Today in Questionable Sourcing: New York Times Misfires on Oil-Spill Assessment

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is bad, but hey, relax, people, it’s not that bad. That’s according to a story in The New York Times this morning trying to assess the damage. The piece quotes a fellow named Quenton R. Dokken, identified as a “marine biologist” and head of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation, described as a conservation group. Except that describing the Gulf of Mexico Foundation as a conservation group would be like describing Focus on the Family as a pro-choice organization.

Dokken may be a marine biologist, but the foundation he leads is clearly and directly an arm of the oil industry. Its Web site lists 10 oil companies—including Shell, ConocoPhillips, and, yep, BP—as its funders. In fact, the site notes that in 2005, BP donated $30,000 to fund the foundation's efforts. And a year later the company chipped in $25,000 more.

But it gets even murkier. On the foundation’s board of directors is a man named Ian Hudson, who happens to be the head of corporate responsibility and environment at Transocean, the company that was operating the rig when it sank and is being blamed by BP for the entire incident. Transocean, it appears, also bankrolled one of the latest conferences for the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.

It’s possible that Dokken is right, that the spill isn’t the apocalypse, and that vigilant cleanup efforts over many years can return the area to something resembling normal. But a nonquestionable expert saying so would probably make a more credible case.


Update: The NY Times issued an editor's note Wednesday, appended to the online version of the story: