ABC: Americans 'Soon' Paying $1000 to Fill Up Their Gas Tank?

ABC's "Nightline" on Monday continued the network's trend of hyperbolically, and in this case, apocalyptically, fretting over high gas prices in America. Anchor Martin Bashir introduced a segment by wondering if $4 a gallon gas might result in some people stealing gasoline, or, as he put it, "taking some drastic measures." Speaking to a car security expert who claimed that such theft would be a misdemeanor because the total cost would be below $1000, reporter John Donvan lost all perspective and replied, "But we may soon be paying more than $1,000 for a tank of gas." [audio available here]

Donvan, in a snarky tone, even cited the plot of the futuristic thriller "The Road Warrior" to support his argument. He speculated, "And in the future, of course, they will be stealing gas and fighting over it. We know that because of the 1981 Mad Max classic 'The Road Warrior.'"

After more conjecture about theft of $1000-per-fill-up gas, Donvan closed the piece by ominously questioning, "But [gas costing that much], of course, would be in the distant, distant future, right?" As he spoke, another clip of "The Road Warrior" played onscreen. Anchor Bashir capped the report by speculating that such a nightmarish future might be "closer than we think."

Now, Donvan and Bashir might argue that they were simply exaggerating the effect of high prices for comedic, sarcastic impact. But ABC has developed quite a track record throughout the month of May. The network has massively hyped the extent to which gas prices (and the economy in general) are destroying the lives of Americans. On May 13,"World News" featured a woman who skipped breakfast in order to deal with the rising fuel costs. On May 6, in a more generalized report, the same program highlighted a person who had to forgo electricity as a result of the economic slowdown.

Donvan's report may remind NewsBusters readers of an April 30 BBC report in which a clueless reporter asserted that "Many Americans drive private cars not much smaller than this truck." The only problem? He was standing in front of a 16 wheel big rig.

A transcript of the "Nightline" segment, which aired at 11:57pm on May 12, follows:

MARTIN BASHIR: Now some more bad news, I'm afraid. Gas prices set yet another record last week. The average national price of a gallon of regular unleaded fuel now costs $3.72. In California, it's already $3.92. That ominous $4 mark now seems inescapable. And if it that goes far, might people start taking some drastic measures? For John Donvan, this is a 'Sign of the Times".

JOHN DONVAN: Random gas station talk. Do you think it's all about prices? Well, of course, some of it is.

PEDESTRIAN (FEMALE): But when I started buying gas I think it was 35 cents a gallon.

DONVAN: But who knew that lately with the price of a gallon of gasoline near $4 that some of the, can we say experts, are also talking about thieves, gasoline thieves? I have to imagine that people have been stealing gasoline from time immemorial, have they not?

RON STOUT (LAW ENFORCEMENT LIAISON): Well they have, absolutely.

DONVAN: And in the future, of course, they will be stealing gas and fighting over it. We know that because of the 1981 Mad Max classic "The Road Warrior."

[Clip from "The Road Warrior."]

DONVAN: But that, fortunately, is in the distant, distant future. And it's a relief just to stand here on the drizzly morning in the present with Ron Stout who represents LoJack, the auto security and recovery firm, but what's this he's saying?

STOUT: Well there are several messages. There's the old original ways of siphoning gasoline out of gas tanks using the rubber hose.

DONVAN: But then you have to get the gas tank open.

STOUT: You have to get the gas tank open. There are those that use screwdrivers for example that will puncture the gas tank from underneath and drain the tanks into containers.

DONVAN: These numbers you are all too familiar with, but consider this one: $134 million, that's the amount of money the National Association of Convenience Stores, says that its members chalked up last year in losses to gasoline thieves. That's what happens when, as in this security camera video, a thief gases up and then drives off without paying. But Stout also tells us that a lot of the time you, the innocent gas-buying driver will be the target. The guy who starts pumping gas into his car and then wanders off.

STOUT: Meantime, somebody has pulled the hose out of the tank of the customer's car and put it in their vehicle and filled up as much gas in their vehicle as they could before the customer comes out and replace the hose.

DONVAN: The thing is, many of us make it pretty easy for this kind of gas theft scam. We saw a bunch of people follow the pattern, out of their car, nozzle into the gas tank, then they are off to shop.

COMMUTER (MALE): Oh, you're going to make an example out of me?

DONVAN: Well, no. It's up to you. You've got to be careful, apparently.

COMMUTER (MALE): If they're doing it, they deserve to be caught.

DONVAN: Well, in fact gas is not so expensive that stealing it this way is actually a felony. It is still a petty crime.

STOUT: In most jurisdictions, $1,000 is the borderline between misdemeanor and felony.

DONVAN: But we may soon be paying more than $1,000 for a tank of gas.

STOUT: We hope not.

DONVAN: And then we're in felony territory.

STOUT: We would be in felony territory.

DONVAN: But that, of course, would be in the distant, distant future, right? I'm John Donvan for "Nightline" in Washington.

BASHIR: Perhaps it is closer than we think. Our thanks to John Donvan.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org