Kudos: The Times Gets It Right in Lead on BP Oil Spill

Nothing vague about this lead to a front-page story: "Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating...."

Thursday's front-page enterprise piece on the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, by Justin Gillis, "Scientists Fault Lack of Studies Over Gulf Spill," was noteworthy in that it named the Obama administration in the lead - in a negative fashion.

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill's true scope.

Catch that? Not "the U.S. government," or even the more specific "the White House," but specifically "the Obama administration" was being faulted over the Gulf spill. Nothing earth-shattering, in fact barely noticeable - but it's a pattern worth watching, because the paper has a history of slanting the lead.

Bob Kohn devoted an entire chapter of his 2003 book on the Times, "Journalistic Fraud," to how the paper distorted lead sentences depending on whether a Democrat (in his case, Bill Clinton) or Republican administration (George W. Bush) was in office, and whether the underlying story would put that White House in a positive or negative light. In this case the Times treated the Obama administration the way it consistently did the Bush administration - focusing the blame on the president when things go awry under his leadership.

Gillis elaborated:

The scientists assert that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies have been slow to investigate the magnitude of the spill and the damage it is causing in the deep ocean. They are especially concerned about getting a better handle on problems that may be occurring from large plumes of oil droplets that appear to be spreading beneath the ocean surface.

The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.