ABC Showcases Hapless Woman Who Skips Breakfast to Afford Gas

A week after ABC focused a story on two pitiable Minnesota families living in the dark because higher energy and food prices mean they “can no longer afford to pay for electricity,” Tuesday's World News highlighted the replies from sad case stories solicited on ABCNews.com, starting with a woman who says she must skip breakfast to put $4 a day toward gas. ABC displayed “FEELING THE PAIN” on screen as Charles Gibson set up the story that David Muir started by fretting about “the price of a gallon of gas jumping more than a dime in just the last week” -- which is a piddling $2 more to fill a 20-gallon tank. Nonetheless, he asserted “the e-mails we've received show the pain is being felt far and wide. Single mother Caroline Saunders wrote to us from New Jersey.” He read aloud from her e-mail with her quote on screen:
I now skip breakfast to save the extra $4 per day. That gives me an extra $20 added to my gas budget.
Muir proceeded to recite two less ridiculous complaints, a trucker upset about a 60 percent hike in diesel fuel over the past in two years and a woman who found a job that requires $110 a week in gas to commute 140 miles round trip.

Must breakfast cost $4? What is the price of one morning's worth of cereal from a large box and of that portion of a gallon of milk? Or of one banana and a muffin bought in a bunch and box at the grocery store? To say nothing of wondering how there must be some other expense one could reduce other than eliminating an entire meal.

Saunders lives in New Jersey and drives a Corolla, which means she pays about 33 cents per gallon in combined federal and state taxes per gallon -- or about $5 per 15-gallon fill-up in taxes, so eliminating those taxes would allow her to eat breakfast once a week at least!

My May 6 NewsBusters item, “ABC Adds to Parade of Hapless Economic Victims, Now No Electricity,” began:
Four days after NBC centered a story around an elderly couple forced to move "into their van, sleeping on a mattress in the back" while "high food costs have meant" they've "gone hungry," ABC's World News caught up Tuesday night with a nearly as silly anecdotal report on how families in Minnesota can no longer afford electricity. In the first of two families she showcased, reporter Gigi Stone relayed Julie Tkachuk's plight: "After paying for more expensive gas and groceries, Julie had no money for the heating bills left over from the winter." Then Stone described the predicament of a family whose father "says business at his moving company is down 35 percent this year. There just wasn't enough money for the power bill."

Referring to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Stone acknowledged that "there's federal assistance for people who can't afford their utility bills," but she ominously intoned, "the number of applicants reached the highest point in 16 Years." ABC then aired a soundbite from Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Director's Association, an advocacy group for LIHEAP spending. The group's April 25 press release hyping "the number of households receiving LIHEAP funds this year is the highest in 16 years" also, however, disclosed a fact ABC didn't mention -- that increase is merely 3.8 percent over fiscal year 2007 with the number of households on the dole in Minnesota rising from 120,765 to 126,500, hardly a huge jump.
From the top of the story on the Tuesday, May 13 World News on ABC:
CHARLES GIBSON: In recent weeks we've been looking at economics at the kitchen table, and asking you to send your stories to ABCNews.com. And hundreds of you have written us about gas prices. So, we take "A Closer Look" tonight at what you've told us. Here's David Muir.

DAVID MUIR: With the price of a gallon of gas jumping more than a dime in just the last week, the e-mails we've received show the pain is being felt far and wide. Single mother Caroline Saunders wrote to us from New Jersey [text on screen]: “I now skip breakfast to save the extra $4 per day. That gives me an extra $20 added to my gas budget.” We went to meet Caroline today.

CAROLINE SANDERS: I've cut my meals to two meals a day and that's every day. I drink free coffee at the office. But as far as breakfast, I don't eat.

MUIR: The extra money pays for the gas to get her 11-year-old daughter where she needs to be.

SAUNDERS: I'm hoping that it won't get much worse because I don't know what else I can do.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center