Shaking a fist at Monkeyfister

The end is near, or at least that’s what the blogger Monkeyfister would have you believe, based on his marathon live blogging of the oil spill as seen through the video feed from the ocean floor.

Witness these updates from Sunday:

UPDATE 1:20pm CDT: While watching, ANOTHER major “explosion” occurred. ROV Cam now covered in Oil. It was pushed around by the force of expulsion, or moved back a few feet by controllers. Our Favorite Disaster Bot is taking a beating. Gush seems to have at least doubled in size and volume.

UPDATE 6:03pm CDT: The current eruption is way, way worse than the several that occurred earlier. I think this might be a “Main Event” situation.”
UPDATE 11:51pmCDT: Another major eruption. These are not coming from the riser. They are coming in to view from elsewhere, even in the long, high-view shots. Sometimes from behind the ROV. Twenty-four hours of near non-stop SpillCam viewing, and not one look at the BOP.

Such observations served only to ratchet up anxiety. It was made worse as others online picked up on the hysteria, spreading it through Twitter and well-read sites.

Sensational for sure, but was it news?

Monkeyfister apparently gets a lot of his raw material from participating in the real-time forum Life After the Oil Crash.   While the forum itself has many different threads, one in particular is dedicated to people watching the spill cam. Newcomers ask what’s going on and get filled in by a key group of individuals who seem to be chained to the feed.

The forum describes itself in a way that suggests that it’s for people who are not wondering if the end is near, but for people who are actively preparing for it: “This forum is for people who recognize we are already in the midst of massive economic and environmental dislocations and would like to prepare for, mitigate, and minimize those dislocations in their own lives.”

Following Monkeyfister from the on-line observation deck back to his blog, you can see how this information is so compelling that others felt it worth spreading far and wide on the Internet.

All day Sunday, Monkeyfister observed an inexplicable explosion-like movement 5,000 feet below the surface. Within hours, alarm over a “collapsing” seafloor began to make its way across the blogosphere, hitting widely read national sites, including Firelakedog. The fearful cries are still out there, but no more context or verification has come out in support of the blogger analysis.

In short, who in heck knows what is really going on down there?

Firedoglake made its name with fanatical live blogging of the perjury trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr., former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.

The differences, however, between live blogging a trial and live blogging a massive underwater pipe leaking oil are manifold, and deep as… well, you get it.

Comments like this one started popping up on websites like The Oil Drum: “The seafloor appears to have collapsed after a series of explosions and all hell has broken loose at the head.  Apparently, the BOP blew up and all bets are off,” wrote a contributor named Mason, with a link back to Monkeyfister.

On Monday, Mason wrote a post on Firedoglake, and Monkeyfister posted to Corrente, another  site with considerable traffic.

This disaster has been slowly unfolding with great scientific uncertainty. Information deemed accurate is closely followed by contradictory information.

It’s difficult enough to make sense of daily developments without having to wonder if a blogger sitting somewhere has keen insider information or is treating the underwater feed like a video game with no true understanding about the need for fact-based information.

While the official word of BP inspires little confidence, the cries of Armageddon may actually induce uninformed panic in a region where informed panic is scary enough.

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About Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led to guilty pleas in federal court. Her work attracted some of journalism's highest honors, including a Peabody Award, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award and a gold medal from Investigative Reporters and Editors. She can be reached at (504) 606-6013.

  • civitch

    The reason that hysteria like this is spreading is that there is no reliable source of information. The federal government needs to embed itself in the information and decision-making loops so that there is an objective source. NO ONE trusts BP anymore.

  • What civitch said.


    It’s the greatest flaw of the 5th Esta … I mean Citizen Journ… I mean the Bloga… I mean people reporting things from their computers. There is very little accounting for truth. Then of course, it is also more sensational to post that the end is nigh. Therefore more hits, more attention. More notoriety actually. I actually saw it reported somewhere that the leak could create a “Yellowstone caldera” type extinction event. I should go post that on my blog.

    But it isn’t like the 24-hour channels are any better. When not reporting on Lindsey Lohan or Dancing With The Stars, they are bringing in “experts” to discuss world affairs and usually these experts are selling books and speculating.

  • I’m glad The Lens is on this. We generally try to distinguish with bylines, but so much info is flowing that sometimes we miss (or simply need the page space).
    BP controls every byte of info coming over every video feed from every remote sub, so I’m kinda glad that someone is obsessively screen-shooting every detail for analysis.
    Hence we will have the inherent conflicts of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

    Had it not been for SkyTruth doing the math on flow estimates based on other satellite shots, we would never have had the leverage to get BP to release ANY video. Once they did show the first video (sans time-stamps they ain’t That stupid), other smart people jumped on it and proved they had been lying.

    Nothing beats reporters on the ground though, and I’ve really been enjoying the way you folks have been swinging this disaster.
    Following the twitter feeds has been a bit ahead of my curve though… can y’all do a short Locale tag or something at the beginning like a real report? Short, just to let us (me:) catch up faster? You usually have the room in these short tweets. Still enjoying them though so there.
    Thanks youz.

  • Do feel free to do a media critique, with Monkey Fister, or anyone. Unfortunately, or fortunately, with the media environment dominated by public relations, whether from BP or the administration, and real reporting capabilities slashed to the bone at newspapers, volunteers step into the breach and fill the need. If there were reliable sources of information, it would make sense to shake your fist at people doing the best they can on their own time. Given the givens, I don’t think it does.

  • Monkeyfister

    Just posting what I see. BP’s Kent Wells has been pretty good about outlining the operations scheduled. Based on that, and what is happening in real time through the video feeds, it’s not difficult to figure out what’s happening, and when events are planned or unexpected.

    I am certainly not out to frighten anybody. People did take my words, and build-upon them in more and more embellishment. Not my intent. They really are in a race against time with this thing. We watched the Top-Kill and Junk Shot attempts fail last night. Today, they are already rigging and making preps from the LMRP installation.

    When BP’s transparency clears, then we’ll be able to stop staring at Bots.

    That said, color me scolded.


  • Actually, you should be afraid. More than that, you should be enraged. Louisiana has been dumped on again, and as with the rest of the country, if we don’t stop prostituting ourselves for the robber barons, we’re going to catch something that will kill us all.