BP Chief's Yacht, Obama's Golf: Tempests in a Teacup?

Let them have their leisure time, say pundits

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BP chief Tony Hayward, recently withdrawn from day-to-day handling of the Gulf oil spill due to PR problems, was seen yachting in the U.K. over the weekend. Reaction was pretty swift in the media: he "has to be completely tone-deaf," wrote Los Angeles Times' Patt Morrison. "This reaches beyond the titanic incompetence of BP's public relations," decided Jonathan Fenby at The Guardian.

Then the focus shifted, in the U.S. at least, to Obama. The RNC isn't happy with the president for golfing on Sunday. Neither are conservative bloggers, who say the media's criticism of Hayward and not Obama is a "double standard."

But, in an interesting counterpoint to the standard criticisms of the bad optics, a few journalists are defending not just Obama but Hayward as well. Why? Take a look:

  • This Isn't a Scandal The New Republic's Jonathan Chait gets the ball rolling with his emperor-has-no-clothes response to the Hayward yachting incident. The criticisms, he points out, are so feeble, logic-wise, that those leveling them are actually aware of it:
Does anybody assert that Hayward needs to be working seven days a week, every week? I doubt his role is actually so indispensable. So then is the outrage that, in his free time, he is indulging in the sort of activity available only to very wealthy men? I also fail to see how the crisis should force Hayward to pretend not to be rich.

Nobody really wants to make the case that Hayward can never relax, or that he can't spend his own money as he sees fit when he does relax. So instead the "controversy" is that it creates an appearance of a controversy. It's a fully postmodern scandal ... All these phrases--tone deaf, hard sell, public relations disaster--are fundamentally a dodge. Nobody can make the case that Hayward has done anything wrong here, so instead they make the case that other people will believe that Hayward has done something wrong.

  • 'A Great Chait Point,' Politico's Ben Smith deems it.
  • 'When Leisure Becomes a Political Issue'  NBC's First Read team, in turn, take on the Obama issue. Democrats, they note, "made similar attacks from 2001-2008 against George W. Bush," even involving the same sport--golf. Republicans, they say, are "essentially cut-and-past[ing]" these criticisms they used to brush off, and "re-apply[ing] [them] to Obama." While they note that, in fact, "Obama has gone on far fewer getaways than Bush ever did," they also find the entire line of attack a little misguided: "While optics matter, does anyone really think either the previous president or this one isn't constantly aware of the problems they are facing?"
  • 'It's All Theater,' Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal says succinctly of the yacht business, "given that neither Tony Hayward's presence at a yachting event or the Gulf of Mexico will have any bearing on how soon this disaster gets solved. He's got a reasonable explanation of the furor, though: "still, most people would probably prefer to see Hayward flagellate himself publicly for as long as this crisis goes on, rather than give himself a chance to clear his mind."
  • The One Legitimate Question in All This "Why," asks Politico's Ben White, voicing the query in everyone's minds, "is Tony Hayward's yacht named 'Bob?'" He wonders if this oddity, present in many of the reports, has "anything to do with the Bill Murray classic 'What About Bob?'" in which Murray is lashed to a sailboat.
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