Finding a Gas Station with the Highest Price

     When a gas station sign shows up on TV, you can bet the price shown is higher than the national average. That was true again as NBC “Today” co-host Ann Curry reported March 6.


     “Oil prices jumped again this morning to yet another record, topping $105 a barrel. The jump followed Wednesday decision by OPEC not to increase production,” Curry said. “The cost of oil is sending gas prices soaring to well over $4 a gallon at this gas station in Redwood City, Calif.”


     The photograph of the Redwood City gas station clearly showed regular gasoline at $3.99, while mid- and premium-grade fuels were over the $4 mark – $4.19 and $4.39, respectively – but price averages are usually based on regular-octane gas.


     Curry didn’t mention that at 45.5 cents per gallon, California also has the highest state gasoline tax in the nation, according to the American Petroleum Institute.


     But even if the Redwood City station had its regular gas at more than $4 a gallon, Curry’s report would been a familiar case of media exaggeration. When it comes to reporting negative economic news, the media tend to focus on extreme examples rather than hard data.


     On gasoline specifically, reporters routinely show photos of extreme local pump prices on the screen despite lower national averages. The Business & Media Institute documented this trend in 2007, 2006 and 2005.


     Contrary to examples NBC may be able to find here or there of gas stations pricing fuel over $4 a gallon, AAA reports the nationwide average for a gallon of regular gasoline March 6 is $3.19. (Mid-grade is $3.38 and premium is $3.50.)


     The average price for regular in San Jose, the closest region to Redwood City where AAA monitors figures, is $3.54. Nearby San Francisco has an average price of $3.66 a gallon.