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...)
Oil and gas prices had their biggest one-day decline in months today after an Energy Department report suggested that the highly-touted shortage that has been all over the news in the past couple of weeks is actually not the case.
The September crude oil contract declined by $2.78 to $63.30 per barrel -- a 4.2% decline -- while September gas fell by 9.86 cents to $1.885 per gallon -- a 5% decline.
Demand for gasoline fell 75,000 barrels to an average 9.4 barrels a day, the lowest in a month, according to the report.
``There are signs that gasoline demand is tapering off, which has reduced supply fears," said [Tom Bentz, an oil broker at BNP Paribas Commodity Futures Inc. in New York].
U.S. gasoline demand last month was lower than in July 2004 because of higher retail prices, the American Petroleum Institute said in a report released today. The total amount of gasoline supplied in the U.S., a measure of demand, was 9.28 million barrels a day in July, down 0.8 percent from a year earlier, the industry-funded group's report showed.
Isn't that fascinating? Gasoline demand was lower this July than last July. Moreover, crude oil supplies are now 9.6% higher than they were this time last year.
On Tuesday night, ABC's World NewsTonight ran a report placing some of the blame for high gas prices on government regulations that make it difficult to build new refineries in a timely manner. Charles Gibson introduced the piece by noting that since 1981, "the number of refineries [in the U.S.] has fallen by more than half."
Betsy Stark did start her piece on an anti-business note, saying that "refiners are a pretty content group right now" who are "making record profits" and are "under growing pressure to spend some of those profits on new refineries," but she later outlined the difficulty of building a new refinery in Arizona: "It's taken five years to get the air quality permits. The site had to be moved from Phoenix to Yuma for environmental reasons. And after a decade of planning, they still haven't broken ground." Stark ended the story by noting that many Americans also oppose building refineries in their neighborhoods, the "not in my backyard" syndrome. A complete transcript of the story follows:
Unlike last week's brief but welcome departure from biased coverage on gas prices, CBS's Early Show was back to form with its biased reporting today, this time with correspondent Mark Strassmann faulting businesses for factoring higher gas prices into the price of goods and services:"And as prices keep going up, more businesses want customers, want you, to pay fuel surcharges, as if paying for your gas wasn't enough, now you're expected to pay for other people's."
Of course, it shouldn't have to take a brilliant economist to tell Strassmann that all businesses always pass on all their input costs to consumers in the final price of their goods and services, including the costs of fuel as well as wages, health care, taxes, and regulation, and that if not for a separate "surcharge," the additional fuel cost would just be factored and hidden into the "regular" price.
As Mark Finkelstein accurately noted earlier this morning, NBC’s Today gave big play to the supposed havoc that rising fuel prices are having on American society. But the hype reached ridiculous levels when Katie Couric insisted during Monday’s show opening that “I had to take out a loan to fill up my minivan. It’s crazy.”
Couric makes at least $15 million a year co-hosting Today.
Here’s how Couric and co-host Matt Lauer teased their upcoming segment on the “pain” of “sky high” gas prices:
So, have you noticed that gas prices are heading higher?
The San Francisco Chronicle certainly has. In fact, after reading this Sunday's front-page article on the subject, as well a business section cover story from the same issue, one gets the sense that the economy is about to crumble at any moment as a result.
Of couse, that's if you only read the portion of these articles on the covers of their respective sections, for inside the body of the paper, things are mysteriously much less dire:
On Friday night, reporting on the rise in the price of a barrel of oil to $66.87, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer inaccurately described that as a “record high,” ABC anchor Bob Woodruff erroneously referred to it as “another new high” and NBC's Brian Williams fallaciously declared: “Oil prices at an all-time record again today.” But NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, in a piece on what is causing the rising prices of oil and gas, soon conceded the reality which her colleagues studiously avoid: “As bad as prices are now, the surprising fact is that gasoline is still cheaper than in 1981, at least adjusted for inflation.” A barrel of oil will need to top $90 to set an actual record high price.
Below is an August 12 MRC CyberAlert article, “Nets Falsely Cite 'Record High' Gas Prices, Target Oil Profits,” about Thursday night and earlier mis-reporting of energy prices:
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on Tuesday night wondered, “with many of the numbers and many economists saying the economy is in good shape in this country, the question is: Why isn't President Bush benefitting from that?” Reporter Kelly O'Donnell inadvertently provided part of the answer when she suggested the lack of public confidence in the economy is “fueled most notably by record gas prices, an issue the White House concedes overshadows other economic successes." But while gas prices are rising, they are far short a “record” high price. NBC isn’t alone in spreading this canard. On Monday’s CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer asserted that “the government reported today that gas prices jumped eight cents in the past week to a record high of $2.37 a gallon. And oil soared to another record high, today just short now of $64 a barrel." The same night, ABC anchor Charles Gibson falsely cited how the cost of gas and oil “hit new highs.”
Full August 10 CyberAlert item follows. For today's MRC CyberAlert, click here.