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CBS's Winter of Discontent

     With a mild winter in the Northeast and low energy prices, it’s hard for CBS to do the typical story of a freezing woman choosing between “heating or eating.” So the “Evening News” resorted to complaining about the “balmy” weather.


      Noting that “people are wondering, ‘what happened to winter,’” on the January 4 show, anchor Katie Couric introduced a Cynthia Bowers report on how “spring is busting out all over.”


     But for Bowers, an Indian summer equals little more than a winter of discontent.


     “Mother Nature’s confusion is canceling out all kinds of traditional winter fun,” Bowers complained, noting “a lack of snow” shuttering a Vermont ski resort and how “it’s so balmy” that “ice sculptors at this year’s St. Paul Winter Carnival may have to unleash their chain saws on blocks of plastic.”


     Bowers did find one “upside” to the story. “Higher temperatures have cooled demand for crude oil” with the price per barrel falling $2.73 to $55.59.


     Bowers didn’t put it into perspective, but that’s “the lowest settlement price” for light sweet crude since “June 15, 2005,” the Associated Press reported.


     Yet in 2005, when the media were anticipating a chilly winter and energy prices were higher, CBS had a field day predicting dire straits for families trying to heat their homes.


     A few short months after Hurricane Katrina, CBS reporter Jim Axelrod used his report on the Dec. 12, 2005, “Evening News” to alarm viewers about Americans who “suddenly find themselves trapped” by rising heating costs.


     “With the price of home heating oil now, this is no longer a matter of just another blanket on the bed or lowering the thermostat a few more degrees. It’s in our heads in a way it’s never been before,” Axelrod complained as he presented a woman who earned $42,000 a year as being unable to pay her heating bill.

    

     As the Business & Media Institute reported on Dec. 13, 2005, Axelrod was exaggerating the increase in cost.


     In the “Short-Term Energy Outlook” released just six days before Axelrod’s report, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated natural gas prices would go up only an average of 37.8 percent. Axelrod had overstated the cost by about a third.


    It wasn’t the first time CBS exaggerated the rise in energy prices in the wake of Katrina. On Nov. 16, 2005, BMI reported how CBS quietly downplayed downward revisions in the price projections for oil and natural gas.


    Although Bowers refrained from attributing the warmer temperatures to global warming, BMI has addressed the media’s tendency to hype short-term weather trends to climate change, including a recent appearance by director Dan Gainor on the January 2 “Your World with Neil Cavuto.”