More False Claims of “Record High” Energy Prices, But NBC Concedes...

On Friday night, reporting on the rise in the price of a barrel of oil to $66.87, CBS anchor Bob Schieffer inaccurately described that as a “record high,” ABC anchor Bob Woodruff erroneously referred to it as “another new high” and NBC's Brian Williams fallaciously declared: “Oil prices at an all-time record again today.” But NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell, in a piece on what is causing the rising prices of oil and gas, soon conceded the reality which her colleagues studiously avoid: “As bad as prices are now, the surprising fact is that gasoline is still cheaper than in 1981, at least adjusted for inflation.” A barrel of oil will need to top $90 to set an actual record high price.

Below is an August 12 MRC CyberAlert article, “Nets Falsely Cite 'Record High' Gas Prices, Target Oil Profits,” about Thursday night and earlier mis-reporting of energy prices:

To reach a record high, the price of a gallon of gas would have to exceed $3 a gallon and oil would need to go over $90 a barrel, yet the media continue to erroneously hype lower price points, such as $2.37 for gas, as "record highs." On Thursday night, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff fallaciously cited "record high" gas and oil prices before Betsy Stark fretted that if "record" prices on home heating oil "comes on top of record gas prices, there will be lots of consumers with nothing left to spend after they've paid all those energy bills." Woodruff spun the story into an indictment of the energy industry: "Oil companies and oil-producing countries are making massive profits while American consumers are really feeling it." A second ABC piece featured two soundbites from far-left Naderite Joan Claybrook, whom ABC's David Muir innocuously described as a "consumer advocate." CBS's John Blackstone, who showcased $4 gas at a remote California station 65 miles from any other service station, proclaimed that "across the nation, gas prices went to record highs today." He also ridiculously asked: "Will it get to the point that only the privileged can afford gas?"

In the ABC story featuring Claybrook, Muir complained that the "oil companies are busy spending billions of their profits reinvesting in themselves." As if that's bad?

See the August 10 CyberAlert for past instances of media mis-reporting of rising gas and oil prices as "record" prices.

By the media's reasoning on gas and oil prices, every time movie theaters hike ticket prices by 50 cents we should see stories decrying the "record high cost" of seeing a movie. But we don't since in every other area the media aren't so stupid as to apply a nominal measurement when only an inflation-adjusted cost provides a relevant measure.

Friday's Washington Post features the factually false headline about a $2.38 a gallon average price for gas: "Gasoline Prices Climb Sharply, Hit New High." In the eighth paragraph, however, reporter Mark Chediak acknowledged: "Adjusted for inflation, oil prices peaked in 1981. Gas prices also peaked in 1981 at an inflation-adjusted $3.108, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration." For the August 12 Post article.

(The March 17 and subsequent CyberAlerts, relying on an AP story, had pegged the inflation-adjusted record high gas price at $2.97 a gallon. Since then, there has been some inflation, so the numbers may not be in conflict. See the March 17 CyberAlert.

Bad information was tossed around on Thursday morning too. On ABC's Good Morning America, the MRC's Brian Boyd noticed, Diane Sawyer claimed, "Today, oil and gas prices breaking all records," before David Muir referred to how "experts say there's an increased demand for gas here in the U.S. despite the record high gas prices." On NBC's Today, Matt Lauer erroneously told viewers: "Oil prices hit another new high overnight."

Now, a rundown of the inaccurate reporting on energy prices aired Thursday night, August 11, on ABC, CBS and NBC, as put together by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:

# ABC's World News Tonight. Anchor Bob Woodruff's opening teaser: "On World News Tonight, record profits for the oil producers, record prices at the pump. Tonight, a look at what's really behind the pain for American drivers."

Woodruff led his newscast: "Good evening, everyone. I'm Bob Woodruff. We begin tonight with the meteoric rise in the price of oil: why it's happening and what can be done about it. Oil closed at a record high today, near $66 a barrel. The price has nearly doubled since the beginning of last year. And the price at the pump is now an average of $2.37 a gallon, another record. There are a number of factors behind this -- most fundamentally, the demand in the world is growing faster than the supply. Oil companies and oil-producing countries are making massive profits while American consumers are really feeling it. ABC's Betsy Stark joins us now."

Stark, at the anchor desk: "Bob, when demand is so enormous and supplies are so limited, it doesn't take much to push prices higher. A fire at an oil refinery or a hurricane in the gulf can trigger a run to new highs. And we are seeing new highs in not only oil, but gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, natural gas, virtually every kind of fuel Americans consume. Gas prices have once again followed oil prices to a record high. And once again, Americans are angry."
Unidentified woman #1: "Yeah, I'm really pissed off. I think there should be cheaper."
Stark: "Fuel is now the fastest-rising expense in the family budget. While the cost of filling a grocery cart is up just one percent this year, the cost of filling a gas tank has jumped thirty-three percent."
Unidentified woman #2: "I feel powerless, I feel helpless, I feel frustrated, and I'm paying for it."
Stark: "For businesses that run on fuel, every new high is a new blow. Today, Delta Airlines, which is trying to avoid bankruptcy, and United, which is trying to get out of it, announced fuel surcharges of up to $10 a ticket. Jet fuel is now so expensive, carriers are buying as little as they can, leaving some airports at risk of running out."
John Armbrust, aviation consultant: "There will be locations in North America where planes might be canceled or where planes might be delayed because of a lack of fuel."
Stark: "In Miami yesterday, independent truckers converged on city hall to protest rising diesel costs. The longer energy prices stay this high, the more widespread the damage will be. But economists say the remarkable thing right now is that the damage has not been worse."
Mark Zandi, "It's been shocking to me that we haven't seen more of a fallout from these higher energy prices on the economy. The fact that the economy seems to have brushed these higher energy prices aside is very surprising."
Stark warned: "For some Americans, the tipping point may come this winter when they have to start paying record prices to heat their homes. If that comes on top of record gas prices, there will be lots of consumers with nothing left to spend after they've paid all those energy bills, Bob."
Woodruff: "And no sign of the prices coming down. Thank you, Betsy."
Stark: "Not yet."

With "Soaring Profits" on-screen over a graphic of an oil refinery, Woodruff set up a second story, a particularly slanted one: "Not everyone is upset by the surge in oil and gasoline prices. This is a great time to be a country like Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, sitting on huge petroleum reserves, or one of the big companies pumping the oil and selling it. Here's ABC's David Muir."

Muir asserted: "As American consumers increasingly feel the pinch at the pump, oil companies have watched their profits soar. The latest earnings reports show ExxonMobil up 32 percent over this time last year. That's more than $7.6 billion in profits. BP oil, up 38 percent to $6.7 billion. And Conoco Phillips up 56 percent, to more than $3 billion in profits."
Joan Claybrook, identified on screen as a "consumer advocate" and with Public Citizen: "These profits are enormous because the public is drastically overpaying for what the oil costs to produce."
Muir: "Even more eye-opening, the profits in Saudi Arabia, where the Saudis are making, on average, an extra $208 million a day since the runup in crude oil prices first began in December of 2003. The Saudis say the higher prices are not a reflection of their own policies, pointing to growing demand in India and China. They also point to the refinery woes here in the United States. But are any of those increasing profits both overseas and at home being spent to fix those refineries or to help solve the shrinking U.S. gas supply?"
Mike Rothman, Integrated Oil Research: "There has, in fact, been an increase in investment both for production of oil as well as refining, but the impact of those is not immediate."
Muir offered some economic illiteracy: "But analysts say they've yet to see any improvement, and oil companies are busy spending billions of their profits reinvesting in themselves. Consumer advocates say Congress has done nothing to help ease prices, passing an energy bill that gives enormous tax breaks to big oil instead."
Claybrook, with oil drilling derrick behind her: "They got $6 billion in the energy bill over ten years. That's a huge, huge amount of money. And you'd think with the price of oil at $65 a barrel, they didn't need any new incentives."
Muir: "Ultimately, will consumers have the final word? If so, they haven't spoken yet. They're buying more gas now than they were this time last year. David Muir, ABC News, New York."

# CBS Evening News. Bob Schieffer's opening teaser: "Good evening, I am Bob Schieffer. Gas prices are at record highs. Can they go even higher? Apparently so, say the experts. We'll examine the impact of that tonight."

Schieffer led by announcing: "The laws of physics say it clearly: What goes up must come down. But gas prices are not covered by the laws of physics, and they continue to go up. With another record set this week, the new figures show regular gasoline is now 80 cents a gallon more expensive than it was just a year ago. A gallon of regular, on average, costs $2.26 today in Houston, $2.42 a gallon here in New York, and if you're going to San Francisco, expect to pay the highest prices in America -- on average, $2.64 a gallon for regular, even higher at some stations. We start there tonight with John Blackstone."

Blackstone found the highest price he could, going to a rural location which surely has always had higher prices: "California's Highway 1 along the Pacific is famous for its scenery, but the most stunning sight today is at the last gas station for 65 miles, where a gallon of premium has broken the $4 barrier. "
Unidentified man #1: "At $4.04 a gallon for premium, he should be shot."
Unidentified man #2: "A little steep like the cliffs around here."
Blackstone wrongly claimed: "Across the nation, gas prices went to record highs today. At this station in San Francisco, a gallon of regular shot up to more than three dollars."
Unidentified woman: "This $3.09 for a gallon of gas is abuse."
Blackstone: "Not abusive, say those in the business, just the first rule of economics."
Steve L'Ecluse, truck stop owner: "Law of supply and demand. When you have more demand than you have supply, it's going to go higher."
Blackstone: "Gasoline supplies are tight because aging refineries are being pushed to capacity. That's brought break-downs and problems, like the explosion at a huge BP refinery near Houston last month. But the oil traders who feverishly drove a barrel of oil up to a record $66 today, were looking ahead, not back. They see possible supply disruptions growing from the Middle East, tensions with Iran, and a threatening hurricane season. So somebody pulls into this gas pump, pays more than $3 a gallon because of problems that might happen in the future?"
Sean Comey, California State Automobile Association: "It's called a fear premium. There's an amount of anxiety out there about what might happen in the future."
Blackstone: "Nowhere perhaps is the law of supply and demand more obvious than at that $4 a gallon station on Highway 1."
Joe Dorsey, gas station attendant: "Most people don't think of it, but it's a privilege to have gas here because you're out in the middle of nowhere."
Blackstone ridiculously concluded: "But will it get to the point that only the privileged can afford gas? Analysts say in part we have ourselves to blame. We keep using more and more gas despite higher and higher prices."

# NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams teased: "Pain at the pump: Oil hits another new high. Gasoline prices and airline ticket prices going up again, and there's no relief in sight."

Williams soon got to the topic: "Now to the economy -- the price of a barrel of oil, specifically, which is now exceeding most states' highway speed limits. Oil prices briefly rose above $66 a barrel in today's trading before settling at $65.80 a barrel. That's up almost a dollar from just yesterday. It is the highest close for oil since trading started on the New York Mercantile Exchange back in 1983. And now, of course, the question, will it go higher, and when do we all start feeling the real damage? Here is NBC's Martin Savidge."

Savidge began: "Just how high will oil prices go?"
Boone Pickens, independent oil producer: "Within a year from now, we'll see $75 oil."
Savidge: "$75 a barrel would translate into prices of $3.25 to $3.50 a gallon. Some experts fear anything above $3 would send a shock wave through the economy."
Unidentified man #1: "It's money out of my pocket."
Savidge: "Truck drivers outside Atlanta say with their trucks averaging five to seven miles per gallon, fuel over $3 would either force them to quit or go on strike."
Unidentified man #2: "The price of fuel makes the difference of how much you're going to make."
Savidge: "In California, where the price in some places is already above $3 a gallon, there are signs some drivers are cutting back, but most just keep on pumping."
Unidentified man #3: "I'm waiting for somebody to do something about it. That's, you know, nothing's happening. It's just going up and up."
Savidge: "Predictions were that at $2 a gallon we'd reduce driving. We didn't."
Geoff Sundstrom, AAA Spokesman: "Whatever that threshold of pain is, we've not hit it yet because consumption keeps going up, car sales keep going up, and Americans are still vacationing."
Savidge: "But in some cases, buying different cars. Kelly Balsley is purchasing her first hybrid."
Kelly Balsley: "By buying a hybrid, I'll probably be able to save up to $800 a year."
Savidge: "And these days, almost everyone that delivers is adding a surcharge for fuel, from the pizza parlor to UPS. Even the roads we drive on are getting more expensive."
Mike Acott, National Asphalt Pavement Association: "The material that we use is a byproduct in the crude oil manufacturing process, but we have seen an increase typically of about six to eight percent this year."
Savidge: "Despite all of this, some economists, so far, don't see trouble ahead."
Phil Flynn, oil analyst: "I think the economy has become like the Teflon don, you know, you can throw everything at it, it keeps bouncing off. It's been amazing."
Savidge: "At the end of the day, as one expert put it, it all comes down to a simple fact: Americans may be complaining, but they're also still driving. Martin Savidge, NBC News, Atlanta."

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