There’s been a lot of suggestion by the media lately -- especially since the elections last Tuesday -- that the Republican Party is in dire trouble, and could lose control of the House and the Senate in 2006. For those interested in a side of this debate that the media are ignoring, you should watch today’s “Meet the Press,” in particular the second-half with DNC chairman Howard Dean.
Some of the pertinent exchanges of note:
DR. DEAN: I think Democrats always have to stand up and tell the truth and that's what we're doing. The truth is that the president misled America when he sent us to war. They did--he even didn't tell the truth in the speech he gave. First of all, think there were a lot of veterans were kind of upset that the president chose their day to make a partisan speech.
Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift has a new article out, and she once again doesn’t have anything good to say about President Bush. In fact, she now believes that his presidency is in such a state of disarray that Bush needs to “change direction, the way President Bill Clinton did after losing both the House and Senate in 1994.” Clift seems to forget that this change of direction didn’t help the Democrats win back the Congress in 1996, which put Clinton in a position where he was forced to accede to most of the Republican demands in 1997 which included tax cuts that he fought against for two years.
CBS’s Bob Schieffer offered viewers “a solution to high energy prices” that “may be as plain as daylight.” Yet the truth of the matter was far different and the November 10 report showed the network was in the dark about its own story on solar energy.
The story didn’t just wildly underestimate the cost of one family’s “tiny electric bill.”. It also forgot to mention that the tax breaks for solar power all come out the pockets of other taxpayers – in this case, more than $10 billion worth.
The “Evening News” went to Barry and Anita Mathis’ house to look at solar panels as a way to cope with higher energy costs. Mrs. Mathis showed reporter Thalia Assuras her bill, which was just $43.01. “It was kind of mind-blowing when I first moved into this house because I'd open power bills and I'd just start laughing,” Mrs. Mathis said. “It just didn't make any sense that you could save this much money on electricity.”
Media Wrong About Dollar: As the frequency of pessimistic reports increases, their accuracy seems to decline.
Since the stock market’s collapse between March 2000 and October 2002, the Free Market Project media have continually been making gloomy and bearish economic forecasts, from predictions of a housing bubble implosion to gasoline prices heading to $5 per gallon and even an economic downturn due to Hurricane Katrina. As The Free Market Project has reported, none of these have panned out.
Other examples of media gloom and doom that ended up being inaccurate were the press’s opinions of the falling dollar at the end of last year, and what they believed were the likely consequences. Tom Fenton of CBS News went so far as to link the decline to the start of the Bush presidency. “Since the end of the Clinton administration – or to put it another way, since the beginning of the Bush administration – the dollar has been heading south at an alarming rate,” he argued in a Dec. 6, 2004, piece.
The media have repeatedly given air time to charges that the oil companies are taking advantage of consumers and earning unfair profits. Throughout the year reporters have alleged "oil companies...are making massive profits," "oil companies have watched their profits soar" and "record profits for the oil producers." But how do these oil profits compare to those of the media companies, themselves?
On November 9th, Congress held hearings and demanded that oil company executives, as ABC’s Jake Tapper said, "explain themselves as to why they’re experiencing record profits." Using Yahoo! Finance, I looked up the profit margin numbers for five of those oil companies and for five of the major media companies.
Julie Chen in the 8:00 a.m. EST half hour of The Early Show hyped "sky-high" gas prices which led to "record profits" for oil companies in a brief anchor-mention on the Senate Commerce hearings today on oil and gas prices, illustrating that a myth debunked in a Free Market Project (FMP) study released last Thursday is still being promoted by CBS News [parts in bold are my emphasis]:
Gas prices haven’t topped inflation-adjusted highs. NBC’s Anne Thompson and other journalists continued to claim “American consumers have suffered through months of record-high gas prices” even as prices dropped.
One of the common themes for gasoline reporting all summer was to claim "record prices," even though the reality was much different. Inflation raises overall prices over time, causing the raw number to go up.A gallon of gas might have cost 25 cents decades ago. That's why inflation-adjusted prices are the only accurate way to compare costs from one decade to the next.
According to the Energy Department, the inflation-adjusted high for a gallon of regular gas is $3.11, set in 1981. But Katrina and Rita sent the media scurrying for stories, and "record highs" were mentioned at least eight times.
CBS was especially fond of the term. It appeared three times during the CBS stories. Anchor Bob Schieffer of the "CBS Evening News" said incorrectly that gas prices had peaked "at a record $3.07 a gallon after Hurricane Katrina" during the October 24 broadcast.
Lou Dobbs and the Merry Men and Women of CNN promoted a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies that Dobbs nicknamed a “Robin Hood Tax.” Dobbs set up a November 7 story asking if oil companies should have to give back some of those “giant profits to American citizens.”
Reporter Louise Schiavone’s story told viewers that “Energy prices have gone through the roof and somehow taken a route through your wallet to get there.” Schiavone didn’t stop there. Her broadcast featured complaints about “A long simmering post-hurricane resentment about rising gas prices erupted into out-and-out charges of price gouging after Exxon Mobil posted third-quarter profits of almost $10 billion.”
Oil companies profited from price spikes, but they didn’t arbitrarily set their prices extra-high. Market forces determined prices. But Schiavone didn’t explain that, and she didn’t bother to mention that gas prices have dropped 68 cents per gallon since their post-Katrina highs, declining every business day since October 6.
Filling up at the pump is costing less and less each day – 45 cents per gallon less since its post Rita peak of $2.94 as of October 30. Despite that huge drop, all three broadcast networks have reported on rising or high gas prices four times as often as falling prices. Here are some of the key results:
ABC the Worst: ABC mentioned falling gas prices only once out of 11 reports and that was only after three straight weeks of price declines.
Dropping Prices Have Little Impact: Gas prices dropped every business day from October 6 through October 30, but the three networks still mentioned rising or high prices 79 percent of the time.
Do you remember all those predictions in September that gasoline prices were going to $5 per gallon? As a reminder, here’s a report from CNN/Money on September 21:
“Remember when gas spiked to $3-plus a gallon after Hurricane Katrina? By this time next week, that could seem like the good old days.”
“‘We could be looking at gasoline lines and $4 gas, maybe even $5 gas, if this thing does the worst it could do,’ said energy analyst Peter Beutel of Cameron Hanover. ‘This storm is in the wrong place. And it's absolutely at the wrong time,’ said Beutel.”
From television to newspapers, the media have gone wild over oil companies’ profit reports this week, asking “how much is too much?”
That question alone demonstrated journalists’ omission of free market principles in their reporting. America’s free market allows the small businessman to become a large business if he is able. Once companies are publicly traded, millions of others share in the business’s profits. Yet, the media have pitted businesses against consumers, leaving out the fact that these large companies distribute dividends to millions of individuals.
Covering oil companies’ profits, reporters operated on the assumption that there should be a profit ceiling for a business, and that anything above that would be unacceptable. They also attempted to whip up consumer “outrage,” even though it is consumer demand and oil scarcity that drive up prices – not an arbitrary decision by oil companies. Just a few highlights:
An interesting contrast occurred on the morning shows regarding ExxonMobil’s record high quarterly earnings. Over at CNN’s American Morning, Miles O’Brien and Andy Serwer fretted over ExxonMobil’s announcement, with O’Brien declaring it the, “outrage moment of the morning.” Meanwhile, Good Morning America’s financial contributor Mellody Hobson explained how the profits were a result of supply and demand. Hobson explained to ABC’s Charlie Gibson how the “outrage” over these profits are “not warranted” and “the oil companies have nothing to do with how gas prices are set.”
At 7:17am, in promoting an Anne Thompson piece on how "Big Oil" is enjoying record profits Couric, used the "we" word.
Katie Couric: "They say one man's pain is another man's pleasure. And it turns out the pain we all shared at the gas pump this summer brought an awful lot of pleasure in the form of big profits to the nation's oil companies.
Newsbusters fans will remember Couric tried this line before on August 15th when she declared: "I had to take out a loan to fill up my minivan. It’s crazy.”
NBC's Tim Russert proclaimed, "It's a year away but the Democrats are feeling almost giddy this morning," as he ran down the negative news from NBC's own poll. Matt Lauer opened this morning's Today show with a teaser for the Russert political analysis segment:
Lauer: "Then to Washington where it rains it really pours. President Bush says he doesn't look at the poll numbers. He might not want to. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating is at its lowest level ever. And there's some astounding numbers when it comes to African-Americans and their support for the President. Tim Russert's gonna be here and crunch those numbers in a little while."
During the media's coverage of Katrina the race card was played again and again so it's no surprise that Lauer and Russert led with the fruits of their labor.
Ever wonder where the media find those people for the heart-wrenching personal interest stories used to illustrate a point? Me too.
The Today show aired a doozy this morning, and used it to make a hair-raising prediction that pointed the finger at insufficient government welfare spending.
The topic was increasing fuel prices, and in particular the rising cost of home heating.
Reporter Tom Costello sagely informed us "those high heating bills will hit low-income families especially hard." Well, yeah. That's one of the things about being low-income, you can't afford as much stuff, nachos to natural gas..
We were then treated to a clip of Joanne Baker, a not-elderly black Philadelphia woman living in what appeared to be a comfortable two-story home who lamented:
The results of the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll were released last night, and pressrooms around the nation appeared to be pleased. “NBC Nightly News” reported it this way (video link to follow):
Tim Russert: Brian, not good news for George W. Bush's second term thus far. Only 39% of Americans approve his job. 54% disapproval. That 39% approval is the lowest in the five years of his presidency. And Brian, listen to this: Only 2%, 2% of African Americans in the United States approve of George Bush's handling of the presidency. The lowest we've ever seen in that particular measurement.
The House of Representatives narrowly passed an energy bill today which would cut some federal red tape which prevents the timely approval and subsequent construction of oil refineries. This is to address what many oil industry watchers say is a shortage of refining capacity, which, moreso than the crude oil supply, impacts heavily on gas prices at the pump. CBSNews.com and The Hill newspaper have write-ups on their respective websites. I did notice The Hill's take was more comprehensive and did mention that Democratic leaders cajoled three dissenters from the party line to vote no, whereas the CBSNews.com article seems to skew heavily towards liberal Republican dissenters who voiced concerns about relaxed environmental protections.
Additionally, while I don't have a transcript available at time of publication, a report a few minutes ago on Special Report with Brit Hume hinted that Republicans believed going into the vote that they had many more Democratic votes for the measure than they did. This might indicate that Democratic leadership strongly leaned on dissenting members.
Broadcasters turn news into 24-hour speculation cycle about $5 per gallon post-hurricane gas prices.
Broadcast journalists have been the only ones bidding up gas prices lately. While they foretell a horizon of $4 and $5 gas, consumers on U.S. streets are paying an average of $2.81 – up just 6 cents since hurricane Rita.
ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News all covered the constant speculation about Gulf refinery damage and subsequent gas price spikes before and after Hurricane Rita’s September 24 impact. CNN used its 24 hours each day to raise fears about higher gas prices with show after show. A Nexis search of CNN transcripts around Rita’s landfall (from September 21 to 25) showed more than 20 mentions of the possibility of $4 or $5 gas from at least 12 different reporters in just five days on that network.
On this morning's Today Katie Couric and Tim Russert looked like NFL linebackers diving for a loose ball as they piled on Bush from so many different directions. First up was the gas price angle:
Couric: "I know the President is calling on the American public to conserve gasoline by driving less and he even sent a memo to all federal agency and department heads saying, the federal government, quote, 'must lead by example and further contribute to the relief effort by reducing its own fuel use during this difficult time.' How much political pressure is the President under given these rising fuel costs?"
Russert: "Enormous, Katie. It's the one issue that cuts across all class and geographic lines and as we just heard in Alexis' report it's not only gasoline cost for this fall but come this winter particularly in the Midwest and Northeast there's expectations that fuel heating costs can go up as much as 70 percent. Enormous political pressure. Why? Those are the battleground, undecided states that Republicans must continue to control to retain and control both houses of Congress."
In a telethon that would have been the envy of Jerry Lewis, the Today show's first half-hour painted a portrait of wall-to-wall gloom for America and for the political fortunes of George Bush.
This was done against a backdrop of Jimmy Carter's pet charity Habitat for Humanity quite literally pounding home the message - as it builds homes for the displaced in Rockefeller Center - of the difference a Democrat president can make.
In the news recap, a quartet of woe for Republicans:
Hapless former FEMA Director Michael Brown getting grilled by Congress.
Bill Frist denies wrongdoing in the sale of hospital stocks.
Sen. Pat Leahy importuning the president, when it comes to the nomination to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, to "be a uniter, don't be a divider." Yes, there's nothing like a towering giant of the bench like David Souter to bring a troubled nation together.
Abu Ghraib even puts in an appearance, with news of Lynndie England's conviction.
David Gregory, antagonist extraordinaire of GOP White House press secretaries, then did a segment on the issue of whether "taxpayers are getting ripped off" by the hurricane relief effort. Calling it "the splurge after the storm," Today aired a clip of liberal Dem stalwart Henry Waxman wringing his hands over possibly excessive profits being rung up by the contractors.
Washington Post pits motorists against ‘profit-guzzler’ oil companies.
“Winners and losers” is a familiar journalistic story construction that often oversimplifies situations. The September 25 Washington Post dubbed motorists the “big losers” and oil companies the “clear winners” in U.S. gas prices, turning the free market into a battlefield.
Justin Blum’s article was based on the fact that “the recent rise in gasoline prices has not benefited everyone in the production and distribution chain equally.” Thus began an unfair distribution of commentary on the market forces at work, including a reference to the economic laws of supply and demand as the “view” of oil refiners.
Inflation is a dirty word in business reporting – except when it’s the journalists themselves doing the inflating.
In the recent Katrina-driven gas scare, network news shows pumped up actual gas prices an average of 75 cents — higher than any state’s gas taxes. Prices shown on the screen were up to $3.25 higher than the national average for the day’s gas. On the other hand, when prices started dropping after Labor Day, the networks’ daily price patrols were scarce.
NBC was the worst offender, with prices shown averaging $1.01 higher than the national price. The network’s Anne Thompson said on the August 31 “Nightly News” that “no matter what kind of gas is sold, today it’s now unbelievably expensive.” Though the national average that day was $2.62, Thompson showed the “unbelievably expensive” backdrop of $3.49 for regular.
Misinformation continues to flow about supposed “record high” gas prices. Over the holiday weekend, the national average for gas rose to a little more than $3, still below the inflation-adjusted record of $3.11 set nearly 20 years ago.
That didn’t stop “The Early Show” on CBS from claiming a record-high $3.20 national average for regular unleaded gasoline. On the September 6 broadcast, both Julie Chen and Hannah Storm made the same incorrect claim.
According to Chen, “The huge hit Hurricane Katrina put on the area helped send gas prices shooting up 75 cents to an average of $3.20 a gallon.” Storm went even further claiming that the numbers she was citing came from AAA. “Since the storm hit, almost 70 percent of normal oil production has been shut down. And that, of course, has had a dramatic effect on gas prices. According to AAA, gas has gone up 75 cents. That puts the average cost of regular unleaded at $3.20 a gallon,” explained Storm.
CBS News's Jim Axelrod has blogged about his now-ended Price Patrol cross-country assignment which concluded this week. The feature highlighted the cost of gasoline across the country from New York to San Francisco. Axelrod and his producers hopped a red-eye from San Francisco to cover alleged price gouging in Atlanta, which has seen high gas prices following Hurricane Katrina due to a pipeline which has gone offline.
Axelrod paints with suspicious a gas station owner who set gas prices for premium gasoline at $6 per gallon at one point yesterday:
We've talked to three men who own or operate gas stations. Two are
Exxon stations. A gallon of unleaded regular at one was $2.99. At the
other, $3.19. Both say they are at the mercy of their wholesalers,
although Michael Cleary, the guy who's got it at $2.99, says staying
under $3.00 is very important to him. The other gentleman operates a BP
station. At one point yesterday he had super unleaded over $6 a gallon!
I went to ask him why. He had an interesting explanation. Basically
— and follow me with the logic on this one — he said he raised the
prices because he was worried he'd run out of gas and didn't
want his customers to buy gas. I asked him why he didn't just shut off
the pump. The conversation ended quickly. We'll show it to you tonight
on the CBS Evening News.
It took the force of Hurricane Katrina to wake up the media to a big story: U.S. oil refining.
Following a summer of relentless gas price coverage, the storm’s threat to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico added urgency to reports about the oil industry. But only one network news story in three months of summer coverage has attempted to explain the role of U.S. oil refining in the nation’s gasoline supply. Instead, networks have made passing references to the causes behind pricing and have criticized the free market.
One way the networks addressed refining was to hype the profits oil companies were gaining from higher prices. As NBC’s Katie Couric said on the August 17 “Today,” “As we pay through the nose, someone has to be smelling some pretty big profits.”
Likewise, the August 11 “World News Tonight” pounded the oil market for making a profit. ABC’s David Muir asked, “But are any of those increasing profits, both overseas and at home, being spent to fix those refineries or to help solve the shrinking U.S. gas supply?” Mike Rothman, an oil industry analyst, replied: “There has in fact been an increase in investment, both for production of oil as well as refining. But the impact of those is not immediate.” Muir responded as if he had not heard what Rothman said, continuing his attack: “But analysts say they’ve yet to see any improvement. And oil companies are busy spending billions in their profits reinvesting in themselves.” Muir didn’t look into how much of that “reinvesting” went to compliance costs for regulations on the industry.
Many times the bias in the mainstream press shows itself in just the stories it chooses to run. The homeless disappeared from the press when a Democrat was in the White House, President Clinton's vacations were never a big story the way that Reagan's and Bush's have been. Well, another story has crossed the wire tonight that falls, I believe, into the same category. Of All Gas Consumers, Bush May Be Biggest
Getting President Bush from here to there consumes an enormous amount of fuel, whether he's aboard Air Force One, riding in a helicopter or on the ground in a heavily armored limousine. The bill gets steeper every day as the White House is rocked by the same energy prices as regular drivers. Taxpayers still foot the bill.
Jim Axelrod of CBS “Evening News” provided the perfect metaphor for media coverage of gas prices last night. Axelrod just started traveling from New York to San Francisco as part of a new “Cross-Country Price Patrol,” On the first leg of his journey, he showed that he didn’t know where he was going with the story. Talking while he was driving, Axelrod said the following: “We know what kind of crazy drivers plague the streets in Manhattan. The recent spike in the price of gas has made going to the pump... I'm going the wrong way! Holy [bleep].”
Sunday’s New York Times Magazine cover story was one part ‘Mad Max’ mixed with one part poor economics. The 7,400 word piece by Peter Maass was a gusher of scaremongering end-of-world predictions and claimed that an oil “crisis” is imminent. Maass filled his story with comments and views from Matthew Simmons, author of a new book called “Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy.” The story did its best to paint a great scary oil conspiracy and an inevitable “crisis ahead” “whether in a year or 2 or 10.”
Maass joined the growing journalism crowd by calling oil prices a “record.” Just as others before him, Maass ignored basic math and didn’t adjust the prices for inflation. Maass also referred to the threat of oil hitting $100. But then he quoted Simmons who said “I wasn’t talking about low triple digits.” Yet the same story said that oil prices would drop again. To quote Maass, “So after a brief windfall for producers, oil prices would slide as recession sets in.”
Tell me if this surprises you. NPR is promoting the idea that rising oil prices will impact the midterm elections and, of course, will be the thing that turns the public against Republicans. If there was ever anyone at NPR who prayed to a higher being, this is what they would pray for.
How do they justify this hypothesis? Because in 1980, long gas lines "cost Carter his re-election".
1. Gas wasn't the only problem with Carter. 2. There are currently no gas lines that I know of, only high prices. 3. Things have changed significantly since 1980, especially in media and the access people have to information from more than 4 or 5 television monopolists and a band of like-minded newspapers.
So you've been waiting for your electric car? The car that's better than a Prius? The car you can just plug in at night and drive all day? The car that doesn't even use oil or even any fossil fuels? Wait on. AP and Denver Postsalivating aside, energy independence at a reasonable price is not just around the corner.
Politicians and automakers say a car that can reduce greenhouse gases and free America from its reliance on foreign oil is years or even decades away. Ron Gremban says such a car is parked in his garage. It looks like a typical Toyota Prius hybrid, but in the trunk sits an 80- miles-per-gallon secret: a stack of 18 brick-sized batteries that boosts the car's high mileage with an extra electrical charge so it can burn even less fuel.
In a stunning example of how the mainstream press manipulates public opinion, as well as a clear explanation as to why the majority of the American people believes that the economy is doing poorly despite mountains of statistical evidence to the contrary, the press today decided to largely ignore one of the biggest one-day declines in energy prices in many months.
As I reported here yesterday, oil prices at the NYMEX dropped by almost three dollars per barrel, with gas prices declining by almost ten cents. Yet, after scaring the American public with regular predictions of economic gloom and doom concerning inflationary fears tied to escalating energy prices the past few weeks, America's two most prominent newspapers -- the New York Times and the Washington Post -- must have decided that good news on the energy front wasn’t deserving of the public’s attention. (cont'd...)