Network Doomsday Warnings Run Out of Gas

Network Doomsday Warnings Run Out of Gas
Gasoline prices actually fell during the week leading up to Memorial Day, but broadcasters reminded drivers of record highs.

By Amy Menefee
June 1, 2005

     Memorial Day weekend brought the usual slew of news reports about driving, and network reporters seemed stumped that drivers would keep driving despite the price of gas. What they didnt point out was that gas prices actually declined going into the holiday weekend.

     Rewind to April 10, 2005, when CBSs Trish Regan made a dire prediction on the Evening News: that the national average on a gallon of gas expected to hit $2.50 a gallon by Memorial Day. That prediction wasnt attributed to the government or an oil industry analyst, and it turned out to be far from the truth. The national average for the week of Memorial Day was about $2.09 per gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That was down almost 3 cents from the previous week and almost 20 cents lower than Aprils price spike.

     Regan also said on that broadcast, As costs go up, consumers, who are already getting hit themselves at the pumps, may decide to cut back on their personal spending. Anchor Mika Brzezinski added that consumers cutting back cant bode well for the overall economy, and Regan piled on: Keep in mind that consumers account for two-thirds of the overall economy. So without them, you pretty much havent got much. Despite this broadcast gloom, consumer spending continued a steady increase at 0.6 percent in April.

     CNNs Andrea Koppel also noted sky high prices on the April 28, 2005, Inside Politics. She said drivers were just downright angry, adding, They know that with summer driving season upon us that it's sure to creep even higher.

     When Memorial Day weekend arrived, journalists repeated their surprise, as Brian Williams said on the May 27, 2005, NBC Nightly News: This is the start of what the AAA expects to be the busiest Memorial Day travel weekend ever, and thats despite those high prices for gasoline. Tom Costello gave the report that evening, erroneously saying that gas prices were just below the all-time high set in April. The April high for the national average per gallon was about $2.28, while the Memorial Day weeks average was down to $2.09. Costellos reference to an all-time high was also misleading, because he failed to put the price in context. Adjusted for inflation, prices would have to reach about $2.88 today to beat the high from 1981, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

     Other reports likewise overstated the historical significance of the weekends prices. Adjusted for inflation, current prices are still below historical highs. But CBSs Lee Cowan said gas prices were at the highest theyve ever been for a Memorial Day weekend on the May 27, 2005, Evening News. Likewise, ABCs David Muir heralded historically high gas prices for a holiday weekend on the May 27 Good Morning America.

     At least the Los Angeles Times delivered the reality of the situation. In an April 2, 2005, article, reporter John O'Dell said Analysts note that motorists can take some comfort, however slight, in the fact that gasoline prices remain well below their inflation-adjusted highs of the early 1980s.

     For more information tracking gas prices over time: click here.