Stoking the Outraged: Networks Showcase Consumers Feeling 'Pain at the Pump'

Anyone with a working TV set knows that the broadcast networks have hyped the high gas price story (“Pain at the Pump”) to ridiculous levels. A new MRC study of the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows found a whopping 183 stories in just three weeks, an avalanche of TV coverage that (helpfully to Democrats planning their midterm election strategy) has buried far more important good economic news, like robust economic growth, low unemployment and a booming stock market.

One device the networks have used to maintain an outraged tone in all of their coverage has been to plant themselves next to gas pumps and find motorists who aren’t embarrassed about whining on camera. The MRC analysts who went through all of the coverage — Geoff Dickens, Brian Boyd, Mike Rule and Scott Whitlock — counted 151 sound bites from gas buyers during the period we studied, April 12 to May 2.

Not every consumer was grumpy. On April 25, NBC’s Today talked to commuter Glen Roe, who had switched to a bicycle: “I’m getting more exercise, I’m less stressed from being on the roads. I’m not spending money on gas and so I’m pretty happy about it.” Another man quoted in the same story was also sanguine about his switch to a commuter train: “I’m sticking with the schedule, I know the fixed cost and the dollars I save not spending on gas and so I’m pretty happy about it.”

Other than that, it was pretty much wall-to-wall whining that could easily be edited into Democratic campaign commercials, including a woman who said she was pawning her wedding gifts and an elderly man who worried about being able to afford a loaf of bread after a fill-up.

A sample:

“I wish they were back to what was it, 75 cents a gallon in the Clinton Administration. That was good, I liked that.” — CBS’s The Early Show, April 12.

“It’s just a pain to have to pay that much. I mean, $64 a week, that’s crazy!” — NBC Nightly News, April 15.

“I think they’re ridiculous. I think they are really taking advantage of us.” — NBC Nightly News, April 15.

“I can’t go out as much. I can’t, like, I don’t know, order dessert when I go out to eat, stuff like that.” — NBC Nightly News, April 15.

“Oh, my God! This is just utterly ridiculous!” — NBC Nightly News, April 17.

“I think it’s getting a little bit outrageous and time for a change.” — NBC Nightly News, April 17.

“You have the petroleum companies making record profits. We’re being made to pay the price.” — NBC’s Today, April 21.

“It’s ridiculous People just playing the people, that’s all.” — NBC Nightly News, April 21.

“$3.41. They should start handing out knives to cut your arm and leg off.” — NBC Nightly News, April 21.

“I’m very upset. The American public is being gouged.” — ABC’s World News Tonight, April 21.

“He [President Bush] can probably do something, but we all known he’s an oil man. So, I don’t think he’s going to do a whole lot.” — ABC’s World News Tonight, April 22.

“It makes me angry that the prices keep going up for no apparent reason other then the profits of the gas companies.” — NBC Nightly News, April 22.

“I think it’s going to be like a luxury to drive pretty soon.” — NBC Nightly News, April 22.

“It just doesn’t seem right that the fuel profits are going up at the rate that they are and these companies are having the record profits.” — NBC Nightly News, April 24.

Man with a parrot on his shoulder: “You on fixed income and they keep raising and the oil companies are making all these billions and billions of profits.” — ABC’s Good Morning America, April 24.

“I had to pawn a ring that my mother gave me and my wedding set just in order for my husband to get back and forth to work on gas in his truck because gas prices are so ridiculous.” — ABC’s World News Tonight, April 24.

“I have difficulty believing that a President who has interests in oil is really concerned about the well being of the people who are paying so much for it.” — ABC’s Good Morning America, April 25.

“I hopefully will never have to pawn anything again for gas, but if they keep going up it looks like a lot of my jewelry will be in the pawn shop for gas just to make it back and forth to work.” — ABC’s Good Morning America, April 25.

“I used to get my car washed, but now I just drive around with a dirty car.” — NBC Nightly News, April 26.

College student Karen Morgan: “Half my income is going to gas....I’ve been waiting in line [at a fast-food drive thru] for about six minutes, so the cost of my meal is probably less than the price of gas that I’ve wasted just waiting here.” — NBC’s Today, April 27.

Reporter Sharyn Alfonsi: “What do you think when you fill up your car with gasoline now?”
Delbert Osborne, retiree: “I think, ‘Have I got enough money to pay for all this and still get a loaf of bread?’” — CBS Evening News, May 1.

“I just can’t believe like how much it costs me to fill up my gas tank.” — NBC’s Today, May 2.

“I don’t want to have to give all of my money to big oil companies.” — NBC’s Today, May 2.

Would the networks ever give us a similar roll call of angry taxpayers? I don't think so, either.

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