After a Week of False Reports of 'Record High' Gas, Some Indirectly Cede Reality

After a week of inaccurate reports about the “record high” price for gas when, adjusted for inflation, the price was still below the cost in March of 1981, on Monday night ABC, CBS, and NBC again touted a “record high” price, but at least NBC acknowledged it simply matched the real 1981 price, while CBS alluded to a 1981 comparison. With “Record Prices” on screen, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reported that “gas is up another 12 cents in just the past week to a nationwide average tonight of $3.22 a gallon. Adjusting for inflation, that beats the all-time high set more than a quarter century ago at the start of the Iran-Iraq war.” In fact, it does not beat it but only “matches” it, as NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams relayed: “For the second week in a row gas prices have hit a record high. The feds say the average price for unleaded regular soared eleven-and-a-half cents over the last week to a new record of $3.22 a gallon. That matches the peak price reached during 1981 during the Iran-Iraq war when the figures are adjusted for inflation.”

ABC anchor Charles Gibson, however, continued to deliver distorted reporting in which he refused to adjust for inflation. “Gas prices hit another all-time high,” he announced in teasing the May 21 World News. He set up the subsequent story: “Another Monday, another record high for the price of a gallon. The government says the price of gas went up 12 cents a gallon from last week, when it was already at a record high.”

Gibson was the most energetic last week in pushing the false “record high” storyline. My May 14 NewsBusters item, “Here We Go Again: Inane Hype for 'Record High' Gas When Price Lower than in 1981,” recounted:

As another summer driving season approaches, media outlets cannot resist again hyping dire stories about the supposed “record high” price of a gallon of gas when, adjusted for inflation, the current $3.10 average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is still lower than in 1981. ABC was out front Monday night with the fallacious reporting. World News anchor Charles Gibson teased up top, “Record prices: Gasoline across the nation hits an all-time high, a record price, before the summer even begins.” With “Record High” on screen, Gibson relied on new numbers from the Energy Information Administration as he introduced the subsequent story by asserting that “a gallon of gas has never been more expensive than right now. The government announced this afternoon that the average price of regular gas is $3.10 a gallon.” Reporter John Berman also cited the “record high” price before marveling at how demand is rising: “Despite the agony, for the most part, we haven't changed our actions. Demand for gas is actually up one percent from this time last year...”

But ABC was not along amongst the broadcast network evening newscasts. The MRC's Brad Wilmouth tracked down for me how last Monday, May 14, Katie Couric referred to how “the price of gasoline hit an all-time high today, a nationwide average of $3.10 a gallon for self-serve regular.”

Three nights later, on the Thursday, May 17 NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams trumpeted “another all-time high again today” for the price of gas. Reporter Tom Costello cited “record prices at the pump: $3.11 a gallon nationally, up 94 cents since January.”

Monday night's reports were based on the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) weekly survey of a gallon of regular gas at the pump which on Monday pegged the price at $3.22.

A Monday Reuters dispatch, “Gasoline price at inflation adjusted peak,” by Tom Doggett, began:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. retail gasoline prices hit a record high for the second week in a row and matched the inflation-adjusted peak reached in the early 1980s during the
Iran-Iraq war, the government said on Monday, as concern about low motor fuel supplies pushed up pump costs.

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline soared 11.5 cents over the last week to a fresh record of $3.22 a gallon, according to the federal Energy Information Administration's nationwide survey of 800 service stations.

The much larger Lundberg industry survey of 7,000 stations showed the national price of gasoline jumped 11.4 cents over the last two weeks to a record $3.18 a gallon.

The latest EIA pump price also equals the all-time high fuel cost of $3.22 a gallon, when adjusted for inflation, reached in March 1981 after war erupted between Iran and Iraq....

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center