Thursday, June 10, 2010

BP Hearts Joran Van Der Sloot & Other Tales From The Gulf Disaster Zone

Seven weeks into the most sustained public-relations disaster in corporate history, not to mention one of the worst environmental disasters evah, BP has finally caught a break. No, it has not successfully capped its massive Gulf oil spill, let alone CEO Tony Hayward's wayward mouth. No, it has not averted the intensifying scrutiny of criminal investigators.
What has finally happened is that The Missing Blond, a genre of news story so important to cable news outlets that it threatens to knock the spill off its big-story perch, has again reared its ugly head.
That is the news that Dutchman Joran Van der Sloot has confessed to murdering a 21-year-old Peruvian woman in his Lima hotel room.

Van der Sloot has long been the leading suspect in the 2005 disappearance and probable murder of blond Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, then 18, on the Caribbean resort island of Aruba while she was drunkenly celebrating her high school graduation.

He had been arrested twice in Holloway case -- and gave a number of conflicting confessions, some in TV interviews -- but was freed for lack of evidence. Natalee's disappearance was declared a "cold case" in December 2007, bringing tears to execs at CNN and other cable news stations that feasted long and hard on the tragic story.


President Obama can't catch a break (natch) no matter what he says or does about the spill.

So it was no surprise that after suffering days of barbs regarding his cool-as-ice demeanor when addressing the disaster, he caught grief when he stepped up the rhetoric and said on the Today Show that he wants some "ass to kick."

The prig brigade was quick to the parapets with CNBC "Squawk Box" host Becky Quick slapping the prez for using unprezidential language in an interview he knew would be aired as children -- millions of whom regularly hear that word and worse used at home and on TV -- prepared to go to school.

As if to prove my point, Quick added: "You can point to people who say these things all the time, we've used these words, but again, if you're the president of the United States . . . blah, blah, blah."


Has there ever been an example of corporate malfeasance -- as well as the disconnect between what a corporation pledges to do compared to what it really does -- as immense as BP's?

We should hope not.

Pro Publica outs the petrochemical giant in revealing that a series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

Management repeatedly flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them.


That would be forcing BP into bankruptcy, a not-far-fetched scenario according to investment bankers.

The idea that BP might eventually file for bankruptcy as part of a merger that would enable it to cordon off its liabilities from the spill is getting some traction on Wall Street.

Shell and Exxon Mobil are said to be interested in the idea that BP would file a prepackaged bankruptcy and separate the costs of the cleanup -- and potentially billions of dollars in legal claims -- into a separate corporate entity.

CEO Hayward has insisted that BP will survive and indeed it is a huge profit machine, making nearly $17 billion last year, although it is probable that Hayward himself will not survive the disaster.

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