Gas prices are "soaring" again, crossing the $3-a-gallon threshold on Dec. 23 for the first time since Oct. 17, 2008. Back then the benchmark was a relief as prices plunged from the highest price ever of $4.11.
Pump prices have been climbing all month, yet network reports downplayed the pain and suffering of consumers. Jim Axelrod of CBS called it "bad news" after reporting some positive economic news on Dec. 28, but concluded "The economy's not great, says economist Dan Greenhaus, but not terrible either."
Compare that to past media exaggeration of gas prices. NBC's Anne Thompson said that "no matter what kind of gas is sold, today it's now unbelievably expensive" on Aug. 31, 2005. That day the national average for gasoline was $2.62 - but the gas price signs shown in Thompson's report were much higher at $3.49.
That same night, ABC's Charles Gibson claimed that gas was approaching $4-a-gallon.
Conversely, as prices fell throughout the summer of 2007, the network news media ignored gas price declines emphasizing "skyrocketing," "soaring," and "painfully high" prices over the drop.
What's the difference between then and now? The president has changed from Bush to Obama, and with it the media's attitude toward gas prices has shifted.
The Heritage Foundation noted on Dec. 29 that the press pestered Bush about gas costs and the political consequences of high pump prices, but have yet to ask Obama the question. CBS suggested on April 26, 2006, that President Bush needed to "do something" about gas prices.
A few months later, on Aug. 21, 2006, Bush was asked at a press conference: "What do you say to people who are losing patience with gas prices at $3 a gallon? And how much of a political price do you think you're paying for that, right now?"
Heritage cited further examples of Democrats pressing the White House to "ease" prices (when prices were below $2-a-gallon), and Speaker Nancy Pelosi attacking the president for rising gas prices.
Under Obama, the networks haven't breathlessly exaggerated gasoline prices as they did under Bush or demanded to know what the president will do to "ease" prices.
Yes, holiday travel reports on ABC, CBS and NBC included some consumer complaints, but the December 2010 reports could not compare with the price hype of 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Yet according to Heritage Obama's policies will continue to make gasoline more expensive.
Heritage wrote: "Now this week, analysts including former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, say Americans could be paying $5/gallon of gasoline by 2012. Investment banks are predicting a return to $100/barrel oil, and OPEC is refusing to raise production. All of this news would be less frightening if the White House were focusing on potential ways to lower energy prices. Instead, President Obama is admittedly fixated with raising them."
How does Obama plan to raise prices? With further EPA regulations of power plants and oil refineries, and more rules for natural resources on government properties and the 'de facto moratorium' on oil drilling.
Not one of the December 2010 network stories mentioning gas prices questioned the role of the Obama White House. The only consideration of government involvement in gas prices came in the form of a "Nightline" question for viewers on Dec. 23, 2010. Obama's name was absent from the question.
ABC's Terry Moran noted that gas prices had topped $3-a-gallon for the first time at Christmas and asked: "So tonight we wanted to ask you, has the U.S. done enough to keep gas prices reasonable? And will it affect your holiday plans?"