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3/7/2006 12:48:00 AM

Updated 02/24/06

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CBS’s Axelrod Heats Up Energy Price By One-Third
Reporter hypes cost increase but doesn’t mention industry is recovering faster than expected.

By Ken Shepherd
Free Market Project

Dec. 13, 2005

Send this page to a friend! (click here)     Forecasting a bleak sweater-swaddled winter for middle class Americans on the December 12 “Evening News,” CBS correspondent Jim Axelrod exaggerated the rise of natural gas heating costs by about one third over the government-estimated average.

     Axelrod also omitted good news on the oil and gas industry’s faster-than-expected recovery in the Gulf of Mexico while portraying a New York woman with outstanding heating bills from 2004 as just one of many middle class Americans who will “suddenly find themselves trapped” by rising heating costs.

     Axelrod opened his piece in an Irvington, N.Y. woman’s kitchen: “Nikki Wilson wishes that doing the math meant nothing more troubling than helping her son with his homework,” he said, adding, “still behind on last year's heating bill, she's looking at a 30 percent hike in her natural gas prices this year, and has no idea how to make the numbers work.”

     Axelrod then aired a clip of Wilson complaining about having to choose between Christmas presents and paying her heating bill. Rather than assign at least some personal responsibility for her plight to Wilson, who reportedly earned $42,000-per-year, Axelrod instead cast a dire warning for middle class income-earners. “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,” he claimed.

     Apparently to Axelrod the fear about the cost of home heating was worse than any time in American history, including the energy crunch in the Carter administration or the dire straits of the Great Depression.

     While Axelrod correctly blamed rising natural gas and oil prices on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaging oil and gas facilities in the Gulf Coast, the CBS reporter known for hyping $6-a-gallon gas in Atlanta just after Katrina devastated New Orleans, exaggerated the cost of natural gas, saying “natural gas prices alone could spike by as much as 50 percent.” But in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” released six days before Axelrod’s report, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated natural gas prices will go up only an average of 37.8 percent. Axelrod overstated the cost by about a third. The EIA also found that overall average heating costs would rise 25.7 percent.

     The same December 6 EIA forecast noted that “the interconnectivity of the natural gas gathering system has helped speed the recovery of shut-in production as suppliers reroute gas flow around damaged pipelines to active processing plants.”

     The term “shut-in” refers to “natural gas that could be produced, but the production of which is curtailed” either for lack of buyers, government mandate, or “other reasons” like pipeline disruptions following a major hurricane, the case with Katrina-related cost hikes.

     The EIA also noted accelerated recovery from their November estimate, predicting, a 6.5 percent drop in shut-in natural gas by March 2006.

     Axelrod’s faulty economic reporting has been reported in Free Market Project publications such “
One Economy, Two Spins,” and the Media Research Center’s October 2004 study, “The Ten Worst Media Distortions of Campaign 2004,” which documented Axelrod “spinning a good economy into bad news.”

     The Free Market Project has also documented  how CBS and other networks have covered energy prices with an alarmist tone while ignoring improving winter heating forecasts.


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