What a Difference a Phrase Makes

On National Public Radio on 6 January 2011, I listened to a report about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  I nearly veered off the road when the following came over my car’s radio:

“Transocean, BP and Halliburton each declined to comment for this story. But Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, stresses that the Deepwater Horizon incident was an exception.

” ‘The oil and gas industry has been in the Gulf of Mexico for 65 years, and we’ve drilled over 42,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first incident that has occurred of this magnitude,’ he says.”

Given that all other incidents — Mr. Gerard could not trouble himself to say “oil spill” or “environmental disaster” — are minuscule relative to the 2010 “incident,” I do not doubt that this was was the first of this magnitude.

Indeed, Mr. Gerard comes close to saying nothing.  Like the public relations guru he is, he gets his preferred denominator — 42,000 wells — before an audience.  Beyond that his statement is inconsequential and inconsequent by design.

I do not seem to recall a similar response to 9/11:  “Al Qaeda has been in the United States for years and attacked the World Trade Center previously.  The 9/11 incident was the first occurrence of this magnitude.”

Maybe Osama bin Laden needs an American PR firm.


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