Morning Shows Fill Up With Hype on Gas Prices

Morning Shows Fill Up With Hype on Gas Prices
Networks emphasize $3-per-gallon prices when average price is $2.37.

By Dan Gainor
August 11, 2005

     The Aug. 11 morning shows were in full crisis mode about rising gasoline prices, hyping the few random stations now selling gas at $3 per gallon more than 60 cents higher than the average U.S. price for regular gas.

     ABCs Good Morning America introduced the show with the inaccurate statement, Today oil and gas prices breaking all records. Diane Sawyer repeated the mistake as she led in to their coverage with a warning about a big hit on the bottom line: The price of oil skyrocketing  to record highs which means it is going to cost more to heat homes and also fill up cars, Sawyer said dramatically.

     The other two morning shows did their best to keep up by exaggerating the gas price situation. Todays Matt Lauer kept viewers in their seats with this: Will you soon be paying well over three bucks for a gallon of gas?

     Reporting on record-high gas prices without taking inflation into account misinforms the audience, as theBusiness & Media Institute has pointed out in ongoing news analysis. Inflation-adjusted prices are not hard to come by; in fact, The New York Times featured a story titled The Oil Uproar That Isnt in its July 12, 2005, edition.

     The story by Jad Mouawad and Matthew Wald correctly stated that gas prices in early 1981 were higher than they are today. The article noted that adjusted for inflation, gas prices in early 1981 were about $3 a gallon. This was when oil, again adjusted for inflation, was priced at about $86 a barrel, roughly $20 higher than it is today.

    Free market basics: ABC reporter David Muir got a first-hand lesson in why prices go up. Why? Well for one, experts say there is an increase in demand for gas here in the U.S. despite the record high gas prices. Its all supply and demand.
    Scaremongering: There are always people who overreact to anything and Good Morning America had no problem finding one going to a Chicago car dealership where gas prices are scaring customers. According to the dealer, Last night we had a guy trade in a Durango to buy a Saturn.
    Scaremongering II: GMA went even further scaring its viewers about heating oil costs for the winter in August. Sawyer said it best: It seems crazy to think about heating oil in August. But there the show was, urging viewers to join heating oil co-ops and take other precautions to preserve low heating prices during summer.
    Worst-case scenarios: Good Morning America, The Early Show and Today all used photos of gas stations with unusually high prices to illustrate the stories and give the impression that gasoline is priced far higher than it actually is.
    Do the math: The Early Show on CBS explained that Dominos Pizza has added a $1.50 surcharge for delivery because of gas prices. The story made no attempt at figuring out whether that would be legitimate. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the government standards put gas mileage for cars at 27.5 mpg. At $2.37 per gallon, that works out to 8.6 cents per mile. The average pizza delivery would have to use up 17 miles per delivery  to balance out the surcharge.

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