- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The winter hysteria season is almost upon us, and soon we’ll be awash in epidemics (pandemics, too), death notices and graveyard diggings, runaway Toyotas and swarms of killer bees.

Just as soon as we bury the last of the millions of men, women and children who died after eating a cocktail of Gulf shrimp poisoned by the BP oil well, exposure to the burning of surface oil or from a fatal fall tripping over a tar ball on a blackened beach, we must get on with new frights and alarums.

Or maybe not. The feds, who manufactured much of the oil spill hysteria (in connivance with press and tube), now concede that Chicken Little was misinformed. The Food and Drug Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (who knew that the oceans and the atmosphere require federal administration?) say that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat.

The feds report that less than 1 percent of the tested 1,735 samples of shrimp, crabs, oysters and a variety of fish showed any chemicals or other bad stuff. Oysters are as slippery and slimy as ever, there will always be that last tiny bit of shell in the crab cake, but once swallowed the fruit of the sea won’t be fatal or even sick-making. The tested samples contained levels of contaminants far below the “safety threshold” of 100 parts per million for fish, 500 parts per million for shrimp, crabs and oysters. A wily old catfish pulled from the bottom of the bayou will be far more “contaminated” than that.

“This new test should help strengthen consumer confidence in seafood,” the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration says. “There is no question Gulf seafood coming to market is safe from oil or dispersant residue.”

Now she tells us. There was more good news from the federal hysteria-mongers of yore. The Environmental Protection Agency, which is not in the business of spreading good news, now says the level of cancer-causing chemicals released during the controlled burns of the BP oil spill was so minuscule that the agency is no longer concerned about the risk to residents and visitors to the Gulf. The chemical emissions from the oil fires on the surface of the sea was about in line with the risks from forest fires and residential fireplaces (like those in the White House).

Only yesterday we were all doomed. The mainstream media happily joined the din of weeping and wailing, the voices predicting nature’s wrath to come. Time magazine said President Obama was braced for terrifying “images of oiled birds and blackened shorelines,” and a contributor to Arianna Huffington’s blogsplash cried that the oil spill had exposed the “oiliness” of the president’s passionate embrace of offshore drilling. Paul Krugman of the New York Times grandly decreed that the political landscape had been “radically transformed,” and that environmentalists would never again be on the defensive. “Suddenly environmental destruction is photogenic again,” he wrote. Bigots, racists, nativists, bloviators and others similarly benighted would have to shut up, act like good little boys and girls, and pay attention to their betters.

The idea that government is the enemy, wrote Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, was officially kaput: “Through oil-fouled water, big government looks better and better.” (That word never got to the voters on Nov. 2.) The real enemy, as big media insisted, was BP and everyone who touched the British oil giant, all colluding in sacrificing safety for profit.

But now even that canard has been put to bed, if not necessarily to sleep. A panel appointed by President Obama to investigate the oil spill has concluded that BP and other contractors misinterpreted data and made other mistakes of honest judgment, but there is no evidence that anyone sacrificed safety for money. “We are not saying that everything done was perfectly safe, but we are saying that people had said people traded safety for dollars, and we’ve studied the hell out of this and we don’t see a person, or three people, sitting there at a table, considering safety and costs and giving up safety for costs.”

Spreading hysteria is always more fun than dealing with facts, and government bureaucracies share their DNA with sharks. Bureaucrats, like the great whites, have to consume, to snatch sustenance when and where they find it, or die. The search for something on which to feed is constant, and hysteria is the most reliable bait.

c Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.