July 8th, 2010
10:07 AM ET

Letter to the President #535: 'The trouble with techies'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/08/restorethegulf_web.jpg caption="I mean, anyone looking at RestoreTheGulf.gov would have no strong hint that there has been, or continue to be any actual problems with anything down there." width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: The White House has unveiled a new oil spill response website. So I’m unveiling a new “not too impressed with that” letter to the president.

Dear Mr. President,

Since the beginning of your Administration your staff members have prided themselves on being all techie with a snazzy Internet presence, fancy kryptonite BlackBerries, tweets, beeps, and iPods surgically implanted in their skulls. I imagine a team meeting there gives off enough radio waves to be picked up by truckers in Portugal.

And I think all that techs-pertise has created an unfortunate tendency to respond to every crisis, eventually, with a website. And, of course, you’ve done it again with this newly unveiled site about the oil spill. Like every site you roll out over there, it looks great; nice sharp pictures, clean graphics, and a sense of a situation under control. But frankly, I think that’s part of the problem. Because making something “look good,” is quite different than making it “be good.”

I mean, anyone looking at RestoreTheGulf.gov would have no strong hint that there has been, or continue to be any actual problems with anything down there. The headlines seem to be all about the “fast reaction,” the “rehabilitated pelicans,” and Vice President Biden's visit to the sandy shores. I found precious little about your once-ballyhooed investigation into possible criminal charges against BP, or the continued and astonishing lack of a reasonably definitive number on how much oil is gushing each day, or or or…

From the lovely little sea oats at the top of the home page, to all those bright little links that follow, it looks like somehow this whole story has been a made for PR moment of specialness. Or to put it more to the point: This looks like something BP made. Without directly saying it, the website gives the impression of an unbroken chain of government responsiveness, outstanding corporate citizenship, and happy Gulf Coasters basking in the love of a tragedy gone right. And unless a person has been hidden away like a hermit crab for the past couple of months, he or she knows that is just not so. For crying out loud, 11 people died; thousands of others have either lost or are in the process of losing their livelihoods and the value of their homes; and the complaints against both the government and BP’s performance have become a huge part of this. To launch a page that does not even tip its hat to all of that seems misleading.

I’m surprised in many ways. Remember all the kerfuffle over your “jobs created or saved by the stimulus” website? It had all sorts of problems.

Bottom line: A website that accurately reflects both what is going wrong and what is going right can be tremendously useful. But one that smacks of being primarily a sales job can actually make things worse, by convincing people you still don’t recognize or want to admit how badly things have gone.

Sorry to give you two tough letters in a row, but then I suppose folks in the Gulf were sorry to wake up to oil again this morning too.

Hope all is well. Give me a buzz if you get a moment.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. K S Verdi, San Antonio, TX

    Dear Mr. Foreman, keep writing these letters. Each day the Obama administration gets worse your letters get better. 😉

    July 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Barbarajean Adams

    Thank you for writing how I was feeling about the government website. Its beyond words how frustrated and infuriated I feel about the situation in the gulf. The government and BP are walking around with rose-colored glasses... who knows maybe they will be handing those out soon as well so we can all see the spill the way they see it.

    Shame on this government and BP for destroying a lush, beautiful area of wetlands and beaches and marinelife and wildlife. More importantly, for stealing the heart, soul, livelihood and hope from the people who live and work there. I ask you BP and our government...how do you sleep at night?

    July 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  3. just_jotter

    Brilliant and well said Mr. Forman. I hope that the President reads this over his oysters at lunch. Oh...wait...

    July 8, 2010 at 12:03 pm |