The AP photo that BP hoped would never appear

pelican in oil


I predict this AP photo by Charlie Riedel will win a Pulitzer. It is one of those images you will remember forever — it is that searing.

Despite me being a teenager at the time, I can still remember the personal impact of first seeing the Pulitzer Prize images that defined the Viet Nam War era: one of a young girl fleeing her village after a napalm bomb was dropped on it; the execution of a Viet Cong Captain and the iconic Kent State massacre photo of Mary Ann Vecchio.

I’m not suggesting that an oil-covered bird is the same level of tragedy as the loss of life depicted in those photos from the Viet Nam War era. Rather, my point is that an image captured in less than 1/32nd of a second can be an image that captures the essence of a story that takes months or years to unfold.

Like those earlier photos, this photo too could be the image that changes the minds of many people regarding that which they may have been convinced before seeing it.

Later: Despite my claim that BP’s problem is not merely one of PR (in other words, even the most skilled and telegenic CEO could not have helped ), I will admit the CEO they have provides the un-role model of what should be the “voice” of an organization at a time like this. This sentence from an article in Friday’s New York Times captures my opinion well: “Instead of reassuring the public, critics say, Mr. Hayward has turned into a day-after-day reminder of BP’s public relations missteps in responding to the crisis, which began six weeks ago and looks likely to continue well into the summer.”