WHERE THINGS STAND IN THE GULF…. There was some renewed optimism among officials trying to curtail the gushing oil in the Gulf yesterday, but as a rule, we’ve learned that progress can be fleeting — we’ve seen optimism before, only to see hopes dashed.

But a cap was placed over the wellhead yesterday; it was sealed; and there was a fair amount of cheering.

BP and government officials said Friday that a cap installed over a gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico was funneling some oil and gas to the surface, but they cautioned that much was still leaking and that it would be days before they could declare this latest containment effort a success.

As the large metal cap was inched into place late Thursday, about 80 engineers, scientists and government officials crowded into the hive — as the room in the subsea operations command center is called — here to watch on video screens. The maneuver was their handiwork, and a critical step in the latest of what had been a string of dismal efforts to capture some of the oil leaking since the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded on April 20. […]

The technician said the assembled crowd, which included workers from BP and other companies involved, was in “pretty good cheer” after the cap was successfully placed.

“But you have to temper all that right now because you don’t know the final result,” he said.

And even under the best scenario, the final result with this cap would collect some, but not all, of the gushing oil leak.

For now, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen estimated that the drill ship on the surface is collecting about 40,000 gallons a day worth of oil. That total, according to BP, is intended to increase as vents on the mechanism are closed (which is risky, because the increased pressure could blow the cap off). If all goes according to plan — clearly, a big “if” — the cap could contain 90% or more of the spill until relief wells are complete, probably in August.

Whether this latest effort is meeting expectations won’t be clear for “several days.”

Of course, President Obama was also on the scene yesterday, receiving additional updates on the federal response, and meeting with affected families and businesses. The president directed some pointed words towards BP for paying billions of dollars in stock dividends this week, on top of a expensive new p.r. campaign, while many locals still feel like they’re being short-changed.

A pool report said Obama showed a “flash of anger” with BP, which is presumably what political reporters demand of the president, if the last couple of weeks of media bloviating are any indication. (Greg Sargent jokingly advised the president yesterday, “Kick something. Smash a camera with your bare hands. Vulcan Death Grip rhetoric just won’t do.”)

On that front, I’m glad to see at least some in the media rejecting the widely-embraced narrative.

Time‘s Kate Pickert noted late yesterday:

Count me among those who are a little bored with the media narrative that President Obama doesn’t appear “angry” enough about the BP oil spill. Sure, symbolism is important in times like these and the public wants to know that its commander-in-chief is sufficiently engaged and cares about what’s happening. But shouldn’t the media focus something like 80% of its attention on what the federal government is actually doing and some portion of the remainder on whether the White House message machine is having a good or bad week? I haven’t done a comprehensive study, but it feels like the opposite has been the case this week.

Similarly, the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus seems to have had about enough.

The presidency is not a play in two acts. The disaster in the Gulf is not six characters in search of a leader. So why the coverage of President Obama and the oil spill as theater criticism?

Is he angry? Is he enraged? Has he shown it? Is there a vein bulging in his neck?[…]

The real test is in the doing, not the showy symbolism.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.