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!”
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