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Obama and BP: Still on the same team in Gulf oil spill clean-up?

The Obama administration has sought to distance itself from BP this week, repeatedly criticizing BP for its efforts in the Gulf oil spill clean-up. But behind the scenes, cooperation continues.

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More recently, reporters have complained that BP is calling the shots at polluted sites along the Gulf Coast, shooing the media away from scenes that could further hurt BP's corporate image. "This is BP's rules, not ours," a CBS news crew was told recently.

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The Coast Guard denied that it was taking orders from BP. "Neither BP nor the US Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas, and we were disappointed to hear of this incident," Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Rob Wyman told the Washington Post.

Such awkwardness has led to a garbled and inconsistent message from the White House so far, says Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. "The administration and BP seem to have done a remarkably poor job of showing the efforts they're putting into the cleanup and the stoppage," he says.

The administration's new tone

In part to change that dynamic, Allen on Thursday promised a "frank discussion" with the American people about the spill. Holding his own press conferences is a part of the administration's new efforts to appear more assertive and independent, says public-relations consultant Mr. Smith.

"When you have to be cooperative, it's hard to take charge," he adds.

Yet Allen refused to take the media's bait and repudiate BP entirely. "When I deal frankly and openly with [BP CEO Tony] Hayward and make a request, I get an answer, and when I ask for action, it is taken."

Allen points specifically to his request for "live video feeds from the well, technical briefings about things like dispersant plans associated with the failed 'top kill' maneuver, questions about logistics, ordering booms and how fast they get there, how we coordinate and … create unity of effort" as examples of BP's responses to his requests for action.

For its part, BP said it is not trying to manage what the media sees, pointing to 400 reporter ride-alongs to see the spill and the efforts to contain it as examples of its good faith.