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Will TV blitz get White House to focus on Gulf?

From Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric anchoring their evening newscasts standing in the sand with the Gulf of Mexico behind them, to C-SPAN asking as its question of the day whether enough is being done, the media this week has embraced the British Petroleum oil story like nothing else since the showdown vote on health care reform.

Of course, the geyser of coverage starting in recent days and nights is the result of some of the oil from the BP's busted off-shore well reaching land after weeks of it moving from the site of the deep-sea well toward America's beaches, fishing grounds, estuaries and wild life sites. Now the horror of what BP's lack of safety standards and the administration's lack of adequate monitoring can be seen in the images of dead turtles and birds covered in thick awful tar.

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Now, it's a much easier TV story to tell. And it's being told from all angles -- including underwater as Sam Champion, weatherman for ABC's "Good Morning America," strapped on Hazmat and Scuba gear to show what the mess looked like from below this morning.

I'm not criticizing any of the TV newsies who just now showed up in the Gulf Coast to cover the story -- not at all. But let's not forget the folks like NBC's Brian Williams, who was anchoring from the Gulf Coast back on May 3 for NBC and MSNBC, and the NPR correspondents who have been hitting this story smart and hard for weeks when it was not such a slam dunk to report.

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But I say congratulations to everyone who is on the story now, because from what I have seen the last few days, collectively the media are opening our eyes to so many facts about off-shore drilling, the fragility of the eco-system and the economics of natural resources. And these are key facts in issues that are regularly debated on call-in radio and cable TV shows by partisans and citizens who have only opinions, and almost no credible information on which to make independent judgments beyond the words of the ideologues selling their political snake oil.

The army of journalists now in the Gulf is also helping voters to see clearly what the administration of President Barack Obama is or isn't capable of when it comes to such a crisis. So far, the administration seems far more focused on rhetoric and cover-your-butt press conferences than meaningful action. And what we learn about the President's team in the Gulf in coming days will have consequences in the midterm elections, I suspect.

Something else I have noticed in watching the coverage: Some of the older conventions of broadcast TV news still have much power despite all the tremendous technological change in methods of delivery.

I am thinking of Sawyer's town hall meeting on the spill with Gulf Coast residents in Marrero, La., that aired across various ABC News broadcast and online outlets Monday. The testimony from victims of the spill was illuminating and moving.

I am also thinking of Shepard Smith's commentary on Fox News last week when he sarcastically urged a BP executive to at least "act" like he cared about the devastation his company was responsible for.

An anchorman stepping out of a news presentation role to deliver clearly-labeled commentary, and an anchorwoman moderating a town hall meeting are old, tried-and-true broadcast news formulas stretching back to the 1950s. But they still did the job. In fact, they worked even better, thanks to all the varied audiences Sawyer and Shepard reached on cable, online and via mobile devices.

I hope the overwhelming presence and intense spotlight of broadcast media will finally get our TV president to focus on the Gulf and show that he can act decisively in time or crisis to protect our shores.

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