I’m a little behind on this story, or non-story, but I happened to be listening to LBC, London’s talk station, in the cab on the way to do my Zoe Ball slot this morning, just before 6.30, and I heard an extract from breakfast DJ Nick Ferrari’s show from earlier in the week – they run a best-of on Saturdays. It was, I’m afraid to say, typical of the kind of reactionary, kneejerk right wing shit-stirring that Ferrari is often accused of, and which I usually defend him against. I think he is actually a very powerful broadcaster with a commanding presence, newspaperman’s instinct for a story and a Londoner’s feel for his audience, and I have appeared on his show a couple of times to review the papers, so I’ve seen him at work. It’s clear where his political loyalties lie, but this does not preclude him from being an intelligent presenter, and there is a world of difference between him and Jon Gaunt, for instance. However, this was a seemingly defiant piece of ignorance, dressed as moral outrage.
Barack Obama, the headlines said, had compared the BP oil spill to the September 11 attacks. He hadn’t. But it made a good screamer; even the apparently cool-headed Guardian ran with, “Barack Obama compares oil spill to 9/11.” Which he didn’t. In fact, in an interview with the US website Politico, he said this:
“In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11, I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come.”
Which is different to comparing it to 9/11, I trust you’ll agree. However, the right-wing, Obama-bashing American media picked up the ball and kicked it over the fence, contacting the families of those who perished in the September 11 attacks, reminding them of their loss and getting them to say that they were pretty upset that their president had compared their tragedy to an oil spill, which he hadn’t. “He’s off-base,” said former New York fire department deputy chief Jim Riches, whose son died at the World Trade Centre. “These were terrorist attacks, not something caused by people trying to make money.”
Well, let’s debate the intricacies of that statement another time. In brief, since Obama didn’t compare the oil spill to 9/11, he merely compared the effects it might have on perceptions of key issues, there is no need to examine the comparison. But this is what Nick Ferrari chose to do. His researchers had worked hard. He read out the death toll and all the financial costs of 9/11, in dollars; then he read out, for comparison (because it’s about time somebody actually compared the oil spill to 9/11), the death toll and financial costs of the oil spill, in pounds. Well, guess what? More people died in the former – around 2,900 more – and more money was lost.
To his credit, Ferrari was careful to say that it was a tragedy that 11 people had died because of the BP spill, but this hardly subtracted from his point, which was made with sledgehammer subtlety: 9/11 was really bad because it was caused by evil Arab terrorists, the oil spill is just slightly bad because it was caused by oil companies who are going to help us drive our cars and anyway, it’s mainly a few pelicans the tree-hugging environmentalists are getting het up about. And Obama was “grandstanding” and “playing to the gallery” by comparing the two. Which he would have been, had he compared the two.
I’m afraid this sorry little item made me think of all the bellowing right-wing shock jocks and Fox commentators in the US, the ones I’m constantly glad we don’t have; they get their teeth into a bone whose marrow is 100% agenda and won’t let go. They shout the loudest, and hope that their noise drowns out any gainsaying or common sense. Nick Ferrari is better than this approach, as I am always saying to people who knock him without listening to him. But it got worse. Balance ran for the hills. He had the mother of someone who died in the Twin Towers on the phone. She was outraged that the President had compared some pelicans to 9/11. She might well be, had he done so. But in fact, it was Nick Ferrari who had done it, not Obama. (Ferrari had even quoted Obama, as I have done, before launching into his needless tirade. Did anyone else spot that?)
This is not reasoned political debate. It’s the gleeful bashing by free-market climate change deniers of a Democrat president for something he didn’t do by those that think he’s a bit of a universal healthcare wuss. (I don’t think he’s perfect, by the way – he’s been something of a disappointment in many areas, but it’s impossible to live up to that kind of expectation. The irony is that Ferrari did his LBC shows from Chicago during Obama’s election, brilliantly reflecting the joy on the streets at this momentous time, and it made fantastic radio, for which he can be proud for the rest of his career.)
But here was the own goal, which almost made me yelp with excitement. Ferrari, having been red-faced with righteous anger on behalf of all those killed in the World Trade Center attacks (except the hijackers – he pointedly left them out of the death toll), and the opportunistic cheapness of comparing it to a little oil spill, then asked a man from Reuters, “Is this Obama’s Katrina?”
Is this Obama’s Katrina?
Nick Ferrari had just made an opportunistic and cheap comparison of the BP oil spill to the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States, in which 1,836 people died, and in which $81 billion’s worth of damage was caused. Was he, by any chance, grandstanding and playing to the gallery?