Although a Monday CBS Evening News story included a soundbite from an expert dismissing the idea as “preposterous,” the newscast treated a far-left conspiracy theory -- about how the Bush administration is somehow manipulating the pump price for gas to help in the election -- as credible and worthy enough to deserve a broadcast network story. Citing how the price of a gallon of gas has fallen to the lowest all year, anchor Katie Couric wondered: “Is this an election year present from President Bush to fellow Republicans?” Over a shot of a "GOP: Grand Oil Party" bumper sticker laying on a dashboard, reporter Anthony Mason asserted: "Gas started going down just as the fall campaign started heating up. Coincidence? Some drivers don't think so." The man in the car insisted "I think it's basically a ploy to sort of get the American people to think, well, the economy is going good, let's vote Republican."
Over headlines from Daily Kos and Huffington Post, Mason conceded you can “call the conspiracy theory crazy,” but he touted how “it's spreading through Internet blogs and over the airwaves. And a recent poll found 42 percent of people actually believe the Bush administration has deliberately manipulated the price of gas to affect the election."
Back in late September, CNN's American Morning also gave credence to the conspiracy, as detailed in a September 27 MRC CyberAlert item, “CNN: Are Falling Gas Prices a Conspiracy Between Big Oil and GOP?”, which began:
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, on Monday's 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: "Ahead this morning, is there a conspiracy behind the drop in gas prices? Bloggers say there is something fishy going on." Velshi gave credibility to the theory: "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." He even asked: "Could President Bush have had anything to do with plummeting gas prices?" Velshi doubted the conspiracy idea, but then offered up: "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."
In late August, a NewsBusters posting by Megan McCormack recounted how CNN's Jack Cafferty saw a conspiracy by the oil companies: "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."
The transcript of the October 16 CBS Evening News story, as provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:
Katie Couric: "The way things are going at the gas pump, there's no point in topping off your tank today. Chances are, the price will be even lower tomorrow. As of tonight, gas is the lowest it's been all year, a nationwide average of $2.23 a gallon. It hasn't been that low since last Christmas. But is this an election year present from President Bush to fellow Republicans? Here's Anthony Mason."
Anthony Mason: "For two months now, gas prices have been in free-fall, plunging 81 cents a gallon since August and giving the President some rare good news."
George W. Bush: "Gas prices are down."
Mason, over “GOP: Grand Oil Party” bumper sticker laying on a dashboard: "Gas started going down just as the fall campaign started heating up. Coincidence? Some drivers don't think so."
Man in a car: "And I think it's basically a ploy to sort of get the American people to think, well, the economy is going good, let's vote Republican."
Mason, over headlines from Daily Kos and Huffington Post: "Call the conspiracy theory crazy, but it's spreading through Internet blogs-"
Unidentified male radio host: "Are you suspicious? Coincidence or collusion?"
Mason: "-and over the airwaves. And a recent [Gallup/USA Today] poll found 42 percent of people actually believe the Bush administration has deliberately manipulated the price of gas to affect the election."
Prof. Larry Sabato, University of Virginia: "You don't think gas prices matter? Just ask Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. They'll all tell you that their victories or defeats depended in part on the cost of gas at the pump."
Mason: "In fact, there's an uncanny connection between President Bush's popularity and the price at the pump. Take a look at this chart. As gas prices were rising, the President's approval rating was sinking."
Andy Laperriere, ISI Group: "You see what appears to be almost a perfect correlation that the President's approval is really driven by gas prices."
Mason: "But analyst Andy Laperriere says there's no conspiracy."
Laperriere: "It's preposterous."
Mason: "Supply and demand determine gas prices, he says, and apart from controlling the relatively small Strategic Petroleum Reserve-"
Laperriere: "There's virtually nothing the President can do to impact oil prices and gas prices."
Mason concluded with how lower gas prices are not benefitting Bush because of Iraq: "In any case, Iraq is now weighing down President Bush's poll numbers. Lower gas prices have made Americans feel better about the economy, but they're not making them feel better about the President. Anthony Mason, CBS News, New York."