- No mention of ethics at all. From what I can determine, and maybe Eric can back me up on this. Ballard did not become anti-salvage until 1987
when the French announced their salvage expedition.
Honestly, it's like navigating through a minefield to get a grip on Ballard and salvage in this period when you factor in (1) what he was saying before TV cameras during the 1985 and 1986 expeditions (2) what he said to Congress in late 1985 (3) what he claims in documentaries about when he was changing his mind. What you get collectively is a picture of massive inconsistency.
Let's start with what he was saying in TV interviews from the wreck site in 1985 and just after he returned, all of which I recorded when the wreck was found, and which I watched probably dozens of times in the months following to the point where I could almost memorize them (and I still have them today safely transferred to DVD). In ALL of these interviews he is sounding anti-salvage and is pushing the "gravesite" argument, though the only and I mean only caveat you can attach to this is that sometimes the responses are to questions about raising the ship, which in the rush of the moment after discovery some people were wildly speculating about when the nature of the wreck's condition was not fully apparent. In his TV interview on CBS after he returns where he's sitting with Louise Pope, he then argues that it would be better to send a robot inside the Grand Staircase than to take up pieces of it (starting his fascination with the dubious notion that teleportation is somehow a valid substitute for serious historic preservation).
Then suddenly two months later away from TV cameras and before Congress, he's singing a different tune about how he supports artifact salvage. And I have to be honest, the day I ceased to believe Ballard was a man of integrity was when I learned about this testimony for the first time in the early 90s. Up to then, I always thought he was being a man of principle about salvage even when I opposed him, because I was basing that on his 1985 TV interviews. To find out that he was reversing course before Congress, away from TV cameras, and never bothering to mention this testimony ONCE in any of the public interviews or in his books that appeared afterwards indicated that something fishy was going on here and that Ballard's "don't touch" statements in 1985 and then again in 1986 from the wreck site had to be seen in a different light.
I believe it wasn't until years later that it was clarified that Ballard *couldn't* salvage artifacts since he was working in effect on the taxpayers dime in both the 1985 and 1986 expeditions and thus could not legitimately claim any salvage rights to the Titanic to let Woods Hole control the matter of artifact preservation. If that was the case, then Ballard's public pronouncements were a case of taking the "sensitive" portrayal to mask the real reason that he couldn't have done so at the time, but privately, his statements to Congress revealed that yes, he would have liked to have seen it done under conditions that would naturally have allowed his organization to have done so.
But of course by 1987, we then had IFREMER, his former partners taking part in salvage operations and in effect beating Ballard from ever being able to do it, and of course from that point on, Ballard basically declared permanent war on the whole concept of salvage and wrapped himself up in the mantle of nobility on this point, and in light of the fact that *every* TV interview he gave in 1985 and 1986 had him publicly toeing this line it was a very easy fallback position for him. Why bother to consult what he said before Congress in a hearing C-SPAN didn't cover and for which there is no videotape of (especially if you're left with no clue this testimony ever existed if you go by "Discovery Of The Titanic") when every TV interview of him that's available from all three networks show otherwise? Ballard had set himself up perfectly and knew how to play to the media effectively and they ate up everything he said like it was ice cream. The image of Ballard-pure noble saint, RMSTI and salvagers-evil graverobbers was fast cemented in the popular media mindset and he's ran on that narrative ever since.