May 28th, 2010
11:20 AM ET

Letters to the President #494: You're in charge? Really?

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Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama has suggested the federal government is effectively calling all the shots on the Gulf oil spill. But with more and more of those shots seemingly going astray…well, what is a faithful pen pal to do, but post yet another letter to the White House?

Dear Mr. President,

Seriously? You’ve suggested that the federal government is calling the shots in the Gulf at the big oil spill, that we can all rest assured BP is acting only under the direct supervision of your administration, and you’ve clearly given the impression that you are personally engaged. But if any of that is the case, how is it possible that their big, fancy “top kill” procedure was stopped for 16 hours while apparently almost everyone… including your Coast Guard commandant…did not know?

I know that you came out with a bunch of strong statements, pledging unflagging support to fix this situation, and saying you get it. “The federal government has been in charge.” “Make no mistake, BP is operating at our direction.”

Again, I ask, seriously? Is it at your direction that the public is being kept in the dark? Does being “in charge” mean allowing a corporation that has already stumbled into a calamity to treat the public’s interest and concern as if it is something they can get around to addressing whenever they feel like it?

Presidential power, in case you haven’t noticed, is driven in large part by perception. When any president allows circumstances to make him look weak, easily fooled or cowed, the country itself is undermined. It is not enough to simply say strong words. You must take strong actions. You need a team that delivers strong results. And there is simply no clear evidence that you have that in this crisis…at least not yet.

I can’t explain how this is happening. I don’t know the inner-workings of it all. Maybe somehow you have a great, secret, don’t-pay-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain solution to reveal in the 11th hour. But at the moment this I do know: Your response to this disaster is still looking inadequate at best, inconsequential at worst.

Call me for advice if you need it, but frankly I can give it to you now quicker: Get down to the Gulf and stay there until you really are in charge…not just saying it.


soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. anahwake

    george bush contracted with bp, congressional procedure allows only 30 days for investigation of the fail safe plans submitted by these companies, can' be done, that is recklessly inadiquate. cheney is at the bottom of that hole, tom,they( he / halliburton are the "mud and cementing guys") and thats what failed, the shut off devices never were engaged because of the rushed mudding/cemrent job. halliburton has done 6 major spills to date,same senario. the u.s. gov. is not oil savvy on these levels,the pres. is on it and he has to consider the contractual leverage he holds over bp to extract the legal responsibility from them in the end.emotional attitudes are deadly at this time,we have to keep our heads.

    June 1, 2010 at 12:30 am |
  2. Cindy Jagneaux

    When the hurricanes come and dump oil across the south because BP made little effort to get the oil out of the gulf and wasted time with all the failed attempts to stop the flow when we all know the 2 wells they were forced to drill provide the only real solution to the problem quit throwing away the funds we could use to fix this

    May 31, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Catherine


    I know you are doing the best you can, with the Oil spill. He did not bulid the rig or put the Rig in the Guif. BP did it. They are not trying hard , that is Bp. They knew when they put the rig down for the frist time they did it wrong and did not care. This not Obama who did that it was BP. Support our President. He will do his job well about this oil spill.

    May 31, 2010 at 6:57 am |
  4. Caron Speas

    Dear Mr. President:

    Thank God you are intelligent enough to know that the President of the United States does not have to be knee deep in an oil spill directing the masses of response workers, in order to be in charge. I would rather your attention be on the war, the economy, the Korea tensions, etc. and leave the clean up of this mess to the scientists, technicians, and laborers. You didn't create it and you are blameless in it. Its the right wing boneheads (you know, those folks who always lecture us about personal responsibility) who cannot take responsibility for a decade of financial de-regulation (the great recession) and oil industry de-regulation (the great oil spill) who are to blame. In fact, these boneheads (GOP Sen. Vitter) are saying we should drill some more! These right wing nuts have destroyed our country and they are busy blaming you. They are utterly insane!!! I used to think that they were rational like us, but with a different point of view. No longer. Now I know they are wacko and need to have their voting rights taken away on grounds of incapacity and incompetence.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:39 pm |
  5. Robert Adams

    Mr. President, why Doesn't BP keep using Top Kill to keep the oil out of the Gulf. Since far less oil flows out of the well into the Gulf when drilling mud, why wouldn't it when pumping salt water using Top Kill!!!!!!!!! Why wasn't this method used from day 5 and keep using it until the pipe is cut and the new oil catcher is added to the cleanly cut piping? If Top Kill stopped the oil from escaping. They reported that mostly drilling mud was escaping from the well during Top KIll, so keep pumping like in Top Kill, but pump readily available salt water. The #1 Priority should be to keep the oil in the well by whatever means will do it. Sounds like a good solution to keep the oil from escaping into the Gulf until a permanent fix can be completed in August, or earlier.

    May 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  6. Cathi

    Mr. President
    Please, please, please stick to your guns and STOP off shore drilling! These oil companies are all about profit and the proof is they have no idea on how to stop this spill. Just drill and worry about problems as they come up is their operating m.o.
    Hopefully this spill won't kill all of our oceans.
    Don't give into the pressure of politicians that get their campaign funding from oil companies. You will be remembered for this by our children and their children as the president who helped to save our planet from evil money grabbing corporations.

    May 30, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  7. allan phillips

    I have drawn up plans for a device that can completly shut of the gulf oil leak 100%. It can be built for a minimal expence in two days and will allow the well head to be intact and in full operation. I have tried to contact the coast guard but they tell me to get with B.P.If I can get someone in authoity to look at the drawing they will see it's factual.

    May 30, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  8. RoyPaw

    BP Oil company, if they can let this well flow freely for over one month and only concerned about capturing oil for 2 months while relief wells are drilled, then try replacing ALL of the inadeqate BOP components.
    If it takes 2 weeks(alot better then a opened, uncontrolled flow).

    May 30, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  9. Paul E. Kerouac

    Every gardner knows the benefits of compost. Every state produces millions of tons of compost from waste treatment facilities. This compost can safely disolve the oil spills from the Gulf. Oil is a hydro carbon and micro biological activity available in mature compost disolves hydro carbons safely. Kindly send this to our President for a possible solution.

    Paul E. Kerouac Sr.

    May 30, 2010 at 7:53 am |
  10. Aleksander Nikoghosyan

    I think I know how to close this oil leak. My idea is very simple. In a 15 feet far from leaking well make a dug-hole 30 feet deep. put in explosive in the direction of leaking well and blow up. The wave from explosion must move sea bedrock and squeeze the well. Sory for my English I just want to help.

    May 30, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  11. joe

    Stop balming the Presedent these poeple did not even want him in office so they don't want him in charge of this something that they love and idol very much oil and gas its thier bread and butter thats why we survive the recession what no problem and TX did to rember people who is from Teaxs its all about money. BP and the State of LA is try to save money this why they want more offshore drilling they have all the technolgy they need start a well in matter of months man power which is high paying jobs. Its all about who you know not what you i live down here this is a red state remeber he does't no nothing about this call Bush and Chenny they invested thier money in this they allowed it so wake up people.

    May 29, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  12. w winacott

    Who took away all the rules to stop this from happening???I know that industry will act in the upmost honesty .. never have they ever put safety at the top of their list ,and you are dreaming if you think they are going to re-emburse the people I have a new sub-division with cheap lots on mars !!!! X oil safety man.. bill winacott

    May 29, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  13. w winacott

    after working in the oil patch as a saftey ma ,if BP can cut the pipe of the blow out preventer ,why don't they run a packer unit through it and shut the flow that way what the H are they using this other crap for !!!! they will BS you for ever !! remember ,the gulf burning and Red Adair said he would be fighting fires for the next ten years,good thing those dumb canadians went to help!!! william

    May 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  14. Marv Werner

    During the first week, our government should have had dozens and dozens of skimmer ships swarming over that oil slick. At $80 a barrel, you'd think everyone with the means to collect that oil would be down there doing it and delivering it to the oil refineries that are nearby. Nearly 50 days after the initial break, we still aren't doing anything of significance. At least none of the news media is saying or showing anything. Why aren't they? Thats where the emphisis should be. BP can fix the leak, but we should be in there cleaning up the mess and charging BP for the work done. Maybe Carvil can get something going with his big mouth.

    May 29, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  15. Michael

    Dear Mr. President,
    I always become seriously concerned when there is a crucial situation that no one is doing anything about. If you ask anyone about the well head leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico, you invariably get the obligatory walking in a circle and waving arms in the air erratically.
    I am surprised that all these engineers and marine oil well drilling "experts" haven't even come up with any viable ideas to even slow the oils progress after one months time.
    I suggest we lower a shipping container full of C-4 down to the broken well head, get everyone to a safe distance, and detonate. The leak is under water so it can't burn. Maybe after the debris settles, the ocean floor would be the same way it was before we all went there to find gas to put in our cars.
    Do something now, even if it is wrong,
    Thank you, concerned American Citizen.

    May 29, 2010 at 5:48 am |
  16. Michael Gretsch

    Hi, Tom. I remember you when you were here in New Orleans at WWL TV Ch. 4. I miss your movie reviews.Let me say something to you and Anderson, if not the whole country. You guys and girls- at CNN are our ONLY steadfast, strong and seemingly constant voice down here in New Orleans and Louisiana. We, as a Greater New Orleans Region, get more attention, concern and genuinely-perceived leadership, from Anderson Cooper,than we do our own so-called, Commander-in-Chief. What a joke and disappointment this President has turned out to be. I always thought him to talk a big talk–but not walk the big walk– and be as distant and unconcerned as an actor with no script to read from. Why is it, this President doesn't have the capacity to speak with any emotion ? I also think the federal gov't is in collusion with BP. How else can they get away with so many lies and blatant falsehoods, and dis-or misinformation ? I am, and have been a New Orleanian my whole life. And I know you and Anderson are, or were from here at one time or another. It just seems now–at least from my perspective–that this disconnected,cold, incompetent, leaderless administration-that those in D.C. and points north- are just perturbed and inconvenienced to have to even speak to us at all. Even during a National Catastrophe !! I am trying to choke back tears as I type these words. Why is it that the rest of the country just doesn't give a damn about us? At least it seems that way to me. Why are we the red-headed step-child of the country ? They don't care about us–but they sure need our energy–and Seafood !! Lots of States wouldn't even exist today if it weren't for the Louisiana Purchase. People need to be reminded of our history. We were short-ended in Geography–and then 1812 happened. Only THIS time–there's no General Jackson to defend us in Battle. The candle's in the window are now : two if by sea-and we are being invaded by the British all over again-and no one seems to care. If it weren't for the energy flowing through, and from, our shores–a lot of you people up north wouldn't be able to put your lights on at night. Plus–our Fisheries supply 35-40% of the fish that YOU ALL eat. Then Katrina happened. So, now the oil comes,and comes, and comes-–and now we have Hurricane Season 2010 to deal with–which is forecasted to be high in activity. Why doesn' t this President leave D.C–and move down here for Hurricane Season to help us ? I mean REALLY HELP US-ALTRUISTCALLY. If I were Commander-in-Chief, I would do nothing less–regardless of where this took place in the country. Why don't y'all up there just stick a fork in us ? We're done-and our way of life is slowly dying. We should just Secede- angrily and hastily- from the Union that can't stand us. We may get better and quicker aide if we were our own nation !!!!

    May 29, 2010 at 4:32 am |
  17. sarah

    Yes very well said there...The government doesnt care about us down here..they let Katrina totally displace us and now their letting the oil over take our beaches and marshes..wheres our wildlife gonna go? where can they flee....we can get in our car if the oil spill doesnt raise prices of gas..but the animals are stuck...Let someone in the office thats know how to run a country please...

    May 29, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  18. sharon mckee

    Mr. President, Please send all the booms and ships (oil skimmers) that you can muster. This is getting so out of control its headed for Mobile Bay. To kill our wild life there too. It must stay out of the marshes.You can wait on permits, until its too late, or just do what great presidents would do and just do it. Cost means nothing concerning the GulfCoast.No greater part of the country then there. The people are unique as are their wild life. It all must be saved! You are the only one who can do this.

    May 29, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  19. sharon mckee

    Mr. President,
    I campained for you, sent money for your election. I belived in you. Having the first blackman as president made me so proud of this counrty.You carry the ball for freedom and whats right. This might be unfair to expect more, but you stated over and over there would be change's. This looks to me like more of the same. I want so badly to believe in that man who campained tirelessly,sending the message of change to millions of americans,and others across the world. But not sending clean-up 3 weeks ago to Lousiannna and allowing BP to be so slick with all of us,sends me into the gates of hell. Im so fearful of a total loss to not just Lousianna but all the water up and down the coast lines. Its already headed for Mobile bay. It will kill all of the wild life there too and throw the economy into a tailspin we might not recover from. I live back in California now, but spent 2 years on the Mobile Bay, loving the wild life. I sold my home to move back to California but if that is all lost there , the wonderful Gulf people will never again be the same. Please my dear president, send all the help to the Gulf as soon as humanly possible, start the clean-up all over the parrish's.The American people would rather pay higher taxes then to loose the environment we live in.Its a sacred area and only you can send the help with great urgency, to help them to get the oil up and out. Ask for volunteers. I would gladly help to do anything to keep the wet lands free of oil. Also James Carvel on CNN I know has been critical of the situation and has pissed people off. But not me, He loves his cajun land, he loves his president, but he has right to feel such anguish. He is telling you right, the people all feel the same.This does not have to be your waterloo..You have a chance to be the Best all time presidents but the hour is near. Send all you can muster.
    Sincerely, your public servent.

    May 29, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  20. theresa Wax

    Thank you Tom, for saying the things I feel, but cannot so eloquently say.
    How could the President just "drop in" to this catastrophe, change his barely soiled shoes to avoid soiling Air Force One, and fly away to vacation in Chicago? As the plane lifted off, over that heartbroken place, did he even glance out the window at the Gulf?
    That place is part of America. It is as though he couldn't wait to show up, and then get out of there. What would it have hurt him to sit with some locals, eat a couple of their oysters, and just listen for a few minutes? Isn't that what human beings do when others are grieving and afraid? In a crisis, you never forget who came to be near you, and did not keep glancing at the door.

    May 29, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  21. I. D. Williams

    May 29, 2010

    Keep up the good work Tom. All the people of America need to read your letters.

    Our president sold us a bunch of nothing and we the voters bought it. He surrounded himself with political "hacks" who contribute nothing to the Administration. He needs to become more humble. He is serving as our president; he needs to realized the people do not serve him. The path he is taking the country down will destroy us and we are getting closer and closer every day to the end.

    I cry for the people of Louisiana; first Katrina and now this. And I can't even think about the poor animals and the wild life. The spill will take decades if not centuries to clean up. Americans cannot believe that if the Administration had thrown all its efforts at the spill when it first happened, this would still be going on...after all we are Americans and we can do anything we set our minds on, including voting to change our government in the next election.

    BP is responsible and should be made to pay. The fact that they arrogantlychoose not to keep the government advised is evidence enough of their disregard for the U.S. And the President doesn't see this?

    His people aren't very with it, are they? What a wonderful opportunity he missed today but he chose to breeze through the area. He was obviously uncomforable; he wasn't arrogantly striding around like he usually does when he is on stage. He should have come down to the area with his family and stayed for the holiday. What a great shot in the arm that would have been for the area and its people.

    Let us hope that the hurricane season holds off until this mess is cleared up, because if not, our entire state is in deep trouble. It only takes one; whether it be a hurricane or an oil spill, doesn't it?

    Keep up the good work...keep telling it like it is.

    I thought funny that the President asked the head of the parish to call him first before he called Anderson Cooper. That should tell the American voters something, if they want to see it.; the President doesn't want any more press on this matter...another cover-up in the making.

    May 29, 2010 at 12:24 am |
  22. Mike Bradford

    I have never in 44 years of living wanted to talk to our President until this last week, this truly is a disaster the likes of which this country has never seen! My son and I have made 2 trips every year for the last 6yrs to Venice La. and it truly is gods country down there, why Mr.Obama did you visit a location where the oil hasnt really hit? Go out the S.W pass and take a look around at the true result of yours and BP's dragging your feet on this clean up! Why are you telling us the numbers of people and ships involved in this clean up, when clearly that number should be quadrupled! You said that some things may not be cost effective???? Is there a price that we need to stay under to save OUR GULF? This truly saddens me that in Greatest country in the world with some of the brightest minds in the world we cant stop this and get it cleaned up BEFORE it hits our wetlands.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  23. Indar Ahluwalia - Vancouver, BC

    Yesterday on the CBC the former head of Shell oil said he had been suggesting this solution to BP for three weeks now.

    Apparently back in the 90's there was a major spill off the coast of Saudi Arabia, which went unpublished. In that case they brought in six super tankers which literally sucked up the oil from the water and prevented oil from reaching that countries shores.

    Of course one of the problems is diverting these super tankers which are already busy transporting more oil for the struggling oil companies.

    Is the solution to this huge disaster being ignored because of the almighty dollar?

    May 28, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  24. Beverley

    Dear President Obama:

    I hope during your visit to the Gulf that you saw the Marshes/Wetlands as well as the Brown water of thick, sticky oil in the Gulf. This is the real story.

    Everything I saw only showed you in front of Blue Water picking up small pieces of oil mixed with sand. A ridiculously bland picture of what's really happening.

    Pls. pay attention to the locals as they know what's needed to try to clean up this mess and prevent more damage.

    A Concerned Canadian

    May 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  25. Lillian

    Mr. Obama in charge, not in that nice shirt,nice shoes, walking on a sandy beach, great staging job, the public, wants to see him in a boat, cleaning a pelican, that is casping for its last breath,the president need a reality check, he is hoping that the media will forget about this and move on, please to him just what the media can do, where is the clean up group, who is caring about the birds,fish and the beauty of the ocean,who is going to tell the story of the jobless people,caused by the BP,Oh and by the way they need to be watch and see who that pay off next to shut up. Keep up the great work and reporting.

    May 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  26. Annie Kate

    "Your response to this disaster is still looking inadequate at best, inconsequential at worst."

    Thank you for saying that Tom. The statement is spot on and I hope Obama will heed it. Granting permits for offshore drilling shortchanges the people of this country if there is no tested plan to take care of spills or other accidents – its evident BP didn't have a plan to deal with this; and the government didn't either.

    May 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  27. `Chris Brunner

    keep sending those letters Tom, because I keep fowarding theim to everyone I know and everyone they know. Thank you
    Do the words "malecowdroppings' play a big role in this disaster. Seems to be as much of that going around as the oil.

    May 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  28. Gail Duncan

    Money talks. It is more than one man calling the shots here. It is way past time we truly break down how government truly works and how we can make it work for us. Again, money talks and big wigs are still pulling the chains. Or?

    May 28, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  29. Patricia Herig

    BP may be fooling you, but they ain' t fooling me. And neither or you! Mr. President.

    May 28, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  30. Donna Dell

    Right. Why isnt he accepting help and equipment from other countries. . . We will have to wait to build more. . . WHAT.

    May 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  31. Tammy Christine

    Yes we all know how bad the situation is down there with our beachs and the kind wildlife being distroyed by the moment.. However as hard as this time may be, our best defence, is humor.. And might I add yours is amazing.. Our pres is doing the very best he can with what is..shine it on dear, you are blessed with humor and that above all else can heal humanity including our waters and wild life. With love tc

    May 28, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  32. Kirsten Verdi, San Antonio, TX

    He looks pathetic in his "Sunday's Best" on that picture at the beach which seem one of the least contaminated. put im in a Hazmat suit and send him out on a boat into the marsh where all the pelicans nest, suffer and die right before his eyes, make him use "'Dawn" to wash the birds, too.

    May 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  33. Debbie Alaimo

    Dear Mr. President,
    More needs to be done, the future of our earth depends on it. There is no time to waste, enough damage is already done, We need your help , and we need it today.
    Respectively, Debbie Alaimo

    May 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  34. Isabell from Indiana

    Well said Tom! I couldn't have said it better.

    May 28, 2010 at 1:52 pm |