Today Show Advances 'Vast Right Wing' Gas Price Conspiracy Theory

On this morning's Today show, NBC's Carl Quintanilla floated the kooky conspiracy theory that the oil companies lowered gas prices to help the GOP. Today co-host Meredith Vieira at the top of the show even postulated: "You know the good news is that gas prices are down but do the elections have anything to do with it? In other words are we being manipulated?"

Co-host Matt Lauer fed the conspiracy, when he introduced the segment: "This morning on Today At the Pump, falling gas prices fueling conspiracy theories. The price of a gallon of gas, the average price, is way down to about $2.21 a gallon just in time for the midterm elections. Is it a coincidence? Some people say no."

The story featured loony consumers at the pump buying into the myth and liberal Air America radio host Rachel Maddow saying her listeners: "do worry that maybe there's a conspiracy." Incidentally Today has yet to cover Air America's corruption or financial problems.

Near the end of the piece Quintanilla did air a soundbite from a skeptical trader and ran a quote from Shell Oil's president but concluded the story, parroting the infamous "conspiracy" line from Hillary Clinton: "Others see a vast right wing conspiracy that leads right from the pump to the booth. For Today, Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, New York."

The following is the full segment that aired in the 7am half hour of the October 25th Today show:

Matt Lauer: "This morning on Today At the Pump falling gas prices fueling conspiracy theories. The price of a gallon of gas, the average price, is way down to about $2.21 a gallon just in term for the midterm elections. Is it a coincidence? Some people say no. CNBC's Carl Quintanilla has that story."

[On screen headline: "Gas Conspiracy? Oil Prices Fall As Election Nears"]

Carl Quintanilla: "As conspiracy theories go this one's a doozy. It says the price of gas, now at its lowest level of the year, has actually been forced, manipulated by oil companies to benefit the President and his party ahead of the election now just two weeks away. The rumor running rampant from Internet blogs to liberal talk radio."

Rachel Maddow, Air America host: "What we're hearing from our listeners is I think a lot of what you're seeing in the blog world too, that people do worry that maybe there's a conspiracy."

Quintanilla: "Even a topic at gas stations themselves."

[Woman in car: "The coming election might have something to do with it."]

[Man in car: "Just think that after the election I think the prices are gonna go up again."]

Quintanilla: "It's true political popularity often centers around energy prices. Jimmy Carter learned that the hard way."

Jimmy Carter: "All of us must learn to waste less energy."

Quintanilla: "But they've been good news for President Bush. Gas prices are down 82 cents from their highs back in August thanks to plenty of supply and a weak hurricane season. No surprise the President's approval rating on the economy is up, now 44 percent and he didn't hesitate to mention the benefits to the consumer in an interview Monday with CNBC."

George W. Bush: "His health care costs are still high but his gasoline prices are low, lower. And when you couple all that with the tax cuts he's got more money in his pocket."

Quintanilla: "So could anyone have made gas prices fall?"

Eric Bolling, independent trader: "It's not [the] administration, it's not a country, it's not a government that's forcing the price higher or lower it's simply a function of supply and demand."

Quintanilla: "Even if it were a grand scheme it would be a long shot. A recent NBC poll shows gas prices are overshadowed this year by other issues like Iraq, health care and moral values. But already Big Oil's on the defensive. In a speech, Monday, the president of Shell Oil said, 'We simply do not talk to each other about issues like pricing. We would not talk to the White house about pricing.' Strong denials, even as others see a vast right wing conspiracy that leads right from the pump to the booth. For Today, Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, New York."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.