Federal Cops to Gulf Journos: Don't Dig, It's Illegal

September 22, 2010

"What are you in for?" a grizzled inmate might ask some future jailed journalist. "Building sand castles," the journalist might well reply. Police officers from the US Fish & Wildlife Service and National Park Service are telling journalists they may not dig or build sand castles on public Gulf of Mexico beaches. The problem: they might discover that layers of oil lie beneath beaches the feds and BP have declared clean.

Forget what they taught you in J-school; the feds say journalists are not supposed to dig.

Don't believe us? Watch the video:



Reporter Dan Thomas of WEAR ABC 7 TV (Pensacola) ventured out to the Gulf Islands National Seashore September 18, 2010, toy beach shovel in hand. He quickly found layers of crude oil less than a foot below the surface — giving the lie to BP and government claims that beaches had been cleaned.

He was quickly accosted, first by a Fish & Wildlife agent, and then by a uniformed National Park Service police officer, and told that what he was doing was illegal. Illegal to report in a National Park without a press pass (Thomas had one). Illegal to dig in a National Park (this one was a tourist beach). Illegal to dig below 6 inches. Even illegal to build sand castles. And the officers left the impression that it might be illegal to ask why.

In fact, the feds have yet to document definitively that any of these things are illegal. They fit a larger pattern of BP and federal agents illegally restricting access to reporters trying to report on the impacts of the BP Gulf oil spill.

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