Video: ‘We care about the small people’

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    >> never have happened. bp , we have always met our obligations and responsibilities, and we have made clear from the first moment of this tragedy that we will live up to all our legitimate responsibilities. we have agreed today with the president a framework that should assure the american people that we mean what we saw. we will look after the people affected, and we will repair the damage to this region, the environmental damage to this region and to the economy. we are announcing today, as you heard from the president, a $20 billion commitment to make sure that all proper claims are handled swiftly and fairly. we have also announced an indpt independe independent adjudicator to ensure the right people will get the right money at the right time. the bp board decided we will not pay any further dividends this year. we made it clear to the president that words are not enough. we understand we will and we should be judged by our actions. what has been clear today is that this company and this administration are aligned in closing up the well and cleaning the beaches and caring for those who are affected. finally, i would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the american people on behalf of all the employees in bp . many of whom are living on the gulf coast . and i do thank you for the patience that you have in this difficult time. through our actions and commitments, we hope that over long term, that we will regain the trust that you have in us. thanks a lot, and i will give a couple of questions.

    >> i want to ask you, did bp take safety short cuts on the deepwater horizon?

    >> we are going through a series of investigations. we will do our own independent investigation where we will scrutinize everything that we do to make sure that we understand the route cause of the tragic accident because it shouldn't happen. i have no further comments on that.

    >> that was a long meeting. what were the sticking points and points of disagreept that had to be resolved. and are you concerned about illegitimate payments?

    >> i think it was a very constructive meeting. and it is a meeting that includes many different parts. and it is important to get all the language right. but the determination and the ambition to get through this was clear from the beginning.

    >> how long did you spend with the president itself?

    >> i spent a fair amount of time. and i must say that he is -- he comes across as a -- he is frustrated, because he cares about the small people . and we care about the small people . i hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don't care. but that is not the case in bp . we care about the small people .

msnbc.com
updated 6/16/2010 8:55:32 PM ET 2010-06-17T00:55:32

BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg’s apologized Wednesday for "clumsily" referring to people impacted by the Gulf oil spill as "the small people."

His statement followed a day of vitriolic reaction from folks in person along the Gulf and online who did not cut the Swedish-born executive any slack for trying to speak colloquially in a second language.

First, Svanberg’s first quote:

“And we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.”

Toby Odone, a spokesman for BP, told The Associated Press: “What he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation.”

Late Wednesday afternoon Svanberg issued his own apology:

"I spoke clumsily this afternoon, and for that, I am very sorry. What I was trying to say — that BP understands how deeply this affects the lives of people who live along the Gulf and depend on it for their livelihood — will best be conveyed not by any words but by the work we do to put things right for the families and businesses who've been hurt. Like President Obama, I believe we made some good progress toward that goal today."

Earlier, Svanberg had become an Internet meme. The first responses came in on Twitter:

  • @NicoleLapin: Did $bp chairman svanberg really just call people of the gulf- fishermen and hotel owners- "small people"?!!
  • @tnyCloseRead: How big of him: RT @tpmmedia BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg: "We care about the small people."

Local residents echoed the responses in interviews:

  • Orange Beach, Ala., Mayor Tony Kennon: "They can call me small, miniature, they can call me anything they want. Just write the check and send it to us." On the $20 billion in an escrow fund, he joked, "They better be lucky I called off the invasion of 10,000 rednecks with their rifles headed toward England anyway."
  • Justin Taffinder of New Orleans: "We're not small people. We're human beings. They're no greater than us. We don't bow down to them. We don't pray to them."
  • Lyn Ridge, 47, a commercial contractor ferrying reporters to see oil clean up operations in a bay at Plaquemines Parish, shaking his head and figuring the spill swallowed half the value of his house on the water in Myrtle Grove: "They can say he didn't mean it that way, but that's how they think of us. They can't keep their foot out of their mouth."
  • Terry Hanners, 74, construction company owner in Gulf Shores, Ala.: "These BP people I've met are good folks. I've got a good rapport with them. But BP does not care about us. They are so far above us. We are the nickel-and-dime folks of this world."

Over at the Village Voice, Jen Doll cleared it up for Svanberg: “Oh BP, when will you learn? It’s not small people, it’s Little People! Jeez.”

She goes on to say Svanberg redeemed himself:

“But BP does a solid to the public (if not their shareholders) by also announcing that the company won't be paying dividends to stockholders for the remainder of 2010 — a pretty major move that’s sure to rankle investors.”

The consensus, however, seemed to be summed up in this a Facebook post by Bill Shein, a columnist for the Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle — he called Svanberg’s comments the “world's most damning, condescending, utterly revealing statement EVAH!”

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

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