The U.S. Coast Guard put in place a new rule slapping journalists with felony charges, a $40,000 fine and one to five years in prison for coming too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission. Anderson Cooper of CNN says the new rule makes it "very easy to hide incompetence or failure." The Coast Guard rule prohibits vessels from coming within 20 meters (65 feet) of booming operations, boom or oil spill response operations "under penalty of law." But since oil spill cleanup operations are being conducted on most of the beaches, the rule bans reporters from just about everywhere they need to be. The new rule contradicts a statement made by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen in June, when he promised that "Media will have uninhibited access anywhere we're doing operations, except for two things -- if it's a security or safety problem." Anderson Cooper, commenting on the new rule, said '"Those of us down here trying to accurately show what is happening -- we are not the enemy. I've not heard about any journalist who's disrupted relief efforts; no journalist wants to be seen as having slowed down the cleanup or made things worse. If a Coast Guard official asked me to move, I'd move. But to create a blanket rule that everyone has to stay 65 feet away from boom and boats, that doesn't sound like transparency."
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