"Gas prices are soaring again in 2012, yet the auto industry is booming, and drivers, while annoyed, are mostly taking rising fuel costs in stride. What’s changed?" Time magazine's Brad Tuttle asked in an April 10 TIME Moneyland blog post. Tuttle offered numerous explanations but failed to consider the media's coverage as one explanation for why Americans seem to not be seething angry about high gas prices.
As our colleague Julia Seymour of the Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute noted earlier this month (emphasis mine):
The Business and Media Institute analyzed broadcast network news stories discussing $4 gas in the 144 day period of rising prices leading up to such highs in 2008 and 2011/2012 (Jan. 1, 2008-May 23, 2008 and Nov. 6, 2011-March 28, 2012). BMI found there were nearly 3 times as many stories about $4 gas in 2008 than in 2012 (85 to 31).
In 2008, NBC’s “Today” exaggerated already rising prices by airing a story about a gas station in California charging $5.40 a gallon for full serve premium -- when regular was $2.11 less. NBC even quoted the station owner saying people had told him to “burn in hell” for charging such a premium.
Back then, ABC found gas prices coming between families and God in 2008. Bianna Golodryga interviewed Juan Martinez who said, “We’ve really cut down on the amount of times that we’ve come into service since the price has gone up.” CBS even found someone who said they wish they could go back to using a horse and buggy.
That was the way the media treated gas prices as they climbed to $3.91 (on their way to an eventual peak of $4.11). Not only is there less coverage about $4 gas now, the tone is less hyperbolic. In some cases, such as the March 15 “Good Morning America,” network reporters found “encouraging news on gas prices.”
That morning, anchor George Stephanopoulos was psyched to report “new indications” that gas prices “may have peaked.” Prices have climbed nearly 10 cents per gallon since that day’s average ($3.82).
In that same broadcast, Stephanopoulos claimed “so far, high gas prices haven’t hurt the consumers.”
Consumers seem to disagree. The Los Angeles Times reported March 27 that the prices caused a dip in consumer confidence and that restaurant owners were “living in fear of rising gas prices.” CNBC reported on March 26 that “drivers are choosing to consume less, evidenced by a 3 percent drop in total consumption over the same period a year ago.” “Economists have begun to worry as well,” CNBC noted.
It's abundantly clear that in 2008 the media were glomming on to any and every piece of negative economic news, particularly high gas prices, to amplify and encourage political outrage with outgoing President Bush and the Republican Party in general, particularly the GOP presidential nominee.
Now that it's President Obama facing reelection, the media are doing their level best to defend the president's energy record, making excuses and engaging in labored spin to ensure that the issue of rising gas prices is not a liability at the polls in November.