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General News    H3'ed 7/1/10

My Connection to BP's "Bogus Press" Operation

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Message Roger Shuler
Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
Stories have broken in recent days about BP hiring professional journalists to act as reporters in order to put a positive spin on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

And darned if I don't know one of the reporters. Actually, I'm not sure he is working as a "reporter." But we've had news stories in Alabama of BP employing the services of several well-known journalists in an effort to manage the public-relations fallout from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

One of the hires is Ray Melick, a longtime sportswriter for two Birmingham newspapers--and I do know him. Interestingly, Melick took a pretty serious trashing the other day from his former employer, The Birmingham News, because of his new role as a BP spokesperson.

BP's "reporting" tactics also have been bashed on The Rachel Maddow Show.
I have come to adore Rachel Maddow and despise BP, but the personal connection to the "bogus press" story has left me torn. (As an aside, it provides another example of The Birmingham News' breath-taking hypocrisy--and that's always a good thing. More on that in a moment.)

The Bloom Group, a Republican-leaning public-relations firm in Montgomery, reportedly hired Ray Melick in May, after the Deepwater Horizon exploded in April, sparking a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP, which leased the oil rig, apparently has hired The Bloom Group--and Melick has become BP's spokesperson, at least in Alabama.

On the personal front, I've known Ray Melick for roughly 27 years. We worked together for about eight years at the now-defunct Birmingham Post-Herald. And our paths crossed fairly often during the 19 years I worked at UAB.

Ray and I never were in each other's "inner circle"--you wouldn't call us BFFs--but I've long considered him a friend and a likable guy. I always enjoyed our chats at various functions, which usually involved free food--always a popular item among current and former sportswriters.

Melick has been battered pretty heavily in recent days on several Alabama-based Web message boards and forums. But as much as I have come to loathe BP, I have no desire to join in the Melick bashing.

I tend to think fondly of most of my former coworkers--excluding a manager or two--and Ray Melick is no exception. Perhaps that colors my judgment here, but I generally don't have a problem with anyone taking a job that they think is a good career move and might bring home a nice income.

Heck, I made a similar move back in 1989 when I left the Post-Herald for UAB. It didn't involve much of a bump in pay, but I knew the hours would be more normal and I thought it would be rewarding to work in higher education--a field that, back then, I perceived to be a somewhat noble calling. For most of my time at UAB, it was an honorable place to work. But over the past couple of years, I've learned that UAB's current administration is awash in corruption and fraud. In fact, UAB's current leaders might be every bit as clueless and boneheaded as BP's Tony Hayward.

So I don't feel I have any right to trash Ray Melick for his recent career change. BP might be an oily outfit, but I don't think Ray Melick is an oily person. If Ray handles his new job in an ethical fashion, and I think he will, I have a hard time knocking him.

After all, I've sort of walked in Melick's shoes. I knew back in 1989 that the newspaper business was struggling, and I needed to get experience in a different field. If Melick came to a similar conclusion, and managed to enhance his salary in the process, I suppose more power to him.

According to The Birmingham News, BP is not just working with GOP-connected PR outfits. The big-oil firm also has hired The Matrix LLC, a PR firm that caters mostly to Democrats and has offices in Montgomery and Birmingham. BP, it seems, is trying to straddle both sides of the ideological fence.

Why would The Bloom Group and BP be interested in Ray Melick? Well, Ray has covered University of Alabama football for the past 25 years or so. Given that UA football fans are the single biggest constituency in our state, I'm guessing that BP execs thought, "Hey, let's hire the guy that Alabama football fans know and like and see if he can help us manage the fallout from this disaster."

Is that a cynical calculation on BP's part? Probably. Does it mean Ray Melick made a cynical decision in accepting the job? Maybe. Does that make him a dreadful person? I don't think so.

Our country, unfortunately, seems to run on cynical calculations these days. In the past 10 years or so, I've learned way more than I ever wanted to know about our justice system. And one of its fundamental concepts is this: Every scoundrel, no matter how slimy or even criminal, deserves representation. If that's the case, I don't see why a journalist should be held to a different standard than the one that applies to lawyers--many of whom make millions representing sleazebags.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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