Up or down, the media often hype changing gas prices, in spite of a long track record of incorrect predictions. But the most recent forecast stands to benefit media favorite: President Barack Obama.
In recent months, all three broadcast news networks and the USA Today have offered predictions ahead of the presidential election, saying prices would be much lower by late November: after the election.
On June 24 reporter Rick Klein told ABC’s “World News Sunday” audience that lower gas prices were “likely to benefit President Obama in his reelection effort.” Ironically, the average gas price that day was $3.42 -- far less than the October peak of $3.81.
An Oct. 22, USA Today piece made a similar connection between dropping prices and the election. The article by Gary Strauss, “Gas Prices Could Soon Drop 50 cents a Gallon,” claimed that prices were about to fall “faster than fall foliage.” Strauss even suggested, “The drop could provide a boost to consumer spending and influence next month's presidential race, where gas prices have been a hot-button issue for much of the campaign.”
His predictions (from gas price experts) had a convenient timeline for the drop though: the end of November or after the election.
While it is possible, gas prices may fall significantly within the month, history suggests they could easily be wrong. The three broadcast networks and USA Today have made eight incorrect predictions of lower gas prices in just the last 5 months. Whether hyping the possibility of gas below $3 by fall, or a 50 cent drop by Halloween, the media have a poor record of forecasting pump price changes. But this hasn’t dissuaded them from making predictions.
Over and over again, in the months leading up to the election network reporters offered falling price predictions. And time and again, they missed the mark.
On July 2, “Good Morning America” co-anchor Paula Faris was ecstatic about a lower gas price prediction for Halloween saying: “The best news, it might drop another 50 cents by Halloween, just in time for the election.” In reality, gas prices were 20 cents HIGHER on Halloween, than the day Faris made that forecast. The October peak was even higher still.
Reporter Ron Claiborne, also tried to convince consumers that relief from high gas prices was just around the corner. On Aug. 19 broadcast of “World News Sunday” he said, “The experts say the gas prices are expected to start coming down in another two or three weeks.” The reality was that on Sept. 10, over three weeks after his broadcast, gas prices had actually risen by 10 cents per gallon.
NBC “Nightly News” reporter Miguel Alamaguer made a prediction on June 22 that in hindsight seems almost laughably wrong. He said gas prices could “land below $3 a gallon by fall.”
The media have a history of hyping lower – and higher – gas price predictions. In 2006, during Hurricane Rita, CNN mentioned gas prices shooting up to $5 or $6 a gallon 20 times in just five days on the network. The price spike never happened.
In Aug. 2006, CBS News veteran Harry Smith made a rare admission on the issue saying that gas was, in fact, on a downward spiral that year. “It seems like a month ago we were all screaming with our hair on fire about the price of gas going over $3, no end in sight. And now it looks like it's dropping like a stone,” he said on “The Early Show.”
In 2008, ABC also acknowledged that gas price hype had been over the top. ABC correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi said, “Demand for oil has been falling sharply month after month. Just this summer, there was talk of $5 a gallon. Not anymore” on “World News with Charles Gibson.” She pointed out that “analyst after analyst predicted the worst” during the summer of 2008 … and they were all wrong.