Networks Play Goldilocks With Winter Weather Predictions

Warmer winter. No - colder winter. No. Warmer winter, definitely warmer winter.

Last night's network news broadcasts made the Energy Department's most recent prediction for this year's winter climate, released yesterday, sound like a report from Dustin Hoffman's "Rain Man."

On CBS's Evening News, Katie Couric stated that "the government predicted today that temperatures this winter will generally be above average. Even so, it will cost you more to heat your home."

Video montage (1:07): Real (1.81 MB) and Windows (3.78 MB) and MP3 audio (518 kB).

But ABC's "World News with Charles Gibson" led its broadcast with the Energy Information Administration's report by saying "Tonight, news of a cold wind a coming that promises to have a chilling effect on the American pocketbook," and continued to sing a different tune than Couric, professing that "the average American homeowner will pay 10% more for heating during what will be, generally, a colder winter."

And NBC? "Nightly News" focused mostly on the "epic" drought, but not without first mentioning predictions by government scientists for "warmer than normal temperatures across much of the South."

The confusion seems to stem from the EIA's estimation that "winter in the lower-48 States is forecast to be 4 percent colder compared with last winter but 2 percent warmer than the 30-year average."

CBS and NBC appear to have found news on the warmer than average calculation to be important while ABC saw the comparison to last year as being the most relevant.

However, Gibson and Couric's reports did share a common ground.

Both CBS and ABC managed to reference the 22 percent increase in heating oil prices without mentioning that according to the EIA's report, the number of U.S. households affected by such a drastic increase was only 7 percent. This compares with the more moderate 10 percent increase that 58 percent of Americans will see.

The report was difficult for newscasters to decipher, but The Washington Post seemed to have little trouble as it easily summarized this morning "Almost all Americans will pay more to heat their homes this winter. Temperatures are expected to be warmer than average but colder than last year."

Dan Gainor
Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and Vice President for Business and Culture for the Media Research Center