Gulf oil spill: Al Gore slams BP for lack of media access

On his website, Al Gore criticizes BP for denying reporters access to the Gulf oil spill area. But is it a 'de facto form of censorship,' as the former VP says?

By , Staff writer

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    Former U.S. Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore talks about climate change in Manila, Philippines on June 8. Gore has called BP's refusal to allow access to journalists 'completely unacceptable.'
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Former Vice President Al Gore, whom some have chided for his relative silence on the Gulf oil spill, entered the ring on Monday, calling frequent refusals by oil-spill command to allow reporters access "completely unacceptable" and adding, "This de facto form of censorship needs to stop."

Mr. Gore, author of the bestseller "An Inconvenient Truth," which focuses on the threats of global warming, is one of the highest-profile Americans yet to criticize the on-the-ground transparency about the ecological disaster in the Gulf region.

In an Oval Office speech at 8 p.m. Tuesday night, President Obama will address Americans about the spill.

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The transparency problems may point less to deliberate obfuscation and more to the paradox created when a company whose reputation and financial well-being are at stake is put at the forefront of a disaster response.

BP has vigorously defended itself against charges that it's cracking down on reporter access, saying it's taken hundreds of reporters out to the spill. At the behest of Congress, the company also began to stream live footage from the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

What's more, even those critical of the Coast Guard and BP say there's a limit to how much access can be granted to what is, in law-enforcement terms, an enormous maritime crime scene.

Yet federal responders, too, have grown impatient with a company that at times has dragged its feet on issues ranging from the spill's true flow rate to the use of huge volumes of kerosene dispersants at big depths. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen wrote to BP chief Tony Hayward last week, demanding "more detail and openness" about the way the company is handling damage claims.

And reporters have felt particularly targeted as they've attempted to document the spill.

"Journalists struggling to document the impact of the oil rig explosion have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials," The New York Times reports.

“I think they’ve been trying to limit access,” Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts tells the Times. “It is a company that was not used to transparency. It was not used to having public scrutiny of what it did.”

Critics have expected Gore to take a higher profile in regard to the spill, especially now that Mr. Obama has begun to use it as an example of why America should invest more heavily in nonhydrocarbon technology to power the country. That issue is right in Gore's wheelhouse.

“I don’t know why he hasn’t been more visible on this. Vice President Gore has a lot on his plate…. He’s been trying to move the focus from threats to solutions," says Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, in a quote in The Daily Beast.

Gore's lack of visibility could also be chalked up to family issues. He and his wife of 40 years, Tipper Gore, have separated and are seeking divorce. But Gore's Monday blog post about transparency concerning the spill could signal an offensive from the former presidential candidate.

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IN PICTURES: Sticky mess: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

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