This Times story on Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s role in the BP disaster contains some subtle, but insidious, bad journalism.
In early May, he suggested using gamma ray imaging to determine the condition of the well’s blowout preventer, a move no one at the company had considered.
A few weeks later, he overruled some BP officials and ordered the company to stop the “top kill” effort, citing “very, very grave concerns” that it could backfire.
He insisted in late June that a tighter cap be installed on the leaking riser. And on Tuesday, over the strenuous objections of top BP officials, he ordered a 24-hour delay in plans to conduct a pressure test on the well, saying that more safety precautions and analysis were necessary.
If Chu can “overrule”, then he has some kind of power, right? Not so fast:
He is not formally part of the chain of command in the spill response, but carries the authority of Mr. Obama as well as his own considerable intellectual heft.
The whole story is crystal unclear about what Chu can actually do. It’s crying out for a paragraph or two about the Energy Department’s role in oil production (if any), and Chu’s role versus other players like Salazar. That might seem nit-picky, but part of the reason that people expect Obama to pull out his god wand and make it all better is because a lot of political journalism is very mushy about the roles and powers of participants in the process.
Also, too: People make a lot of fun of the “Snooze Hour”, but one thing Jim Lehrer is really good at is making his guests stop and explain acronyms and agency roles. Some might consider that disrespecting the viewer’s intelligence, but I think it’s quite the opposite. It acknowledges that smart people might be new to a subject and may need some context.