To be fair, Grunwald doesn’t seem be “declaring victory” to the extent that Sheppard and Walsh imply, but in his effort to discourage alarmism definitely risks encouraging complacency. As The New York Times pointed out in an excellent survey of the long-term impacts oil spills in four other regions of globe, “Only 20 years ago, the conventional wisdom was that oil spills did almost all their damage in the first weeks, as fresh oil loaded with toxic substances hit wildlife and marsh grasses, washed onto beaches and killed fish and turtles in the deep sea.” But “hidden damage can last for years.”

The Times was careful to stress that “scientists … say the picture in the gulf is far from hopeless.” More journalists should emphasize that important fact, and Grunwald tried. But rather than complain about “overblown eco-fears,” he should have taken a cue from two recent articles from Reuters and The Washington Post, which highlighted the resiliency of marsh grasses and their importance to wetlands recovery without suggesting that we have nothing to worry about.

Indeed, until we can account for where all of the spill oil has gone, what was true at the beginning of the spill has never been more important: what is out of sight should never be out of mind. The crude on the surface may be “missing,” but to leave it at that misses the point.

If you'd like to get email from CJR writers and editors, add your email address to our newsletter roll and we'll be in touch.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.