Nightly News   |  June 16, 2010

'Small people' comment causes big flap for BP

BP's Chairman drew fire Wednesday for referring to Gulf residents as "the small people," a gaffe that may have sprung from a language barrier but angered already weary residents in the disaster zone. NBC's Ron Mott reports.

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HOLT: all this was received along the Gulf Coast and that comment from BP 's chairman calling residents the small people , which rubbed an already weary community the wrong way. NBC 's Ron Mott is in Pensacola , Florida , tonight.

RON MOTT reporting: The frustration with BP along the Gulf Coast escalated today, and that small comment from the oil company's chairman is a big reason why. In Louisiana , a restaurant worker was steaming.

Ms. MICHELLE TERREBONNE (Grand Isle Cook): We're not small down here. We take care of ourselves. Give us a situation, we can handle it.

MOTT: On Pensacola Beach , this real estate broker was baffled and offended.

Mr. JOHN PINZINO (Real Estate Broker): We're certainly not small people . This is a beautiful part of the country, and don't know why he's doing that.

MOTT: Does it anger you?

Mr. PINZINO: Yes, it does. It makes me very angry.

MOTT: And Gulf Coast historian Douglas Brinkley says this is becoming familiar.

Mr. DOUGLAS BRINKLEY (Historian): But every time a BP executive opens their mouths, whether it's in a commercial or on a talk show, they do more damage than they good -- than good they do.

MOTT: While news of BP 's $20 billion escrow account, money set aside to pay damage claims, was welcome, the mayor of Orange Beach , Alabama , says he's being told the check's in the mail.

Mr. TONY KENNON (Orange Beach, Alabama, Mayor): If we don't get cash in the bank soon, because of the way our economy works down here, we're going to have beautiful beaches, but we're going to be a ghost town.

MOTT: All this on the heels of President Obama 's first Oval Office address Tuesday night getting a cool reception today.

Mr. GARLAND ROBINETTE (WWL Radio): What I heard from President Obama last night gave me confidence in nothing.

MOTT: On talk radio in New Orleans , disappointment that the president offered few specifics about cleanup and restoration plans.

Offscreen Voice #2: I think last night's speech left us wanting. You said it best. It was a disappointment.

Pres. OBAMA: The time to embrace a clean energy future is now.

MOTT: Mayor Kennon met with the president Monday, saying he was optimistic about what he heard -- until last night.

Mr. KENNON: I really don't give a damn about a clean energy bill. I'm worried about paying the bills.

MOTT: Worries now mixed with even more frustration. Ron Mott, NBC News, Pensacola Beach .