David Shepherd: News Blog

Journalist's Notebook

Capitol Hill: A Week of Political Disasters


By: David Shepherd [dshepherd@wtwo.com] – Sunday, June 20, 2010 

Michael Reynolds / EPA

It could be described as a political train wreck.  BP’s Chief Executive Tony Hayward infuriated members of Congress on both sides of the isle during his testimony to a House panel this week, probing into BP’s roll in the environmental meltdown in the Gulf.

Hayward seemed calm and cool under pressure but his body language gave off an arrogant, “I’m above the law” vibe.  It’s difficult to pinpoint some of the WORST public relations blunders Hayward made during his nationally televised testimony this week because there are so many to choose from. 

One of the bigger, “OPPS” moments came as Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas grilled Hayward about his knowledge of the list of problems on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig before it exploded, killing 11 workers, in April.  Hayward testified he learned about the well’s existence only weeks before the explosion. 

“With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year around the world,” Hayward responded.  But if he thought the congressman would take his cold tone lying down, he was mistaken.

“Yes, I know,” Burgess barked back.  “That’s what’s scaring me right now.”

Hayward wasn’t the only one carving “political meltdown” notches on his belt.  GOP’s top panel member, Rep. Joe Barton, used his opening statement to apologize (not once, but twice) for the pressure, he says, President Barack Obama is putting on the company to contribute to a compensation fund for Gulf residents.

Barton characterized the White House’s efforts as a “shakedown” for money to put into a “slush fund.”  He told Hayward, “I’m not speaking for anybody else.  But I apologize.”

It took just moments for the media machines to start grinding, playing sound- byte after sound- byte from lawmakers who demanded Barton make another apology–this one to the American people.

 House minority leaders John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mike Pence issued a joint statement on behalf of the Republican Party saying,

“Congressman Barton’s statements this morning were wrong.  BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.”

 GOP officials tell NBC NEWS, Republican leadership ordered Barton to retract his apologetic remarks, threatening to strip him of his senior rank on the House Energy and Commerce Committee if he didn’t.

 Barton complied.


June 21, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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