Networks Play Up Energy Politics, Ignore Real Costs

Networks Play Up Energy Politics, Ignore Real Costs
Energy reports blame Bush for gas prices, misinform about oil refining and encourage fear of nuclear power.

By Amy Menefee
April 30, 2005

     Reporters continued to question President Bush during his April 28, 2005, news conference about what he or his energy bill could do for current gas prices. Of course, the notion that Bush is able to or even should broker a quick fix for gas prices is false. But reporters have been hyping rising prices for weeks without explaining the simple rule of supply and demand. Theyve also steered clear of explaining how government regulations raise the cost of oil refining.

Bush Doesnt Set Gas Prices

     Bush cant single-handedly affect gas prices, but ABCs Terry Moran still introduced his April 27, 2005, World News Tonight report thus: For the second time in a week now, the president went out and gave a major speech on energy policy, trying to reassure Americans who are angry and anxious about rising gas prices that he is doing something. Mr. Bush has said he has a simple answer for those wondering why he hasnt acted to lower gasoline prices. Bush: I said I wish I could. If I could, I would.

     Moran admitted that he cant, but later ended his segment with political pressure. The presidents political team believes the high gas prices are the main reason for his sagging poll numbers, Moran said. So they hope, Charlie, that the public will give him some credit simply for addressing the whole energy issue.

     Likewise, on NBC Nightly News April 24, 2005, John Seigenthaler said, President Bush is also facing growing pressure from an American consumer who wants him to do something about the high price of gasoline in this country.

     That attitude continued through the presidents April 28 news conference, as ABCs George Stephanopoulos gave his analysis: Those high gas prices are the reason the White House thinks that the presidents poll numbers are in the tank. They know he doesnt have a short-term solution to the problem.

Regulation Costs Money

After Bush called for more oil refineries in the United States to decrease dependence on foreign sources, ABCs Betsy Stark pointed out that you still have to get a refiner to invest in a refinery. And they havent been willing to do that, she said on the April 27, 2005, World News Tonight. NBCs Tom Costello, on April 27s Nightly News, asked why no refineries have been built since the 1970s. His source, from the Energy Merchant Corporation, replied that the price of oil has not been high enough to encourage those alternative energy investments.

Thats not the whole story, and to their credit, the CBS Evening News acknowledged it. On the April 25, 2005, broadcast, Anthony Mason included a source who explained that weve been crippled by our own environmental regulations. Fadel Gheit, an analyst with financial services provider Oppenheimer & Co., said, Its a self-inflicted wound. We have been sitting on our hands. For the last 30 years, we have not built a refinery in this country. Businesses invest where there is money to be made, and when government regulation inhibits profit, an industrys growth slows.

Whos Afraid of Nuclear Power?

     Reporters didnt miss the chance to undermine Bushs suggestion of greater dependence on nuclear power, either. Even though Bush praised it as one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, reporters didnt spend any time looking into the pros and cons of nuclear power. Instead, they dismissed it as scary.

     Betsy Stark, on ABCs World News Tonight April 27, 2005: The problem is still the public. While the Chinese and the Europeans are getting used to nuclear power as a source of electricity, in the United States ever since Three Mile Island Americans have been afraid of it. On April 27s NBC Nightly News, Tom Costello included Bushs praise for the energy alternative before saying, Many Americans still fear nuclear power. But with oil now at $51 a barrel, the president thinks its time to re-evaluate.

     Like oil refining, nuclear power production involves many costs that these reports didnt address. Insurance for power plants is costly and involves taxpayer-funded subsidies to make it a viable alternative. But the market consequences of energy proposals are lost in the medias broad-strokes painting of the issues.