USA Today Finds Negative Slant to Falling Gas Prices

     Gasoline and crude oil prices are both on a downward trend and some media outlets are even reporting the story. But USA Today’s Barbara Hagenbaugh presented a negative spin on the positive development and failed to disclose her source also linked lower gas prices before the election to a possible conspiracy.

     “[D]rivers who expect gas prices to fall as sharply as oil prices in recent weeks will likely be disappointed,” the paper’s Barbara Hagenbaugh lamented in the first paragraph of her January 16 front page story.

     According to the AAA’s Web site, regular unleaded is down to $2.22 a gallon compared to $3.04 this past August and $2.29 last week.

     “Gas prices are down 4% this year,” but oil prices have dropped by more than 13 percent, noted the USA Today reporter. While Hagenbaugh explained that most gas stations actually “lost money in November and December” from stiff competition, she ended her story with a hint of conspiracy theory as she found an activist suspicious of the difference in the price drops.

      “Judy Dugan of The Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights [FTCR] calls the small drop in gasoline costs ‘a real scandal’ and says oil companies are to blame,” wrote Hagenbaugh. “We have no trust at all in the oil companies’ excuses for gasoline pricing,” the reporter quoted Dugan at the close of her article.

     Yet Hagenbaugh didn’t explain why Dugan’s group has no faith in the oil companies: her organization is a persistent liberal critic of the industry. What’s more, in July 2006, Dugan called on California voters to approve a “profit-based levy on companies that extract oil in California,” in other words a tax, to “support vigorous research and development of clean alternative fuels and vehicles.”

     As the Business & Media Institute (BMI) reported last June, FTCR issued a May 24, 2006, study alleging that oil companies intentionally under-supply gas stations in the West to drive up prices.

     But just two days earlier, a congressionally-authorized Federal Trade Commission found no systematic price gouging by the oil industry, blaming “regional or local market trends” for much of the perceived gouging.


     Despite evidence to the contrary, FTCR continued its conspiratorial rhetoric later in the year as gas prices cooled down and the election season heated up. Shortly before the November elections, Dugan suggested that oil companies were manipulating the drop in gas prices to benefit political allies at the polls.

     “Federal statistics indeed show that in the last three election cycles, oil companies have taken lower refining margins compared to the previous non-election year, if not lower prices overall. The pattern may well be deliberate,” she insisted in an Oct. 26, 2006, press release.


     In 2006, BMI repeatedly addressed how conspiracy theories a la Dugan seeped into the media mainstream, particularly CNN “In the Money” host Jack Cafferty, whose weighed tin-foil hat moments earned him the number two slot in BMI’s Top Ten Economic Myths of 2006.