BP's PR Doesn't Make Things Right With Locals BP's CEO promised once again this week that the company would be on the Gulf Coast for the long haul to stop the oil leak and clean up the aftermath. His comments came as the firm launched a series of ads with him apologizing and saying, "We will make this right." But BP's latest public relations push is falling flat with some coastal residents who are feeling the impact of the spill.
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BP's PR Doesn't Make Things Right With Locals

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BP's PR Doesn't Make Things Right With Locals

BP's PR Doesn't Make Things Right With Locals

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After the president questioned BP's spending on its image, the company announced it would pay more money to people who filed claims for loss of income. The move comes after a week of apologies from the company - apologies that some coastal residents say are not enough.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: BP's public relations push this week included this television ad, featuring CEO Tony Hayward in a coastal setting, seabirds chirping in the background.

(Soundbite of ad)

Mr. TONY HAYWARD (CEO, BP): To those affected and your families, I'm deeply sorry.

ELLIOTT: We will make this right, he promises. But in towns on the Gulf Coast, BP has a credibility problem.

Representative JOE BONNER (Republican, Alabama): Words are cheap. It's time for action.

ELLIOTT: That's Alabama Republican Joe Bonner, whose congressional district is on the coast. He says nobody has handled the spill properly.

Rep. BONNER: We are dealing with a catastrophe that we weren't prepared for. The company wasn't prepared for it, the government regulators that permitted it were not prepared for it, the administration wasn't prepared for it. It's frustrating beyond words to see people pointing fingers and wasting time about, you know, this, that or the other thing while the monster keeps growing.

ELLIOTT: The monster being just a few hundred feet from where he sits, at Gulf State Park overlooking a wide expanse of sparkling white sand and blue-green surf.

(Soundbite of waves crashing)

ELLIOTT: Even as kids ride waves on their boogie boards, oil paddies are washing up less than a half-mile away, and there's a lighter fluid-like odor in the air. Lifeguard Richard Roberts points to patches just beyond the water line.

Mr. RICHARD ROBERTS (Lifeguard): About the size of a baseball, just a blackish-reddish color. (Unintelligible)

ELLIOTT: This oil isn't the only mess BP is trying to clean up. Early on, CEO Hayward made comments that didn't sit well with coastal residents.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Today Show")

Mr. HAYWARD: Well, it wasn't our accident, but we are absolutely responsible for the oil, for cleaning it up.

ELLIOTT: That was May 3rd on NBC's "Today Show." Four weeks later, on the same program, there was this attempt at an apology.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Today Show")

Mr. HAYWARD: We're sorry. We're sorry for the massive disruption it's caused their lives. And you know, we're - there's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I'd like my life back.

ELLIOTT: He later apologized for that remark, and this week promised to stay until the cleanup is complete.

Mr. HAYWARD: Because our commitment is to work with the communities and societies of the Gulf Coast to give them back their livelihoods and their way of life as fast as we can.

ELLIOTT: In Orange Beach, Alabama, boat captain David Walter has lost his patience. He builds artificial fishing reefs and hasn't been able to work since the oil started leaking. BP gave him $5,000, but he says that didn't even cover a week's expenses.

Mr. DAVID WALTER (Boat Captain): At first I was like: accidents happen. You know, BP's going to do what's right. And I defended them. And don't worry, they're going to make us whole. Didn't happen. Not happening.

ELLIOTT: In Florida, Escambia County Commission Chair Grover Robinson has also lost confidence in BP after being blindsided by reports that oil was nearing the Pensacola shoreline.

Mr. GROVER ROBINSON (Escambia County Commission): No one from unified command called us to tell us this, and we found that out through actually a captain that had sent it to a private citizen. We got an email, a text message. We trusted that somebody would tell us before that came up.

ELLIOTT: Yesterday, the oil reached Pensacola Beach. Four Gulf Coast states are now feeling the effects of the spill.

As if to counter BP's public relations push this week, Gulf Shores, Alabama musician Brett Burns created a song from the locals to BP.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BRETT BURNS (Musician): (Singing) I'm sorry's not enough. You've gotta mop it up. Stop tap dancing all around this crew. You tried to save your butt, now we got all this muck. Keep cleaning till it looks brand new.

ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, Orange Beach, Alabama.

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