Apples and Oranges; Propaganda Hits History

257,000 barrels vs 8000 barrels…is it even close?  Is there any real, honest comparison beyond the talk of oil?

On This Date In History:  This is an interesting story not so much for the event but instead of how it is reported in at least one version of history by a popular cable outlet that people depend on for facts, not for attempts to persuade.  It talks about how three vessels ran into each other in Tampa Bay on this date in 1993.  Okay fine.  The focus of the story should not be on the fact that an oil spill took place. That wasn’t anything new.  But that it was contained using a new technology is what made it significant.  For the first time in history, a computer model was used that took meteorological and oceanic information and produced a forecast as to where the oil slick would go.  As it turned out, the model was right on the money for a six hour window.  That was enough to allow for the responders to the incident to react properly.  Since they knew that the slick would be moving temporarily away from the shore, they were able to react accordingly.  When the goo reached  the beaches of Pinellas County, county emergency crews that had just received training, acted quickly and promptly and most of the wildlife was protected. 

Sounds like a big winner to me…we were able to improve our reaction time to environmental hazards and also it showed that we are able to more safely transport the oil that is needed to keep the nation’s economic engine humming.

Nope…the story mentioned the other part but instead in the first sentence was the following: “A rare collision of three ships in Tampa Bay, Florida, results in a spill of 336,000 gallons of fuel oil on this day in 1993.”  

Now, this statement is true and was significant.  The US Coast Guard considers anything more than 2381 barrels a “major” oil spill.  The story says 336,000 gallons of oil.  Why not barrels?  What the editor would say is that “well…the average reader has no idea what a barrel is or how much it is but they know all about gallons.”  Okay fine.  So, why don’t we report the price of oil in gallons?  Well, they would say “that’s not how it’s traded.”  That is true.  But, what about average readers not knowing about barrels?  How about some consistency.  Is it possible that the writers don’t know that a barrel of oil is 42 US gallons?  You bet it is.  Is it possible that the writers want to make it sound more dramatic so they use 336,000 gallons instead of 8000 barrels?  You bet.  In any event, it has to be one or the other because you can’t have it both ways.

Here’s the real kicker…they ended the story with

“This oil spill was the first major one following the 1989 Exxon  Valdez accident in Alaska. New federal legislation that had been passed in the aftermath of the Valdez disaster assisted in the effort to recover millions of dollars from the ship owners to pay for the cleanup efforts.”

First off, they compare the 8000 barrel spill in Tampa to the 257,000 barrel spill in Alaska….over 32 times more oil in Alaska than Tampa.  There was a tremendous short term environmental consequence in Alaska and almost none in Tampa. They also don’t mention that in Alaska it was crude oil, which is quite different than the fuel oil in Tampa.  Then they conclude by suggesting that somehow Congressional legislation that sent the bill to the ship owners for the clean up had anything to do with anything.  It didn’t prevent further spills, it didn’t help further improve clean ups, it was not responsible for the great improvement in emergency response in the industry.  It did nothing except determine that those who make the mess  have to pay for the clean-up, which is not unreasonable at all and provided a poltical facade for Congress to fool the public into thinking they did anything about anything. 

The story as written is factual…the way it is written in my view is not accurate and is a subtle work of propaganda because it is pushing a point of view.  Do not be surprised if other major media outlets would choose to present “facts” in such a way as to attempt to persuade you instead of inform.  Most likely, it would be slanted in a certain political direction…you can decide in which direction that would be.

Here is the story as it appeared on the History webpage.



One Response

  1. […] in the article below from the Associated Press how they say 500,000 gallons, and not 11,900 barrels. (I’ve commented on this before) On the one hand, everyone knows what a gallon is but not as many know what constitutes a barrel. […]

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