Among other areas where the media slant coverage in an anti-business direction, the MRC's Business & Media Institute (formerly the Free Market Project) has doggedly tracked the media's biases against "Big Oil" and in favor of Big Government.
Now we've decided to engage bloggers and the media on the issue with a panel discussion on "Oil, Markets, and the Media" on Wednesday, May 10 from 9:30 to 11. The discussion will be followed by a free breakfast during which time panelists including Cato's Jerry Taylor and Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), will be able to field questions from attendees.
For months, the media have blamed virtually anything but free market forces for the rise in oil and gas prices. NBC’s Lisa Myers attributed these increases to greed on a recent Nightly News report stating almost disgustedly “Exxon earned 9.5 cents on every dollar of gasoline and oil sold, cashing in at every stage of the process.”
Imagine the nerve of ExxonMobil actually making a profit. Oh the humanity.
A few days earlier, CBS’s Russ Mitchell, clearly concerned about price gouging, asked one of his guests on the Evening News, “How easy is it for a gas station, for an oil company to just jack up the price of gas?"
I bet you can’t guess the response.
Yet, in the midst of all this hysteria, a highly unlikely source – National Public Radio’s Internet website – published an article entitled “Q&A: What’s Behind High Gas Prices?” In it, author Scott Horsley adroitly cut through the hype, and
The worst possible 'solution' to the high cost of gasoline would be price controls, since they would simultaneously discourage production while driving up demand. But running a close second and third in the bad-idea sweepstakes would be a windfall-profits tax on oil companies and a cap on the amount oil companies can pay their executives. Two out of three ain't bad, so let's give GMA's Charlie Gibson an A- for his attempt to demagogue the gas-price issue this morning.
His guest was the soft-spoken James Mulva, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, the nation's third-largest oil company.
Gibson opening shot was to suggest that "consumers have a right to be angry" in light of the estimated $135 billion the six largest oil companies are expected to make in 2006. Gibson didn't attempt to suggest why high profits justify consumer anger. Remember, market economics dictate that sellers price their products at the level yielding the highest profits, not necessarily at the highest possible price. Consider Wal-Mart, for example, which has reaped huge profits by consistently offering prices lower than those of competitors.
Continuing her “Eye on the Road” series, CBS’s Sharyn Alfonsi showcased a Washington, D.C.-area teacher who she says can’t afford her commute due to rising gas prices.
But Alfonsi didn’t do her homework. Her featured teacher is a retired Navy lawyer who said in 2003 that she could only afford working as a Catholic school teacher because of her military pension. What Alfonsi didn’t say was that teacher Bonnie McGann made a conscious choice to earn less so she could give back to her church.
“This was the area where I could afford a home,” McGann informed Alfonsi’s viewers on the May 4 “Evening News.” The CBS correspondent added that McGann’s problem was the cost of the commute. “It’s a burden for me now. It’s something that I am unable to absorb,” McGann added. The picture Alfonsi painted was incomplete. McGann is a retired Navy Judge Advocate who says she went into teaching in Catholic schools for the emotional and spiritual reward of the experience....
Anyone with a working TV set knows that the broadcast networks have hyped the high gas price story (“Pain at the Pump”) to ridiculous levels. A new MRC study of the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows found a whopping 183 stories in just three weeks, an avalanche of TV coverage that (helpfully to Democrats planning their midterm election strategy) has buried far more important good economic news, like robust economic growth, low unemployment and a booming stock market.
One device the networks have used to maintain an outraged tone in all of their coverage has been to plant themselves next to gas pumps and find motorists who aren’t embarrassed about whining on camera. The MRC analysts who went through all of the coverage — Geoff Dickens, Brian Boyd, Mike Rule and Scott Whitlock — counted 151 sound bites from gas buyers during the period we studied, April 12 to May 2.
For the second day in a row, energy prices plummeted on commodities exchanges across the globe. Oil closed under $70 per barrel for the first time since April 7, adding another $2.34 to yesterday’s $2.12 decline, making for a 6 percent two-day slide. Since trading as high as $75.35 on April 21, oil has now retreated more than $5, or greater than 7 percent.
The media have yet to notice.
At the same time, wholesale gasoline closed under $2.00 per gallon for the first time since April 10, dropping 9 cents for the second day in a row. This brings wholesale gas prices down by almost 11 percent from their $2.23 April 19 high.
The wholesale price of oil and gasoline took a huge drop on the commodities markets Wednesday. But, you never would have known it from watching the broadcast networks’ evening news programs. In fact, the pain at the pump mantra continued in earnest at CBS and NBC without even the slightest mention of a greater than $2 decline in oil prices and an almost 9 cent decline in gasoline prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Instead, the NBC “Nightly News” did two pieces dealing with rising energy prices, including one about the politics of the problem. Brian Williams began the report: “Also in Washington tonight, these days, as we know, a lot of high anxiety over gas prices, and more political fighting over what to do about it.” Williams handed it off to David Gregory who concluded: “Amid all the anxiety tonight, some hope. Oil industry sources and administration officials say, given a recent boost in the supply of gas, that prices could actually come down, at least a bit, this summer.” Might have been a nice time to tell the viewers that they already have. In fact, after reaching a wholesale price high of $2.23 per gallon a few weeks, yesterday’s close of $2.09 represents a six percent decline in about eleven trading days. I guess energy prices are only newsworthy when they go up.
Of course, the CBS “Evening News” didn’t do much better, as it decided to report on how rising gas prices are harming a minor league baseball team. Bob Schieffer set up the segment:
The May 8th issue of "U.S. News and World Report" featured an article about high gas prices. Now, the fact that a news magazine would look at the rising cost of gas is not a surprise. But, that a magazine would dedicate a section to interviewing someone who served in the gas line plagued Carter Administration about what the solution to high gas prices is, does come as somewhat of a surprise. Does U.S. News and World Report forget the oil shortages under the Carter Administration. Does the magazine forget the "odd" and "even" licence plates?
The article in question appeared on page 26 and was entitled "Why a Gas Tax is Good For You." The article contained three softball questions at gas tax proponent Philip Verleger, who served in the Carter Treasury Department.
There is a genuine laugher in the NYT this morning,
attempting to address the current oil price fiasco. Kate
Phillips and Julie Bosman have thrown together a slipshod piece of clichéd
rhetoric, restrained disbelief and ignorance of basic economic
principles so egregious, it would make any alleged informational “smokescreen”
put out there by “Big Oil” seem a petulant effort by contrast.
First, the header. “SYMPATHY AS HARD TO FIND AS OIL.”
Please. Oil is not hard to find - this is merely hyperbole. There are at least one million
barrels per day that the nation is not utilizing thanks to the (Democrat)
environmental lobbyists’ ongoing efforts to stop and restrain oil drilling and exploration
in ANWR and off the Gulf
Coast. I guess sympathy
is easy to find then, no?
Exxon-Mobil: private-for-profit corporation or social service agency? The question arises in the wake of Matt Lauer's wide-ranging interview this morning with Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of Exxon/Mobil. Lauer's tone was not antagonistic; for that matter he was manifestly grateful to Tillerson for being the lone CEO among the Big Oil companies to accept an invite from "Today." Still, there was some bad economics on display, along with a notable attempt by Lauer to make the GOP look like ingrates to an industry with which they've been cozy. Tillerson put in a solid, undefensive performance.
Here are highlights:
Lauer: "Critics say the big oil companies crushed the competition and they are manipulating the prices. What is the truth?"
Count CNN’s Bill Schneider among those in the media who are all too eager to stoke the public’s anger over rising gas prices. In a report this afternoon on The Situation Room, Schneider highlighted the President’s low approval ratings on gas prices, and predicted gloom and doom for the Republican party:
Schneider: "President Bush’s job approval is down to 33 percent in the latest CBS News poll. His approval rating on gas prices, 17 percent. Yikes!..The political impact is dramatic. In January, about equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats said they felt more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year. Now, Democrats have a clear edge. Republican voters seem to be demoralized."
Schneider then promoted Democratic conspiracy theories regarding Republicans and the business sector:
On this morning’s Early Show, co-host Hannah Storm implied to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist that the Congress ought to pay attention to the immigrant boycott and protests from yesterday and pass "immigration reform," a euphemism for "amnesty." That if one million immigrants rallying across the country isn’t enough, what more is it going to take:
"Wanna change gears here for a second because Monday over one million immigrants skipped work and skipped school and marched in streets across America. What is it going to take, Senator, for Congress to come together and institute some meaningful immigrant reform, and how long is that going to take?"
The lure of class warfare has now seduced even the Fox News Channel. The network, often derided by liberal critics as overly conservative, featured a segment on the May 2 edition of Fox & Friends about the "outrageous" perks that CEOs receive. Co-host E.D. Hill cynically teased the piece by asking, "You know, if you go to work, you get your paycheck, but don't you wish you got a plane too?" She then continued:
Hill: "Or maybe a car or a boat or a country club membership or those sort of things? Well, you will be blown away to find out what perks some executives get."
FNC anchor Brian Kilmeade continued the theme of class envy by noting that some people are "upset about Exxon because they're making way too much money."
Monday’s CBS Evening News inaugurated a new series, “Eye on the Road,” the network’s latest gimmick to keep people outraged at the high cost of gasoline. Reporter Sharyn Alfonsi is driving from Florida to Boston to find people to complain about the high prices, and last night she highlighted senior citizens who are ostensibly sacrificing food and medicine because of Big Oil’s greediness.
Alfonsi highlighted a poll taken by the liberal lobbying group AARP to supposedly prove the hardship gas prices are having on the elderly. “They’re used to living on fixed incomes,” Alfonsi reported, “but now skyrocketing gas prices are forcing seniors to make difficult choices. Some are cutting back on medicine, others say they’re eating less.”
As she spoke, the screen showed the words “AARP Survey” plus the words “Cutting Back,” followed by “Medicine 6%,” then “Food 13%.”
But the poll wasn’t taken “now,” during the wave of network stories wailing about high gas prices. It was actually conducted for the AARP newsletter AARP Bulletin nearly eight months ago, in early September 2005, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and fairly extensive supply disruptions in the eastern U.S.
Katie Couric took industrial-strength umbrage this morning when Bill Frist suggested to the soon-to-be CBS anchor that she opposes drilling in ANWR.
Yesterday, Matt Lauer gave respectful treatment to Rush Limbaugh's suggestion that Frist's proposal of a $100 rebate amounted to treating taxpayers like ladies of the night. So the Majority Leader surely knew he was walking into the lion's den this morning.
At one point, Katie hit Frist with excerpts from two letters to the editor of her apparent paper of choice - the NY Times.
"Let's see, $100 rebate checks to all taxpayers to offset rising gas prices. That's money out of my tax dollars back to me to give back to gas companies. The way I figure it that rebate won't even cover my gas one way to Washington to complain."
Washington Post congressional reporter Shailagh Murray was blunt about America's energy problems in her Monday "Post Politics Chat": While most of the media is decrying "pain at the pump," Murray worried that "making gas cheaper only makes matters worse." A questioner complained about an earlier answer, in which Murray insisted her experience told her the price of crude oil is about supply and demand, and not who's president:
I may be going out on a limb here, but I don't think the price of crude oil has much to do with who occupies the White House. As a former Wall Street Journal reporter, I fall back on the simple supply and demand principle. People want to drive SUVs. A gazillion highway lanes are being built in China. Limited supplies of crude oil, whatever happens with ANWR. Of all the things to be surprised about, high gas prices should not be one of them.
Since we had snow - Tony Snow - in April, why not another unseasonable event - Matt Lauer citing Rush Limbaugh as a respectable source for purposes of making a point?
The issue was high gas prices, and the pandering band-aid some in Congress have proposed by way of a $100 tax rebate. Today displayed this quote from El Rushbo, from his show of this past Friday:
"Instead of buying us off and treating us like we're a bunch of w----s, just solve the problem."
If Lauer did not explicitly endorse Rush's take, he came close, certainly recognizing that Rush's point merited a response. Lauer filled in the blanks when he read the quote out loud, then posed this question to guest Pat Buchanan: "Pat, has anyone put forth any solution that can solve this problem?"
MSNBC's First Read continued its obsession with gas prices to the exclusion of, well, all other economic news this past week. A rough word-count of economic reporting on First Read's blog shows that of 3500 words devoted to economics, 3250 were about gas prices. This does not include a Monday posting ostensibly about the Dahab bombing that spent the second paragraph talking about oil prices.
Ironically, First Read is aware of the problem, even if they don't know that they know. On Friday:
Asked in the April 21-24 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll who is most responsible for high gas prices, 37% of those polled say the oil companies are most responsible. Oil-producing nations rank second at 22%, while only 15% lay the most blame at President Bush's feet and 4% say Congress bears the most responsibility.
Last week, we noted how MSNBC's First Read blog had reprinted the New York Daily News's misquote of a CNN poll about how oil prices were affecting families. In the poll, 23% said that gas prices were having a "severe effect," 46% said they were having a "moderate effect." The Daily News and First Read both reported 69% under the "severe effect" label.
On Tuesday, we quoted a New York Daily News article, which cited a CNN poll showing that 69% indicate gas prices are causing them severe hardship. However, the actual poll finds that 69% say these prices are causing them "hardship", not "severe hardship."
Nobody would argue that President Bush is overly popular at the moment. The media, however, seem determined to keep it that way. The April 28 edition of Today made this point extremely clear. Katie Couric opened the NBC program with this tease of a Brian Williams presidential interview:
Couric: "President Bush on those skyrocketing gas prices, his plummeting poll numbers and whether New Orleans is ready for hurricane season."
At 7:03AM EDT, Matt Lauer introduced the Williams interview this way:
Lauer: "Before we get to all that, let's talk about President Bush on those rising gas prices, the future of FEMA and his dismal poll numbers."
And the sneaky use of adjectives wasn’t the only tactic that Today employed.
On the April 27 "World News Tonight," anchor Elizabeth Vargas coined President Bush's call for more regulation of fuel standards a "bold" move:
We turn, now, to ABC's chief Washington correspondent, George
Stephanopoulos. And George, we had a bold move by the President a short time
ago. He wants the ability to change the miles per gallon standards, the so
called CAFÉ standards, on his own, something he currently does not have the
authority to do.
So let's see, the President's move to wiretap incoming phone calls from terror suspects has been roundly criticized as illegal and in reckless disregard to civil liberties. The call to drill for oil in ANWR to increase oil supply and lower gasoline prices has been called "controversial," but seldom if ever bold. But the call to put more regulatory power over industry in the hands of the President, and grow the scope and size of government, that's "bold."
I caught Wednesday’s edition of “The Daily Show” on rerun, specifically a segment on gas prices with Wall Street Journal writer Rebecca Strassel. After fussing at those excessive oil company profits, host Jon Stewart joked that she felt like “you’re talking to a retarded person,” then insisted (with some self-deprecation) “The important thing is my visceral emotional reaction to it.” Smiling throughout, Strassel said he should be mad at Congress for its policies (such as its mandated use of ethanol). Stewart replied: “I’m mad at an administration that feels they have the vision to spread democracy -- I will, you know, invade a country and it will flower like the Genesis Machine -- and yet when it comes to oil, their most innovative solution is (in dumb-guy voice, like David Letterman asking if you got any gum) ‘uh, what if we look in Alaska?’ It lacks imagination to some extent.”
The broadcast network evening newscasts on Thursday night hyperventilated over “record” profits for ExxonMobil, but failed to point out how government taxes exceed oil company earnings. ABC even fretted about how much ExxonMobil “spent rewarding shareholders,” though it was less than the federal government took in taxes, and NBC excoriated the company for “cashing in” at 9.5 cents per dollar.
“Today, ExxonMobil reported profits of $8.4 billion for the first three months of this year, its best first quarter ever,” ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas asserted at the top of World News Tonight before Betsy Stark complained: “The company says that's a record level of investment in new supplies. Maybe so, but it's less than it spent rewarding shareholders. 15 percent of profits went directly to shareholders in the form of cash dividends, and the biggest chunk, 40 percent, was used to repurchase Exxon's own stock." But ExxonMobil paid 83 percent as much as the $8.4 billion it earned, $7 billion, $2 billion more than a year earlier, in just federal income tax -- and a lot more in other taxes.
Over on the NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams promised, in his tease, “a reality check on sky-high oil company profits,” but all Lisa Myers delivered was demagoguery. Myers began by charging that “for outraged consumers, the staggering profit numbers boil down to this: Exxon earned 9.5 cents on every dollar of gasoline and oil sold, cashing in at every stage of the process." Yes, ExxonMobil cashed in by investing and working to get their product to the retail customer while the federal government collected 18.4 cents per gallon in tax for doing nothing. Federal, state and local taxes total an average of 46 cents per gallon -- significantly more than the 28 cents Exxon earned on a $3 gallon of gas. (Transcripts follow.)
Perhaps it's not surprising from a network that once spun $2.15/gallon of gas as "averaging under $3." The April 26 "CBS Evening News" overestimated ExxonMobil's forthcoming profit margin.
Jumping the gun on the other networks, "CBS Evening News" reported on the April 26 broadcast that ExxonMobil would report a $9.4 billion profit for the first quarter of 2006. The actual figure, released the morning of April 27, is an $8.4 billion profit, a $1,000,000,000 difference. This isn't CBS News's first time being sloppy with numbers.
The Free Market Project previously reported how CBS exaggerated the rise in natural gas prices heading into the winter of 2005-6:
NBC's Today show was full of negative news for President Bush, as it usually is, so it was a bit surprising when Katie Couric asked Tim Russert why the President hasn’t gained from positive consumer confidence. Maybe it’s because, according to a quick Nexis search of Today, the phrase "consumer confidence" hasn’t even been uttered all year long. During a segment on the bad news for the President in NBC’s latest poll Couric noted:
"We just see the right direction, wrong track question Tim and we can follow that by the economy. Only 19 percent feel confident when it comes to, excuse me, the economy and 77 percent are uneasy. One of Josh Bolten's five point plans, as you know, Tim was to brag more about the economy and there is good news. Consumer confidence this month is at its highest in four years. The Dow is trading at a six-year high. Obviously they've got their work cut out for them but why aren't some of those good things reflected in the poll numbers?"
All three network morning shows played the envy card Thursday morning, as they hyped the “record high profits” and “corporate greed” of American oil companies. High on their agenda: ExxonMobil’s announcement of $8.4 billion in profits, which the networks implied was scandalous given the high price of oil.
But unstated in the network coverage was the fact that the U.S. government took in more than $7 billion from ExxonMobil during the first quarter of 2006, a jump of more than $2 billion from the same time period in 2005. And that doesn’t count the more than $7.6 billion in excise taxes — the gas tax — that ExxonMobil collected for the government during the same quarter. Plus another $11 billion in "other taxes" and ExxonMobil sent the government more than $25 billion in the first quarter of 2006 -- three times more than the amount network reporters seem to feel is obscene.
Big Government is making more off of high gas prices than Big Oil.
The media has recently put on quite a show about high oil prices. On Good Morning America reporter Ron Claiborne is spending the week on the road and hunting down motorists who want to "talk back to the oil companies". Today he was live from a gas station in Cleveland, Ohio.
In his report, Claiborne stated that "the mood on the road that we found is one of outrage. People are very, very angry over those high gas prices like you see right here. And also over those corporate profits, those oil company profits. And it's also a mood of suspicion and in some cases fear."
One "boiling mad" motorist ranted, "They're making billions and I'm making nothing. I'm poor. You know, I've got to pay $3 a gallon. It's cutting into my food bill and travel bills and my shoes and everything."
Meredith Vieira just can’t help herself. The View co-host will soon be taking over for Katie Couric on the Today show. One would think that she would try and reign in her bias. Apparently not, as she opened the April 26 edition of The View with another attack on President Bush:
Vieira: "...I’m a little peeved when I hear the President say there’s not much we can do about this, folks. According to the President, the American people have got to understand that what happens elsewhere in the world affects the price of gasoline that you pay here, but where is his responsibility in all this? Five and a half years and we’re dealing with these gas prices? It’s ridiculous."
On the April 24th edition of Fox’s syndicated Geraldo At Large, Geraldo Rivera said the bright side of high gas prices is "it may cut down on global warming" and then went on to call oil company CEO’s "pirates," and backed a windfall tax on the companies as "a no-brainer."
The following is Rivera’s entire final commentary from the show:
Geraldo Rivera: "About the only good news is that it may cut down on global warming but exploding gas prices are hurting lots of people along the way."
[Man at gas station: "Gas prices just make you definitely want to take the train all the time."]
Gas price rage has blended with executive pay rage recently, since the media have been bashing ExxonMobil’s departing CEO, Lee Raymond, for his pay and pension package.
“Runaway pay,” said NBC’s Brian Williams on April 20, calling executive salaries and benefits “stratospheric” and “staggering.” CBS’s Bob Schieffer compared Raymond’s “golden” retirement to the “average American” on April 13. “How much is too much?” asked NBC’s Matt Lauer on April 11. And ABC’s “Good Morning America” said, “You Must Be Kidding!” referring to Raymond’s package as “stunning” on April 14.
Criticizing highly-paid executives has been in vogue at the news networks lately, but there’s something the anchors aren’t telling you: their colleagues’ top wages could soon be disclosed to the world, and Big Media are fighting it.
Large media companies have been doing everything within their power to hide the compensation plans of their own highest-paid employees from public disclosure. As reported by the Associated Press on April 11: