Here We Go Again: Nets Complain About 'Soaring' Gas Prices; Oil Company 'Profiteering'

Just as they did last Spring, the broadcast networks, particularly ABC and NBC, have begun hyperventilating about gas prices, specifically a 30 cent price increases per gallon which they characterized as “shooting up” and “soaring.” On Saturday, NBC Nightly News anchor John Seigenthaler teased: "Pain at the Pump: Gas prices going up more than 30 cents in a month. How high will they go?" Referring to an increase in a month from $2.20 to $2.53 a gallon, he soon insisted: "Gas prices are soaring again."

ABC anchor Charles Gibson made gas prices his lead story on Monday night, teasing: “Gas prices are not just creeping up again, they're shooting up.” Reporter Dean Reynolds listed the higher prices around the nation, complete with a woman at a gas pump whining about the “ridiculous” price, before acknowledging prices are “in concert with the annual switch from winter grade to summer grade fuel” and that “unforeseen problems at refineries and pipelines, together with record demand for gasoline in January and February, have combined to push prices higher and higher." In other words, supply and demand. Nonetheless, Reynolds asserted: “All of which leads to questions about oil company profiteering."

Monday's NBC Nightly News also led with a full story on gas prices, but reporter Tom Costello managed to explain the cause without blaming nefarious oil company “profiteering.” He cited supply and demand, noting how “refineries right now are operating at about 80 to 85 percent capacity” while “demand is rising.”

ABC's World News. Charles Gibson teased his lead topic:
“Tonight: Pressure at the pump. Gas prices are not just creeping up again, they're shooting up and we're still a long way from summer.
Charles Gibson began his March 12 newscast with the story (transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth who corrected the closed-captioning against the video):
"Good evening. Last summer, it was what everybody was talking about -- gas prices. And the talk is starting again. Again you can see the prices going up almost daily. Today the government said the price of an average gallon of regular went up five cents just in the last week to $2.56 a gallon. That's up 39 cents a gallon since late January. And summer, when demand typically peaks, is still a long ways off. ABC's Dean Reynolds joins me now from Chicago. Dean?"

Dean Reynolds: "Good evening, Charlie. Well, one analyst we talked to today said Americans are just getting used to higher gasoline prices, and that despite them, demand this summer is expected to be astronomical. The lowest price for a gallon of regular gasoline in this country, $2.22 in Alaska. Everywhere else it's more, almost a buck more in San Francisco."

Woman at a gas pump: "Sixty bucks, that's ridiculous!"

Reynolds: "The current price spike is felt in every region of the country, but especially on the West Coast where it's up 44 cents from a year ago. Indeed, just six weeks ago, the national average was $2.16 a gallon. In Atlanta, the current pump price of $2.44 is food for thought."

Another woman at a gas station: "Get a cheaper car, get a smaller car with a smaller gas tank. That's my advice to everybody."

Reynolds: "It's not entirely unexpected. The graph of the last two years shows price peaks in concert with the annual switch from winter grade to summer grade fuel, a change that is taking place earlier than usual this year. That and unforeseen problems at refineries and pipelines, together with record demand for gasoline in January and February, have combined to push prices higher and higher."

Phil Flynn, Alaron Trading: "The indication is that we're going to see demand at a record high, and if we see that, more than likely, we're going to see prices go to record high."

Reynolds: "In Chicago, where the pump price is now north of $2.50 a gallon, adjustments are under way."

Third woman: "I have to do it no matter what, so other things suffer. But the car doesn't."

Reynolds: "All of which leads to questions about oil company profiteering."

Bill Paul, independent energy analyst: "They are charging what the market will bear. Are the oil companies making a killing? You bet. Is there anything illegal about it? No."

Reynolds: "But this is illegal. Three times in the last month, the some woman in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, has driven away from what must be her favorite service station without bothering to pay. And the betting is she'll be back. With prices inching toward $3, she has all the incentive she needs. And it's probably going to go above $3. Another analyst we spoke to said he expected 50-cent increases in each of the next three years, Charlie."

NBC Nightly News. Fill-in anchor Campbell Brown teased:
“Pain at the Pump. Gas prices are up again. Why now and what's next?”
Brown led:
“Good evening. You are probably feeling it because it is happening in every part of the country right now. Gas prices on the rise. It does seem a little early for that increase we're used to seeing at the beginning of summer, but take a look at these numbers. The current average price for a gallon of unleaded, $2.54. A month ago it was $2.21. That's up 33 cents in the last month.”
Reporter Tom Costello explained the problem without, as ABC did, blaming nefarious oil companies or complaining about their “profiterring”:
“In a word -- it's refineries. The refineries right now are operating at about 80 to 85 percent capacity. They should be operating at 100 percent capacity. But believe it or not, 18 months after the hurricanes along the Gulf coast, Rita and Katrina, many refineries there are still recovering. Also we had a major fire at a refinery in Texas last month. 170,000 barrel-per-day refinery has been offline. Then another one in Los Angeles offline because of a fire. All that putting pressure on gasoline inventories. They're lower than normal. In addition, demand is rising. All of that combined has got a great deal of pressure on gasoline overall. Imports aren't big enough right now and so, as you might expect, the pressure is mounting and the prices are going up.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center