Mac McLelland has quite a story, one that makes you wonder what kind of country you live in.

It’s Saturday, May 22nd, a month into the BP spill, and I’ve been trying to get to Elmer’s Island for the past two days. I’ve been stymied at every turn by Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies brought in to supplement the local police force of Grand Isle, a 300-year-old settlement here at the very southern tip of Louisiana […]

The blockade to Elmer’s is now four cop cars strong. As we pull up, deputies start bawling us out; all media need to go to the Grand Isle community center, where a “BP Information Center” sign now hangs out front.

Inside, a couple of Times-Picayune reporters circle BP representative Barbara Martin, who tells them that if they want passage to Elmer they have to get it from another BP flack, Irvin Lipp; Grand Isle beach is closed too, she adds. When we inform the Times-Pic reporters otherwise, she asks Dr. Hazlett if he’s a reporter; he says, “No.” She says, “Good.” She doesn’t ask me. We tell her that deputies were just yelling at us, and she seems truly upset. For one, she’s married to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. For another, “We don’t need more of a black eye than we already have.”

“But it wasn’t BP that was yelling at us, it was the sheriff’s office,” we say.

“Yeah, I know, but we have…a very strong relationship.”

“What do you mean? You have a lot of sway over the sheriff’s office?”

“Oh yeah.”

“How much?”

“A lot.”

When I tell Barbara I am a reporter, she stalks off and says she’s not talking to me, then comes back and hugs me and says she was just playing. I tell her I don’t understand why I can’t see Elmer’s Island unless I’m escorted by BP. She tells me BP’s in charge because “it’s BP’s oil.”

“It’s BP’s oil.” Never mind the beach and the wetlands and the freedom of the press.

This is only the most glaring of what has been a spate of stories of reporters denied access to areas of the shore where oil has washed up. Here’s Fred Grimm of the Miami Herald reporting basically the same thing. Our Michael Whitney’s down in Louisiana, and I’m sure nobody’s rolling out the red carpet for him, either. Based on their performance thus far, BP seems to only be good at one core area of their business – crisis management. Not management of the actual crisis, mind you, but the public relations fallout.

As Bob Herbert notes today in an excellent piece, BP, despite a history of workplace accidents, was basically handed a blank slip to drill for oil, without environmental review, without regulatory oversight. Now that they’ve caused the worst environmental disaster in US history, their primary concern seems to be to stop anyone from finding out about it.

David Dayen

David Dayen