It took just a few minutes and a few words about “small people” to undercut any brownie points that BP won by agreeing to put $20 billion into escrow to compensate victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
In remarks to reporters after BP executives met with President Obama at the White House, the company’s chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, said: “People say that large oil companies don’t care about the small people. But we care. We care about the small people.”
BP tried to explain it away as a slip of the tongue by Mr. Svanberg, who is Swedish. Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, told The Associated Press in an e-mail message: “It is clear that what he means is that he cares about local businesses and local people. This was a slip in translation.”
This evening, Mr. Svanberg issued a statement saying he was “very sorry” for speaking “clumsily.”
Within hours, the remark was already emblazoned on T-shirts — a triumph of entrepreneurship reported by Politico’s Ben Smith.
The substance of the BP agreement didn’t fare much better down in the gulf states.
“If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” Gov. Haley Barbour told The A.P. in a telephone interview Wednesday.
“We need them to generate revenue to be able to pay us,” said Mr. Barbour, a Republican. “I worry that this escrow account reduces the chance of that rather than increasing the chances of that.”