CNN, Time Give Traction to Obama's Tire Exaggeration

     Since presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama suggested proper tire-inflation would compensate for all the oil that could be drawn from exploration and drilling, he has been subjected to ridicule by his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain. Luckily for Obama, the media are willing to defend him.

     “There are things that you can do individually though to save energy,” Obama said at a rally in Missouri on July 30. “Making sure your tires are properly inflated, simple thing, but we could save all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling, if everybody was just inflating their tires and getting regular tune-ups. You could actually save just as much.”

     The McCain campaign immediately began distributing tire pressure gauges mockingly labeled “Obama’s Energy Plan.” But several media outlets have rallied to Obama’s side to defend his assertion. A segment on CNN’s August 5 “Election Center with Campbell Brown” declared that Obama is in fact correct.

     “But how much mileage should Obama be getting about his claim about this issue? AAA says, for every pound of pressure your tires are under-inflated, you may be losing 2 percent of your mileage,” CNN correspondent Tom Foreman said. “And the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) found that about a quarter of you commuters out there are running your tires a few puffs short of full pressure.”

     “So, if you could fix that, would it produce the savings Obama is citing – 3 or 4 percent in overall oil consumption?” Foreman asked. “The answer is yes, if you assume, like the DOT does, at least eight pounds of under-inflation for at least one tire per offender.”

     But even Foreman admitted some of the statistics used were disputed.

     “And the problem is, not everyone does assume that,” Foreman said. “Just last year, a Department of Energy economist put the fuel savings from getting all puffed up at more like 1 percent. So, Obama is using legitimate estimates to make his claim, but, like the sticker says, Campbell, your actual mileage may vary.”

     Time magazine reporter Michael Grunwald also took Obama’s side in an August 4 article posted on

     “[T]he Bush Administration estimates that expanded offshore drilling could increase oil production by 200,000 [barrels] per day by 2030,” Grunwald wrote. “We use about 20 million [barrels] per day, so that would meet about 1% of our demand two decades from now. Meanwhile, efficiency experts say that keeping tires inflated can improve gas mileage 3%, and regular maintenance can add another 4%. Many drivers already follow their advice, but if everyone did, we could immediately reduce demand several percentage points. In other words: Obama is right.”

      But Grunwald had to really stretch the facts to make Obama’s claim “right.” According to John Hinderaker of Power Line, Grunwald’s assumption that drilling would produce only 200,000 barrels per day (or 73 million barrels per year) is “absurdly low” and the forecast of 2030 is too far out.

      “That equates to 73,000,000 barrels per year,” Hinderaker wrote. “Which may sound like a lot, but amounts to only four-tenths of one percent of the OCS’s 18 billion barrels. Further, why is Time not only putting out an absurdly low number, but also talking about the year 2030? The implication seems to be that the oil wouldn’t flow until then, or maybe wouldn't peak until then, but such a claim would be patently false.”

     But Obama didn’t single out OCS drilling. He actually said “all the oil that they’re talking about getting off drilling,” not just any one specific area – ANWR, the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), oil shale, etc. Beyond the 18 billion barrels estimated in the OCS, Hinderaker said the amount of retrievable oil in other areas could be as much as one trillion barrels.