Media Anticipated Gas Increases, Not Drop to Nearly $2-a-Gallon

Just before latest major price drop, networks forecast climbing prices, ‘dire’ $5 gas.

The dramatic collapse of gas prices is one story the news media didn’t see coming. In fact, as recently as June 2014, network news anchors and reporters were still talking about the prospect of $5 gasoline.

It turns out the media aren’t very good fortune tellers, and when it comes to gas prices they were wrong this time, just as many new outlets had gotten it wrong years earlier.

AAA reported that gas prices across the U.S. dropped to a low $2.033 on Jan 26, 2015, before moving up by a couple of cents by early February. Gas hasn’t cost that little since March or April of 2009, when the U.S. was still in recession. According to AAA’s tweets, on Jan. 23, 6 out of 10 U.S. gas stations were selling gas for less than $2-a-gallon. Prices now are dramatically lower than the summer of 2014, when gas peaked at $3.684 on June 26, 2014.

In December 2014, AAA said that the decline in prices since June was a new record for the longest continuous drop that the group had ever documented.  

Yet, in the days leading up to this historic decline, some broadcast journalists’ reports predicted prices were going to increase. This had happened before. Media outlets hyped the possibility of rising costs at the pump, but the exact opposite happened.

Amy Robach, co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” warned of a “dire new prediction” that gas would rise to $5 “later this summer” and the impact it could have on the economy during the June 27, 2014, broadcast.  

Moments later, Robach said “But again, analysts warning that $5 gas could trigger another recession,” Robach said. Unbeknownst to Robach, gas prices peaked the day before and then began to fall.

Tom Costello, an NBC News correspondent, said on “Nightly News” June 19, 2014, to expect “another 15 to 20-cent run-up at the pump in the coming weeks.” The gas price peaked one week later less than a penny higher than the day of his report.

These failed predictions were nothing new for the media. Both print and broadcast news outlets have made failed predictions about gas prices for years.

The news networks made many embarrassing predictions about gas prices during the administration of President George W. Bush. Yet, by the time Bush left office, gas prices had fallen to $1.84-a-gallon.

During the preceding year, prices had climbed from $2.95-a-gallon on Feb. 11, 2008, to more than $4-a-gallon on June 9, 2008, and remained high through July of that year.

At the time, the evening news shows repeatedly said that gas would hit $5 or $6-per gallon and oil would shoot to $200-a-barrel. Occasionally, even higher prices were predicted. The evening news was filled with stories of families on strapped budgets and truckers battling to stay in business at over $1,000 a fill-up.

NBC's sister network, CNBC, quoted Robert Hirsch, a Management Information Services Senior Energy Advisor on May 21, 2008. Hirsch claimed “others who watch this very closely forecast that we're going to be hitting $12 and $15 per gallon, and then, after that, when oil – world oil production goes into decline, we’re gonna talk about rationing.”

That prediction, like nearly two-thirds of those made by the networks in 2008, proved to be wildly incorrect. Beginning in July, prices began to fall, and slipped more than $2-a-gallon by Nov. 30, 2008. But only ABC of the three broadcast networks looked back at how the price spike was covered.

When Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast in September 2005, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN speculated that gas prices were about to rise significantly. While these networks warned of gas prices increasing to $4-a-gallon or $5-a-gallon, the average only rose by 6 cents, peaking at $2.81 on Sept. 28.