Tale of Two Titles: 'Today' Asks If There's Gouging, GMA Declares It Exists

Have a look at the two screen captures from this morning's shows. Same issue, different takes. Good Morning America is apparently sure that gas price gouging exists, and wants to stop it. 'Today' is agnostic, simply posing the question whether gouging is going on.

But when you turn to the substance of the two segments, there was one consistency: neither show adduced any evidence of gouging. Not a scintilla to show that oil companies are in fact colluding. And without collusion there can be no sustained gouging, since any company that pushed prices higher than market levels would immediately lose its sales to competitors.

Over at GMA, the guest was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, for all the world looking like a politician wanting to give the appearance of doing something about a problem over which he in fact has little control.

Sawyer opened by raising the gouging issue: "You are targeting gouging, which is the guy at the pump, the middle guy. How is this going to help and how soon, specifically, the person paying $2.91 on average right now?"

A seemingly sympathetic Frist replied:"Diane, you're exactly right. This $2.91, over $3 in some areas right now, cannot be sustained by the person driving their kids to school or filling up their tractor with fuel."

If Frist is right, that the market cannot sustain these prices, then the market won't sustain these prices! That irony seemed lost on Frist, though to his credit he did twice state that prices are ultimately determined by supply and demand. He went on to tout the letter he and House Speaker Hastert sent the President asking for an investigation into possible gouging. He did also call for increasing domestic production by drilling in ANWR and 'looking into' drilling on the continental shelf.

Bottom line, not a word from Frist, or Sawyer for that matter, adducing any proof of gouging. But that didn't stop GMA from demanding a stop to a problem it can't say exists!

At Today, NBC reporter Ann Thompson brooded over the possibility of gouging, again without offering any proof. She opened this way: "As consumers and politicians and even President Bush [nice gratuitous swipe there!] grow increasingly suspicious it's not just refinery trouble and the switch to summer gasoline behind the price surge."

Thompson stuck to her theme of Democrats being the caring party: "In this election year Democrats like this Washington senator [Maria Cantwell] talking about tougher fines for gas gougers. Even on the right the Republican congressional leadership sending a letter to President Bush asking for an investigation."

So the problem's so bad in Thompson's mind that "even" Pres. Bush and "even" those on "the right" are doing something about it. Note also Thompson's terminology. On the one hand, the neutral "Democrats" while the other party is described as "the right" before being recognized as Republicans. When's the last time you heard the MSM use "the left" as a synonym for Democrats?

Ironically, it was Today rather than GMA that actually put someone on claiming that gouging was indeed occurring. Then again, it was a fellow from the lefty "Public Citizen" group, whose theory was that "it costs $20 to extract a barrel of all, and selling it to us $70, that is gouging." Guess Public Citizen never heard of the laws of supply and demand, or at the least would like them revoked.

Not to be outdone in the demagoguery department, GMA managed to find a lady who claimed she had hocked her wedding ring to pay for gas.

In any case, from politicians to private groups to the media, everyone is scrambling to stake out their turf on the gas price story. Suggestion to GMA: next time, before you ask how to stop a problem, why not try to prove it exists?

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.