2. Media Claim Gas Prices at "Record High," But They're Far From It
The supposed U.S. killing of 40 Iraqis in a "wedding party" in Western Iraq, though the U.S. Army says it hit arms smugglers near the Syrian border, led the ABC, CBS and CNN evening newscasts Wednesday night as each portrayed the event as symbolic of why the U.S. is losing support in the region. "We're going to begin this evening with why it is so hard for the United States to make headway in the Middle East," ABC's Peter Jennings announced as he cited the killing, the court martial for prisoner abuse and how Israeli, "using American helicopters and tanks, attacked Palestinians in Palestinian Gaza."
"Tonight, the fog of war in Iraq," Dan Rather teased as he presumed U.S. guilt: "Dozens dead, many of them children. Was it a mistaken U.S. attack which caused this?" Rather soon explained: "The Army insists it was targeting a nest of, quote, 'foreign fighters.' Iraqis say the dead were celebrating a wedding, many of them women and children. As CBS's David Hawkins reports, this incident seems certain to stoke Iraqi anger."
From the White House, CBS reporter John Roberts maintained even Bush allies believe Iraq is "beginning to spin out of control." Roberts claimed that "Republicans I talked to today said if it's true that a U.S. helicopter shot up a wedding celebration, it just adds to a growing belief in the President's own party that the situation in Iraq is beginning to spin out of control."
CNN's Aaron Brown opened NewsNight by citing a dour newspaper story: "A headline in today's Washington Post says a lot about the state of play in Iraq these days: 'U.S. faces growing fear of failure.'" Setting up the lead story on the killed Iraqis, Brown asserted that while "the circumstances are hotly disputed, the facts not fully known, save two. A lot of Iraqis died and life for the United States in the Arab world just got a lot tougher."
The court martial led the NBC Nightly News, but Tom Brokaw too devoted a story to the mass death of the Iraqis. He set it up: "On the ground in Iraq tonight, what could be another case of the fog of war. Did the Americans launch a deadly air assault on the enemy, or on a joyful family celebration? As NBC's Ned Colt reports tonight, it is question critical in the battle for hearts and minds."
Now, a more complete rundown on the Iraq war spins offered Wednesday night, May 19, on the ABC, CBS and CNN newscasts:
-- ABC's World News Tonight. Peter Jennings began by looking at developments from the perspective of those who hate America:
Despite Jennings' sequence, he went first to Martha Raddatz at the Pentagon for the versions of the killings and how "both sides have evidence to back up their claims."
Jennings also featured, as did CNN's Aaron Brown on NewsNight, a couple of new Abu Ghraib photos, this time of individual soldiers giving a thumbs-up next to the body of a dead Iraqi man. For one of the two photos showcased by Jennings: abcnews.go.com
-- CBS Evening News. With "Desert Bloodbath" on screen over video of body bags being carried, Rather intoned: "Tonight, the fog of war in Iraq. Dozens dead, many of them children. Was it a mistaken U.S. attack which caused this?"
Rather led his newscast: "A U.S. Army helicopter opened fire today on a site in Western Iraq. The results, American and Iraqi officials agree, were devastating. Dozens on the ground were killed. But there the stories diverge. The Army insists it was targeting a nest of, quote, 'foreign fighters.' Iraqis say the dead were celebrating a wedding, many of them women and children. As CBS's David Hawkins reports, this incident seems certain to stoke Iraqi anger."
Hawkins noted how the U.S. Army said it found weapons and cash with the bodies before he concluded, over video of men digging graves: "Regardless of who's to blame for the tragedy in Iraq's Western desert, these pictures are sure to further inflame anti-American sentiment here."
From the White House, John Roberts noted how the Bush administration let the UN pass a resolution condemning Israel for destroying Palestinian homes. He then contended: "The White House is also anxious tonight to find out just what happened overnight in Western Iraq. Republicans I talked to today said if it's true that a U.S. helicopter shot up a wedding celebration, it just adds to a growing belief in the President's own party that the situation in Iraq is beginning to spin out of control, Dan."
-- CNN's NewsNight. Brown began with his "Page Two" comments: "A headline in today's Washington Post says a lot about the state of play in Iraq these days: 'U.S. faces growing fear of failure.' The piece details how even the war's strongest supporters now admit to major miscalculations, not simply about the strength of the insurgency but of the willingness of ordinary Iraqis to put up with an American occupation. There is a feeling that we've now reached a critical point, the most critical point yet in Iraq that no political leader in that country, who is at all close to the United States, can survive, maybe literally, certainly politically. That even the moderates in Iraq, our best hope, will not be singing our praises. They argue that the hearts and minds battle is lost and nothing in today's news is likely to change that."
Brown soon introduced his lead story handled by Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon: "We begin tonight with the fog of war and perhaps the monster that lives in it. When it lifted dozens of people in a village in the western part of Iraq had died, they say killed by an American air strike, the images beamed around the Arab world. Tonight the circumstances are hotly disputed, the facts not fully known, save two. A lot of Iraqis died and life for the United States in the Arab world just got a lot tougher."
Picking up on a coordinated Democratic Party/John Kerry campaign tactic on Tuesday to attack President Bush over rising gas prices, the networks and major print publications have run repeated stories hyping the false claim that retail gasoline prices have hit a "record high" level. In fact, adjusted for inflation, gas prices today, at about two dollars per gallon, are at least 26 percent cheaper than in 1981 following the Carter-era inflation spiral. Nonetheless, on Tuesday night, ABC's Peter Jennings definitively stated that the "current price of gasoline" is "certainly a record."
On Wednesday's Good Morning America, ABC's Jake Tapper claimed that the "resentment of record high prices...has fueled a bitter debate among politicians and caused much voter anger." He then featured hyperbolic soundbites from some people in Washington, DC, representative of "an anger," Tapper relayed, "Democrat John Kerry is seeking to channel." One man ridiculously claimed: "It's going to kill us. These prices are going to kill us, man."
If you buy 15 gallons of gas a week and it costs 50 cents more per gallon than it did a few months ago, that's a cost increase of just $7.50, which is less than the price of a movie ticket.
A Wednesday Reuters dispatch by Richard Valdmanis buried the truth. "Drivers Motoring to Record High Gas Prices This Summer," declared the headline and in the second paragraph Valdmanis asserted: "Retail gasoline prices are zipping along at an all-time high of $2.00 a gallon, according to government and industry surveys." But in the fourth paragraph, he acknowledged: "While high in nominal terms, gasoline prices still fall short of the inflation-adjusted peak of $2.99 a gallon reached in March 1981, according to the U.S. Department of Energy."
For the May 19 Reuters story: news.yahoo.com
A PDF on the American Petroleum Institute's (API) Web site, however, outlines the retail price history which shows prices today to be 26 percent lower than in 1981 and how, compared to 1981, taxes on gas are up about 12 cents per gallon, a factor not touched by journalists. The text of the API's May 17 document:
The nationwide average retail price for all types of gasoline increased by 7.6 cents per gallon last week, averaging $2.055 per gallon as of May 17, 2004. Prices are 54.6 cents per gallon higher than they were in mid-December 2003, and 51.6 cents per gallon more than at this time a year ago. In inflation-adjusted* [* In order to make price comparisons over time, it is necessary to factor in inflation. For example, in 1981 motorists paid $1.35 per gallon for gasoline. Due to inflation, this is equivalent to spending $2.79 on a gallon of gasoline today.] 2004-dollar terms, today's price is low compared to the historical record of pump prices over the last 86 years. In fact, motor gasoline prices are 26 percent lower than the 1981 high of $2.79 per gallon. Between then and now, the real cost of motor gasoline to consumers has fallen by $0.73 per gallon. This decline can be attributed to lower crude oil costs. Crude oil costs have declined by $0.87 per gallon from $1.73 per gallon in 1981 to $0.86 per gallon by May 2004.
The combined cost to manufacture, distribute, and market gasoline is a penny per gallon more today than it was two decades ago, averaging $0.77 per gallon compared to $0.76 per gallon in 1981. The most significant increase has been in taxes. In May 2004 the taxes collected on a gallon of gasoline amounted to 42.7 cents, including 18.4 cents per gallon in federal taxes, and 24.3 cents per gallon in volume weighted average state taxes. In comparison, when real pump prices were at their high in 1981, combined federal and state taxes were just 30 cents per gallon.
END of Reprint
For the PDF, with a graph: api-ec.api.org
For another API article about the history of gas prices: api-ec.api.org
Now, some examples from the past couple of days of the networks treating nominally high gas prices as "record" high prices:
-- CBS Evening News, Wednesday, May 19. Dan Rather: "President Bush today said that with America fighting a war on terror he will not release oil from the strategic reserve to try to get gasoline prices down from their record highs. Crude oil rose nearly a dollar a barrel today, closing at $41.50, 35 cents short of the all-time high."
-- NBC's Today, May 19. After Matt Lauer trumpeted how "this year's soaring gas prices have Democrats pumping up their attacks against President Bush," reporter Carl Quintanilla, the MRC's Geoff Dickens noticed, asserted: "Two weeks before the summer driving season begins, John Kerry and other Democrats want to turn frustration over record high gas prices into votes."
-- NBC Nightly News, Tuesday, May 18. Tom Brokaw teased at the top of his show, "Politics at the pump: Who's to blame for record-high gas prices? The two presidential campaigns trade charges."
-- ABC's World News Tonight, May 18. Peter Jennings announced: "We begin tonight with the price of gasoline and presidential politics. Almost everywhere there was a Democrat today they were blaming the President for the current price of gasoline, about two bucks a gallon, which is certainly a record."
-- CNN's NewsNight, May 18. Aaron Brown plugged an upcoming story: "Still ahead on the program, gas prices are rising to records just in time for the summer driving season..." In the subsequent story, John King maintained: "It is both a sign of the times and of a new record. A bigger pinch at the pump and a bigger issue this election year."
-- ABC's Good Morning America, May 19, the Tapper story quoted above, in full, as taken down by MRC analyst Jessica Anderson:
News reader Robin Roberts: "A mass e-mail calling for a gas boycott today is just the latest sign that Americans are fed up with soaring prices at the pump. ABC's Jake Tapper is in Washington with those details. Good morning, Jake."
The media played these same gas price games in 2000, the MRC's Rich Noyes reminded me in pointing me to two articles he wrote about it at the time. An excerpt from a March 24, 2000 piece, "Networks Add Fuel to the Furor Over High Gas Prices," which appeared in MediaNomics, a since-ceased MRC publication:
Gasoline prices have risen by more than 20 cents per gallon this year and many network reporters have responded by calling the price increases a "crisis" for the American economy. But sensational TV coverage has obscured the fact that gas prices have merely returned to a level consistent with historical averages, and that prices actually have been trending lower for most of the past 80 years.
The media hype has, however, contributed to the politicization of fuel prices, and politicians from the President on down are offering a variety of government-based solutions in reaction to the supposed crisis. Absent from the media cacophony has been the advice of many free marketers: do nothing...."
The latest round of coverage began after a mid-March survey showed average gas prices surging past $1.50 per gallon. "Analysts are already worried that sustained oil price increases will eventually rip holes through the U.S. economy," fretted NBC Nightly News weekend anchor John Seigenthaler on March 11.
On the CBS Evening News, correspondent Jacqueline Adams on March 6 termed the price increases a "crisis," and related that "just outside New York City and in California, the pump price is 22 cents higher [than two weeks earlier], even closer to the $2.00 a gallon number that analysts say spells danger for the typical consumer."...
From January 1 through March 22, the increases in gas and oil prices garnered a total of 60 stories -- 23 anchor-read briefs and 37 field reports -- on the three network evening newscasts. Many of these reports argued that gas prices were "sky high," as Rather asserted on March 2, or at "an all-time high," as NBC's Tom Brokaw stated on February 28.
Nominally, that's true, but only two stories bothered to point out that, when eighty years of inflation is taken into account, gasoline remains moderately priced. Indeed, as year-by-year figures compiled by the American Petroleum Institute (API) demonstrate, gasoline prices are just now bouncing back from historic lows....
END of Excerpt
For the article in full: www.mediaresearch.org
In June of 2000, Noyes penned "Networks Let Government Slide Off the Hook In Gas Price Run-Up." It began:
If gas prices do hit $3.00 a gallon, which would be a true "record high," the media will have already cried wolf by buying into Democratic spin as they claimed a record high when prices were really far below any record.
-- Brent Baker