Networks Link Bush to 'Skyrocketing' Gas Prices 15 Times More Than Obama

As gas prices rose in 2008, network reporters mentioned President Bush in 15 times as many stories than they brought up President Obama in a similar period in 2011.

Bush drew gallons of coverage in 2008. Comparing a 20-day span of rising gas prices in 2008 to 24 days of rising prices in February 2011, the Business & Media Institute found the networks did more than 2 ½ times as many stories during the Bush years versus Obama.

Unrest in the Mideast has hit American consumers hard, driving up gas prices that had already been above $3-a-gallon since Dec. 23. The national average for gasoline hit $3.36 on Feb. 28, the highest ever for the month of February according to The Associated Press. But the amount of network news coverage of rising gas prices did not reflect it.

All three broadcast networks together averaged just one story about rising gas prices per day. In contrast, when gas prices rose similarly in 2008, the networks averaged more than one story, per network, per day.

It took 24 days, from Feb. 1, to Feb. 24 for the national average for unleaded gasoline to climb from $3.101 to 3.228. The last comparable period of "eye-popping" gas prices: the 20 days between Feb. 21, 2008, and March 11, 2008, when the national average climbed from $3.086 to $3.227.

Some 2008 reports including the March 6, 2008, "Early Show" exaggerated the already rising prices by emphasizing extremely high prices. That morning CBS showed viewers a California gas pump that was charging $5.19-a-gallon for regular unleaded before mentioning the national average for that day, which was $2.02 lower. Some 2011 reports have reversed that trend by downplaying the impact of currently high gas prices on consumers by using words like "inching" to describe rising prices, or calling U.S. prices "a bargain compared to Europe."

The Business & Media Institute examined all the broadcast network news reports mentioning gas prices during each of those time periods and found ABC, CBS and NBC aired more than 2 ½ times more stories (63 stories to 24) in 2008 than they did in 2011.

But it was more than just the amount of coverage that showed the media's willingness to spin gas prices one way under Bush, and another way under Obama. In 2008, network reporters mentioned "Bush," the "president" or "government" in gas price reports 15 times more often than in 2011 under President Obama (15 stories to 1). A number of stories portrayed Bush as out-of-the-loop when he was asked about the possibility of $4-a-gallon gas and hadn't yet heard that prediction.

In contrast to the 15 reports referencing the Bush administration when gas prices were "through the roof," the only 2011 story to mention the president was NBC "Nightly News" on Feb. 24. Tom Costello's report on the impact of surging gas prices quoted President Obama who was "optimistic."

Obama said, "We actually think that we'll be able to ride out the Libya situation and it will stabilize." Costello didn't question the president's statement or mention any of the administration's policies that will constrict the supply of oil and gasoline and could further increase the price of gasoline for consumers.

Networks Fail to Mention Obama's Anti-Oil Actions

President Obama is the most anti-oil president in years and has taken specific steps to limit domestic oil production including a moratorium on deepwater drilling in May 2010 after the BP spill and the recent imposition of new regulations on the industry. Yet, the networks refused to notice in the recent gas prices stories BMI analyzed, just as they did in December 2010.

Not a single one of 2011 stories about rising gas prices BMI examined brought up any of Obama's anti-oil policies despite the impact they could have on supply and prices.

Obama's drilling ban was overturned by a federal court judge in June, but his administration continued to enforce it. On Feb. 3, Bloomberg reported that the administration "acted in contempt" of court by doing so.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled on June 22, 2010, that the ban was "overly broad," according to Bloomberg. The following month Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put a second moratorium into effect, but voluntarily lifted it in October.

Some industry insiders claim there is still an "informal moratorium" on offshore drilling. "President Obama claims to have lifted the Gulf moratorium, yet not a single deepwater permit has been issued in nine months," Jim Adams, the Offshore Marine Service Association's president, said in a press release quoted by Bloomberg.

Adams said the consequences have been thousands of lost jobs and higher prices for gasoline and heating oil. At least one company, Seahawk drilling, has filed for bankruptcy blaming Obama administration policies.

The Heritage Foundation wrote on Jan. 11, 2011, that only two new deepwater permits have been issues since the end of the Obama moratorium, "down 88 percent from the historical average." Heritage also said shallow-water permits are down 11 percent. The Obama administration has also cancelled four pending lease sales in Alaska and reinforced existing offshore drilling bans, which prevent exploration in 85 percent of coastal waters.

"The lack of exploration and production means fewer jobs for out-of-work Americans and less money flowing into federal coffers," Heritage concluded.

Action on at least several of those permits may be forthcoming now that Feldman has ordered Salazar to decide on five permit applications from Ensco within 30 days.

Investor's Business Daily argued in a recent editorial that the Obama administration is intentionally allowing prices to spike in order to make green energy more desirable.

On the issue of rising prices, IBD editorialized: "It's not just Mideast turmoil that has brought us to this point. It's also a deliberate program of restricting domestic energy to make so-called green energy more attractive and necessary, keeping an Obama campaign promise that energy prices would 'necessarily skyrocket' on his energy agenda."

What High Gas Prices Mean for the U.S. Economy?

Moratoriums and permit delays have already costs jobs and threatened businesses and "soaring" gas prices could damage the fragile U.S. economy even more. Some analysts have predicted $5-a-gallon gasoline which would be "devastating," but "serious" consequences could result even if prices only reach the $3.75-a-gallon range.

AP reported that some businesses are already taking the hit for extra fuel costs because they don't think the economy is strong enough to pass it on in the form of higher prices.

In that same report, AP quoted Oil Price Information Service's chief oil analyst Tom Kloza. "[He] believes that the normal seasonal rise in prices has been pulled ahead by events in the Middle East, but he still expects prices to rise further. He predicts prices will reach $3.50 to $3.75 per gallon, barring more chaos in the Middle East," AP said.

Kloza said that would have "very serious consequences for the economy."

AP also reported that, "Over a year, analysts estimate, oil at $100 a barrel would reduce U.S. economic growth by 0.2 or 0.3 of a percentage point. Rather than grow an estimated 3.7 percent this year, the economy would expand 3.4 percent or 3.5 percent. That would likely mean less hiring and higher unemployment."

According to John Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, rising fuel prices be the "biggest obstacle yet" to job growth. Challenger said in a release, "Companies will be reluctant to pass along their higher fuel costs to consumers. So, the more companies are required to spend on fuel, the less they have to spend on expansion and hiring."

Higher prices, such as the $5-a-gallon prediction would be even worse for the economy. University of Maryland economist Peter Morici told BMI: "$5-a-gallon would be devastating if it's in 2011, if it's in 2014 it might not be devastating. But right now, if we went to that by July it would kill the recovery. It is unlikely that we will get to $5-a-gallon because it would kill the recovery before that point and then prices would go down."

Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour
Julia A. Seymour is the Assistant Managing Editor for the MRC's Business and Media Institute.