ABC's World News and the NBC Nightly News gave plenty of time to left-wing environmentalists and Democrats opposed to President Bush's call to open up oil drilling off the shores of the continental U.S., but unlike the CBS Evening News the two newscasts provided equal time to supporters and experts who predicted it would lower gas prices. CBS reporter Bill Whitaker began with pro and con soundbites, but his story quickly deteriorated into a brief against the proposal with opponents and those saying it would do nothing to lower prices getting twice as many soundbites (4) as supporters (2).
Whitaker used California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to illustrate “bipartisan” opposition as he reminded viewers of a spill nearly 40 years ago: “In California, which suffered a devastating oil spill from a rig off Santa Barbara in 1969, opposition to offshore drilling is bipartisan.” Following a soundbite from Schwarzenegger, Whitaker hailed how “from Republican Governor Schwarzenegger to local environmentalists, California is largely green.” Whitaker next tried to undermine the proposal: “Drilling opponents say reserves off California wouldn't last long. In fact, at current consumption rates, 21 million barrels a day, Americans would use up the estimated 18 billion barrels off the coasts all around the country in less than two and a half years.”
For expertise, Whitaker featured only Severin Borenstein of the University of California: “Even if we approved oil drilling off the coast today, it would have no effect on the price of oil and no effect on the price we're paying for gasoline for five or ten years.”
But on the NBC Nightly News, Mark Potter ran a soundbite from energy analyst Daniel Yergin who predicted allowing offshore drilling “would send a psychological message to the world oil market which would affect prices before any of that new oil actually started to arrive.”
On ABC, Betsy Stark cited the same estimate of how the offshore oil represents “about two and a half years worth of U.S. consumption at current rates” and paraphrased the opinion of the experts she consulted: “Just the expectation of increasing domestic production at a time of tight supplies could drive down prices.”
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to provide this transcript of the story on the Wednesday, June 18 CBS Evening News anchored by Russ Mitchell:
RUSS MITCHELL: Now to a major political battle that is brewing over oil. There are billions of barrels of crude off the U.S. coast, but drilling for new wells has been banned for a quarter century. Today President Bush said America needs that oil, and called on Congress to take action so the oil companies can get it. Here's Bill Whitaker.
BILL WHITAKER: With gas prices topping $4 a gallon, President Bush says relief is at hand by lifting federal bans on offshore drilling, bans imposed in the 1980s by Congress and strengthened by the first President Bush. Today the current President Bush took aim at Congress, pressing Democrats to act first.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Americans will rightly ask how high oil, how high gas prices have to rise before the Democratic-controlled Congress will do something about it.
WHITAKER: Democrats fired right back.
REP. ED MARKEY (D-MA): If this was a good plan, then they would have adopted it over the six years they controlled the House, the Senate, and the presidency.
WHITAKER: Democrats are lining up behind Barack Obama to oppose offshore drilling. Republicans pushing to open the taps. In the midst of the hot debate, John McCain and one of his possible VP choices, the Governor of Florida, reversed course and now support drilling.
GOVERNOR CHARLIE CRIST (R-FL): So long as it's done safely and protects our beautiful beaches and protects our state.
WHITAKER: But in California, which suffered a devastating oil spill from a rig off Santa Barbara in 1969, opposition to offshore drilling is bipartisan.
GOVERNOR ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R-CA): I myself want to do everything that I can to make sure that California is protected.
WHITAKER: From Republican Governor Schwarzenegger to local environmentalists, California is largely green.
MARK GOLD, HEAL THE BAY: You get a much bigger improvement in a much shorter period of time by really aggressively going after conservation than you ever would with offshore oil drilling.
WHITAKER: Drilling opponents say reserves off California wouldn't last long. In fact, at current consumption rates, 21 million barrels a day, Americans would use up the estimated 18 billion barrels off the coasts all around the country in less than two and a half years.
SEVERIN BORENSTEIN, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA ENERGY INSTITUTE: Even if we approved oil drilling off the coast today, it would have no effect on the price of oil and no effect on the price we're paying for gasoline for five or ten years.
WHITAKER: Democrats say oil companies haven't yet drilled on some 68 million acres offshore and on that they've already leased. It seems this beautiful coastline will be fueling some ugly politics in this election year. Russ?
MITCHELL: Bill Whitaker on a gorgeous beach in Santa Monica, California, thank you so much.