Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour claims that the media's coverage of the Gulf oil spill is doing far more damage to his state's economy than the spill itself.
"The coast is clear," Barbour quipped on Fox News Sunday. "The truth is we've had virtually no oil." Barbour criticized media coverage generally, and Fox in particular. Shep Smith, whose show airs at 4pm and 7pm on weekdays, has been one of the loudest voices reporting on the spill.
Barbour claimed the media are responsible for "the biggest negative impact" on Mississippi. "The average viewer on this show thinks that the whole coast from Florida to Texas is ankle deep in oil," he added, and "of course it's very, very bad for our tourist season."
Though Barbour's complaints are legitimate, the issue is not black and white. The media did a very poor job of covering the Nashville flood last month.
It seems that Barbour's real gripe is with the format of cable news. The news cycle often encourages sensationalism. If the Mississippi coast is as clear as Barbour claims, his state's economy could be a victim of that format.
But somewhere there is a line--and this is a never-ending quagmire in journalism--between reporting fully and accurately, and acknowledging the potential damage such reporting can inflict. Where would you draw it?
WALLACE: Now let's get reaction from one of the leaders along the Gulf Coast, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, who joins us from the state capitol in Jackson. Governor, how badly has your state been hit both from oil washing up on the shore and also the impact on small businesses, from hotels to fishermen, who have been impacted by the spill?
BARBOUR: The truth is, Chris, we have had virtually no oil. If you were on the Mississippi Gulf Coast any time in the last 48 days you didn't see any oil at all. We have had a few tar balls but we have tar balls every year as a natural product of the Gulf of Mexico. 250,000 to 750,000 barrels of oil seep into the Gulf of Mexico through the floor every year. So tar balls are no big deal. In fact I read the Pensacola or the Florida beaches, when they had tar balls yesterday, didn't even close, they just sent people out to pick them up and throw 'em in a bag.
The biggest negative impact for us has been the news coverage. There has been no distinction between Grand Isle and Venice and the places in Louisiana that we feel so terrible for that have had oil washing up on 'em. But the average viewer of this show thinks that the coast from Florida to Texas is ankle-deep in oil and of course it's very, very bad for our tourist season and that is the real economic damage.
Our first closure of fisheries in mississippi waters came just earlier this week after about 45 days. So, I may -- it may be hard for the viewer to understand but the worst thing for us has been how our tourist season has been hurt by the misperception of what is going on down here. The Mississippi Gulf Coast is beautiful. As I tell people, the coast is clear, come on down!