Make Hayward Yacht in the Gulf

BP CEO proves again he’s one oar short with his nautical nonsense. But we’re the ones who could be sunk.

With Tony (“I would like my life back”) Hayward apparently ever so keen on yachting, perhaps he should bring his 52-foot boat “Bob” (oh, that dry upper-class British wit!) to this defiled side of the pond for a sail around the Gulf of Mexico.

Not that he – or “Bob” – would get very far. Oil, water and yachting, after all, don’t mix.

Neither, apparently, do Hayward and common sense – or common decency.

The news over the weekend that Hayward returned home to watch his craft compete in a corporate-sponsored yacht race around the Isle of Wight, is, by parts, comical, inexplicable and infuriating – with infuriating winning by many knots.

Hayward’s yacht may have placed fourth out of 45 at the J. P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race Saturday, but he’s established himself the clear victor of the Smug-Face-of-Corporate-Callousness-and-Cluelessness Olympics.

His whine about wanting his life back in the days after the oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and wrought what may be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history was cruel. BP’s vacillating estimates of the number of barrels spurting into the Gulf per day and the company's ever-changing declarations of containment success have proven, to put it lightly, insulting.

Hayward’s lack of answers for Congress Thursday painted, at best, a frightening picture of a corporate CEO out of touch with crucial decisions made by his own company.

“Out of touch” seems to sum up the Tony Hayward experience.

Few would begrudge Hayward a day with his teenage son nearly two months into this nightmare. Next time, though, maybe they should just go to a movie – instead of watching a bunch of dandies race expensive boats in apparently unsullied waters as untold working folks see their livelihoods and our ecosystem flounder amid a growing, oily tidal wave.

But our environmental fate is tied in an unexpected way to Hayward: in a sense, the more he screws up the public relations game, the bigger losers the rest of us risk becoming.

We’re all looking for a villain, or, as President Obama put it, an “ass to kick.” Hayward seems to fit the bill.

But sometimes, concentrating too much of our ire on perceived bad guys can draw focus from larger, systemic problems – and from the victims. Bernie Madoff may be the vile face of greed run amok, but already we’re in danger of forgetting what caused the larger economic crisis  – and overlooking its victims.

The primary symbols of the Gulf tragedy should be the oil-soaked pelicans and the live video footage of the gusher – not the image of an arrogant swell at a boat race. We need to use our anger, not just to vent over one oblivious CEO’s nautical nonsense, but to fuel the push for the cleanup and for lasting change.

Otherwise, we’re sunk.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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