Sometimes when I'm talking about the media with someone who's smart but
not particularly that political, they'll sometimes wonder why it's
worth pointing out press bias or unfairness. The way they figure it,
basically everyone is smart enough to take everything they see in the
press with a grain of salt. If they come across something that's not
true, they'll reject it.
It's a nice idea in theory, but in practice it just doesn't work that way. Most people are either too busy, too apathetic, or not intelligent enough to question the accuracy of something they see on TV or read somewhere.
The latest Gallup survey provides a great illustration for this point. According to Gallup, nearly one-half of the American public believes that President Bush is deliberately manipulating oil prices to help Republicans. The following is from USA Today's recount of the poll (h/t: Ace):
A hefty 42% of Americans polled over the weekend said they think fuel prices are being manipulated by the Bush administration to help Republicans in an election year. The USA Today/Gallup Poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.The story quoted above does well at correcting the false perception, unlike many in the media, such as CNN's Bill Schneider who last Friday wondered if GOP politics was behind the drop in oil prices. "The drop in prices may last a couple of months, long enough to get through the November election. Could that be what the oil companies want?" he wondered before effectively answering in the affirmative.
Petroleum analysts say the reasons are less Machiavellian: Supplies are above average, partly because summer's high prices attracted record imports. Hurricanes haven't knocked out Gulf of Mexico production. U.S. regulations permit a cheaper-to-make fuel blend in fall and winter.
"Without a shadow of a doubt, there is not any manipulation, and it has nothing to do with the approaching election," says Peter Beutel, head of energy-price consultant Cameron Hanover. The petroleum market is "too big a market to manipulate. The price just … could not sustain itself."
I think one of the main culprits in all this is that most people don't understand how free markets work, which leaves them vulnerable to seemingly sensible ideas which cater to their political predispositions. Instead of being a victim of this, reporters, the self-styled purveyors of information, should be helping the public avoid believing in economic conspiracy theories or nonsense.