Memo to Media: Gas Prices Still Far from All-time High
NYT is one of few to
admit ‘record’ isn’t really a record.
by Â Megan
July 13, 2005
Â Â Â Â
Reports on “record high” gas prices have been rampant again in the
mainstream media – but they’re still not true. These reports defied
basic economics by not taking into account past gas prices adjusted
Â Â Â Â A prime example of this was anchorman Bob Schieffer of
the “CBS Evening News,” who reported on July 12, 2005, “Drivers are
already paying record-high gas prices – $2.33 a gallon on average
for self-serve regular.”
Â Â Â Â Schieffer was not the only broadcaster misreporting.
NBC’s “Today” on July 12, 2005, provided its viewers much confusion.
Matt Lauer opened the segment on gas prices saying, “The price for
filling up your tank has jumped more than 10 cents to hit an
all-time high of an average $2.33 a gallon.” He added, “With gas
prices at a record high, is there any relief in sight?”
Â Â Â Â However, later in the segment Lauer corrected himself:
“I guess we should mention to people that when you take inflation
into account, we're still not seeing the record highs of like 1981
when it was again adjusted for inflation about $3.03 a gallon.”
Lauer’s reluctance in reporting this information was understandable,
considering it undermined his earlier comments.
Â Â Â Â Several of the nation’s major newspapers also falsely
reported on gas prices on July 12, 2005, including the Los Angeles
Times and USA Today, which featured the headline “Gasoline Jumps to
Record.” In line with the trend, neither newspaper included any
mention of inflation.
Â Â Â Â Reporting on record-high gas prices without taking
inflation into account misinforms the audience. Inflation-adjusted
prices are not hard to come by; in fact, The New York Times featured
a story titled “The Oil Uproar That Isn’t” in its July 12, 2005,
Â Â Â Â The story by Jad Mouawad and Matthew Wald correctly
stated that gas prices in early 1981 were higher than they are
today. The article noted that adjusted for inflation, gas prices in
early 1981 were about $3 a gallon. This was when oil, again adjusted
for inflation, was priced at about $86 a barrel, roughly $20 higher
than it is today.
Â Â Â Â Reports like Mouawad and Wald’s are in the minority.
Much of the mainstream press routinely hypes gas and oil prices. The
Free Market Project has been following this trend.
“NBC Fuels Gas
Price Hysteria” and
“Network Doomsday Warnings Run Out of Gas”
documented the constant gas price coverage that dominates the news.
These stories detailed two common occurrences in the media. First,
the media’s constant scrutiny of even minute changes in oil and gas
prices fuels the idea of a crisis even when there is not one.
Secondly, the media consistently made predictions that turned out to
be completely untrue. These mistakes were a result of the
overwhelming emphasis on gas and oil prices.