For the third time in less then a month, CNN has aired a report investigating the connection between falling gas prices and the GOP’s fortunes in the looming fall election. This time, "American Morning" reporter Ali Velshi looked into the conspiracy theory that oil companies are trying to help Republicans by dropping prices. Co-Anchor Soledad O’Brien teased the report this way:
Soledad O'Brien: "Ahead this morning, is there a conspiracy behind the drop in gas prices? Bloggers say there is something fishy going on."
A few minutes later, at 8:24AM EDT, the program’s other anchor, Miles O’Brien, introduced the segment and joined in the theorizing:
Miles O’Brien: "Well, the national average is now $2.38 for unleaded regular. One month ago, it was $2.87. A year ago, it was $2.79. The price is supposed to go even lower as we head toward the election. Hmm."
In fairness to "American Morning" and CNN, in the next sentence, Mr. O’Brien referred to bloggers who believe this as "the grassy knoll group." This led Velshi to quickly attempt to place some distance between himself and the conspiracy theorists:
Ali Velshi: "I'm not necessarily one of those."
Miles O’Brien:: "I'm not saying you are."
Velshi: "All right..."
O’Brien: "But they're out there."
And in fact, the report did feature an oil industry representative to knock down the argument. But reporter Velshi did entertain and seriously consider the conspiracy allegations of left wing bloggers:
Velshi: "Cheaper gas -- finally. But why? Well, the legendary summer driving season is over. No hurricanes have damaged Gulf Coast rigs and refineries. But with a little more than six weeks to the midterm elections, the blogs are buzzing with other theories. Are lower gas prices a Republican plot? This blogger wonders if Republicans are trying to soften voters, who have spent the last year angry about high prices. [Reads from websites] 'I predict it will work, by the way. The Republicans will retain control of Congress.’ ‘Those Republicans need all the help they can get, and big oil is doing the best they can to assist.’"
A representative of the oil industry is brought on to briefly refute the conspiracy. After that, Velshi returned to wondering if maybe, just maybe, the President could be involved:
Velshi: "Back in July, both crude oil and gasoline hit their highest recorded prices. Gas was averaging about $3 a gallon. By mid-September, oil had dropped about $15 a barrel, so gas should have dropped about $0.45 a gallon. It actually dropped $0.50 a gallon, and it's dropped more since then. Could President Bush have had anything to do with plummeting gas prices? We asked Professor Akshay Rao, who studies pricing strategies."
Professor Rao, of the University of Minnesota, downplayed the theory, but didn’t dismiss it all together. In fact, he posited another hypothesis in its place:
Akshay Rao : "Surely, if he picked up the phone and made, you know, five or 10 strategic phone calls, he might be able to influence prices to some degree. But, you know, I -- I think that it's a fairly farfetched theory."
Velshi: "What's more conceivable, according to Rao, is that the energy industry cut prices without any prompting from Washington. That's because they're worried that if the Democrats win, they'll follow up on threats to tax the energy industry more heavily."
At the close of the segment, Velshi and co-anchor Miles O’Brien, seemed to settle on this middle ground theory:
Velshi: "Now, whether they actually did it or didn't do it is an interesting question. I don't think it's -- they could do it. The oil companies -- this doesn't -- there doesn't need to be any conspiracy here. So, for the conspiracy theorists, they can have that put to bed. Maybe the oil companies realize that the Democrats coming in, it's going to be bad for them, because the Democrats have pretty much said to the oil companies, we're going to pile the taxes on if we, we take over in November."
O’Brien: "Which is why there'll be no e-mails saying this. It just..."
Velshi: "No smoking gun."
O’Brien: "... if it is happening, it just happens organically, shall we say?"
In other words, we may not endorse all the bloggers theories, but there has to be some sort of conspiring between the GOP and "Big Oil." CNN certainly seems infatuated with giving air time to this topic. Ten days ago, Bill Schneider discussed the subject in a report for "The Situation Room." At the end of August, Jack Cafferty came right out and repeated the claims of the liberal bloggers:
Jack Cafferty: "You know, if you were a real cynic, you could also wonder if the oil companies might not be pulling the price of gas down to help the Republicans get re-elected in the midterm elections a couple of months away."
As stated earlier, Miles O’Brien began the story by referring to people who believe in these theories as "the grassy knoll group." After three stories inside of a month, it might be fair to wonder, does CNN belong in that club too?