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Times Scares Readers with the Crisis Ahead

Gas Hysteria
Times Scares Readers with the Crisis Ahead
Magazine story describes a Mad Max future based one the work of one author.

By Dan Gainor
August 22, 2005

     According to The New York Times Magazine, the world is reaching The Breaking Point for oil production. The 7,400-word Aug. 21 piece by Peter Maass was a gusher of scaremongering end-of-world predictions claiming that a crisis is imminent.

     The Times piece was the worst of the oil stories over the weekend and qualifies as one of the worst recently. Maass filled his story with comments and views from Matthew Simmons, author of a new book called Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy. The story did its best to paint a great scary oil conspiracy as an inevitable crisis ahead, whether in a year or 2 or 10.

     The Times piece was the worst specimen of recent gas reporting. Here are some of the latest high and low points:

    Another record: Maass joined the growing journalism crowd calling oil prices a record. Just as others before him, Maass ignored basic math and didnt adjust the prices for inflation. John Roberts called gas prices astronomical on the Aug. 19 broadcast CBS Evening News. At least Roberts choice of terms is subjective. Maass was flat out incorrect.
    Easy oil: The Times story quoted a Chevron advertising slogan saying the era of easy oil is over. Maass didnt bother to point out that Chevron is promoting a non-oil renewable energy agenda and that in 2004 Chevron launched an expanded strategy to integrate renewable energy applications into the Chevron portfolio. Our strategy is particularly focused on investing in and advancing wind and geothermal energy projects, according to Chevrons Web site.
    Triple digit levels: Maass cited a threat of oil hitting $100/barrel. But then he quoted Simmons who said, I wasnt talking about low triple digits. Yet the same story said that oil prices would drop again. To quote Maass, So after a brief windfall for producers, oil prices would slide as recession sets in. And that in turn would boost economies once again, continuing the economic cycle.
    The sky is falling: The Times piece did its best to paint a Mad Max future for the world when oil maxes out soon. The suburban and exurban lifestyles, hinged to two-car families and constant trips to work, school and Wal-Mart, might become unaffordable or, if gas rationing is imposed, impossible. Carpools would be the least imposing of many inconveniences; the cost of home heating would soar assuming, of course, that climate-controlled habitats do not become just a fond memory. Gas rationing and even the possibility that we might not have climate control? And this was worthy of a Times magazine cover story?
    Be alert: The Media Research Centers Aug. 22 CyberAlert pointed out that George Will on Sunday scolded the media for its incessant, false reporting about record high gas prices. According to the CyberAlert, Will pointed out during the roundtable segment on ABC's This Week, (gas) is less than it was in 1981, less than it was in 1935.