NBC Fuels Gas Price Hysteria

NBC Fuels Gas Price Hysteria
Network blames the president for high gas prices and emphasizes government regulation and taxes over free-market solutions.

By Amy Menefee
May 20, 2005

    Though oil prices have fallen about 20 percent from their April peak, NBC hasnt let up in its scrutiny of the gasoline industry. The network aired a series during the week of May 16, 2005, called Pain at the Pump, which included the usual stories about people buying fewer SUVs and bemoaning gas prices above $2 per gallon. But it shifted into high gear on the May 19, 2005, Nightly News when Campbell Brown did a segment about blaming the president for high gas prices. .

     Historically, it is the president who takes the blame for high gas prices, Brown said. Rather than educating the public about the real factors behind gas prices such as the way supply and demand affects pricing NBC showed interviews with individuals who pushed for government intervention, saying, Congress needs to do something, and This could be something that they could help us with here, right now. No free-market voices were included to tell these consumers what it would mean for the government to step in and regulate gas prices.

     Instead, Brown continued the push for more government involvement, saying Democrats have yet to offer up an alternative solution to alleviate prices. Not until the end of the segment did she acknowledge that the real problem is a tough one to fix.

     Brown said one of the problems was few signs Americans are really ready to cut back on gasoline consumption. Consumption drives the economy and creates jobs, but when it came to gasoline, the network obscured those facts. This story was only one of a trend in recent network news. Numerous reports have focused on gas prices and falsely characterized them as record highs, when in reality prices have not approached inflation-adjusted record levels.

     That exaggeration was repeated when Mantill Williams of AAA stopped in on NBCs May 20, 2005, Today to give driving tips and predicted that for Memorial Day weekend, drivers would see the highest gas prices ever for any type of holiday. Today was celebrating its Great American Gas Challenge, which sounded like an extended commercial for hybrid cars. Three families drove cross-country in different vehicles while the network paid for their gas, and naturally, the family driving the Honda Civic Hybrid had the cheapest trip. Katie Couric talked to each of the drivers, asking opinions about the hybrid car and whether they would consider buying one.

     The show continued with a report that asked consumers to consider what they would do if gas reached $5 per gallon. The first interviewee they used to answer this question said, If I could afford it, I would buy a hybrid car.

     But it didnt stop there. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman made an appearance advocating higher taxes on gasoline, saying that this would prompt consumers to buy more hybrids. NBC reporter Carl Quintanilla said taxing fuel would unfairly hurt those in rural areas and the poor, but did not explore the broad economic impact that such a dramatic tax increase would have. The only free-market voice was a vague quotation from the American Petroleum Institute saying there was no justification for an increased gas tax.

     Quintanilla finished by announcing that more hybrid cars are coming online and that Toyota plans to build more in the United States next year. Katie Couric did mention the benefits of SUV ownership, such as roominess, comfort and safety even though the gas mileage was obviously a disadvantage. However, in both NBC reports, no down side was mentioned to owning a hybrid, such as software glitches that have caused stalling and shutdowns at highway speeds. The Wall Street Journal and CNN.com have reported on programming errors that forced a software upgrade for Toyota Prius owners.

     The CNN.com article is available here: