have.