Govs: Media Over-Hyping Extent of Spill Damage

Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., Gov. Bob Riley, R-Ala., and Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., on "Face the Nation," June 13, 2010. CBS

The tourism industry along the Gulf Coast could unnecessarily suffer because of sensationalized media coverage of the oil spill, three Southern Republican governors said today on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"The news coverage of this, of course, there's a lot of it. It's very sensational," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said. "It's the worst pictures that you can get. And it shows every hour on cable news and several times a day on the regular networks.

"The people of the United States have the impression the whole Gulf of Mexico is ankle-deep in oil, which is simply not the case," he said.

There is no oil on the shore of Mississippi yet, Barbour said, but the state has already lost the first third of its tourist season.

"There are a lot of people on the coast that make most of their living in three months," he said. "They have been clobbered because of the misperception that our whole coast is knee-deep in oil."

Barbour said the news media could have differentiated between the effects of the spill on Louisiana and on Mississippi, "but it chose not to."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said that, just last night, oil reached the shores of his state. It is difficult to clean up in its liquid state, and officials are trying to find a way to coagulate the oil so it is easier to pick up, he said.

"We do have some challenges. There's no question about it," Riley said. He added, however, that "most of the experience of coming to the Gulf Coast is still as great as it's ever been. We want to encourage people to come down. There's not a day that goes by we don't get 100 telephone calls or 1,000 telephone calls saying, 'What can we do?'

"The greatest thing you can do right now? Come on down. Rent a condo. Stay in a hotel. Go out to eat. Play golf. Enjoy the South," he said.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist added that the beaches in Florida are still clean, though the oil plume near Pensacola is closer than ever.

"We have a first duty, the health, safety and welfare of our people," he said. "If it gets to a point where we have to close the beach, we'll do so. Right now, no beaches are closed in our Sunshine State."

The spill has proved to be an environmental disaster as well as an economic one, but Barbour said keeping President Obama's six-month moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling will only exacerbate the problem.

"I don't think we should have a moratorium," Barbour said. "This is the first time something like this has ever happened. We need to get to the bottom of it... But I think it is very reasonable to continue to drill."

If drilling stops for six months, he continued, Gulf States will lose business, by oil companies moving their equipment and operations to places like West Africa, Brazil or Australia, "and it won't be back in six months when the moratorium is over."

"We produce 30 percent of our oil in the United States in the Gulf of Mexico," Barbour said. "If you shut that down, it will have an enormously negative effect on the national economy. What's going on right now is hurting my state's economy and these other Gulf states . . . But this moratorium is going to hurt the national economy."

Contrarily, Crist (whose state has less investment in offshore oil exploration) said that the spill should serve as a wake-up call for the country to move away from drilling and fossil fuels.

"If this spew in middle of the Gulf of Mexico doesn't tell us we need to be more cautious and more careful about doing this in the future, I don't know what else would," Crist said. "I mean, we don't have these rigs off the Florida coast. We are suffering from the one off the Louisiana coast. It troubles me greatly that that's occurring.

"That's why I think this is the greatest wake-up call ever that we need to go to alternative fuel. We need to have cleaner fuel for our people. That will create greater independence and stop sending so much money over to the Middle East."

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