Network warnings of ever higher gas and oil prices
leave out a key point – they are usually wrong
A study from the Business & Media Institute
By Dan Gainor
Full Report |
incredible spike in oil and gas prices was a huge story in 2008.
Consumers struggled as a gallon of regular gasoline soared from
nearly $3 to $4.11 by mid-summer. Network news shows bombarded
viewers with more than 500 stories about oil and gas prices – an
avalanche of coverage – as anchors and reporters warned gas would
hit $5 or $6 and, as CBS put it, “that high gas prices are here to
with the warnings: they were wrong nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of
the time. As it turned out, $4.11 was the ceiling and by autumn, gas
prices had come crashing down. Fears of new highs were replaced by
the chance of $1-a-gallon gas.
matter if it was journalists, government officials or “experts.”
When oil and gas prices were going up, the news reports
over-predicted how high they would go. And none of them predicted
prices would fall anywhere near as much as they have.
line is troubling: the “news” media have no understanding of the oil
Business & Media Institute analyzed the rise and fall of gas and oil
prices from February 11, when, at $2.95, gas prices began the climb
to their July peak, to November 30, when gas had lost more than $2
per gallon from the record high.
examined 548 “oil” and “gas” price stories during the evening news
broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC. Among the key findings:
Viewers would have been better off flipping a coin than relying
on media predictions for gas and oil prices. Failed network
warnings ranged from $5 gasoline to $200 per barrel oil. The TV
crystal ball was wrong 63 percent of the time and right just 37
three networks had failed predictions, ABC was the only one to
own up to the errors and point them out in later reports that
showed how analyst warnings of high prices were simply wrong.
Bush Had No
President Bush lifted the ban on offshore oil drilling on July
14, the day oil closed at its all-time high of $145. Although
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the plan an “absolute
hoax,” oil had dropped more than $20 per barrel two weeks later.
Only GOP presidential candidate Sen. John McCain credited Bush
with any impact on prices. Journalists ignored it.
Journalists emphasized the “nightmare” impact of high gas
prices, showing how “soaring” prices were affecting everything –
food, clothes, travel, jobs and the economy. But as soon as
prices declined, so did news coverage. News outlets gave far
less attention to the positive result of lower prices. Oil and
gas stories declined from 114 in July to just 26 in November,
when gas prices were the best news about the struggling economy.
There were more stories when prices were at or near their peak
in July than in September, October and November combined.
NBC bought into the theme that bad news is the only news. When
gas prices hit their July peak, the network did 41 stories that
month. NBC then did fewer stories in September, October and
November combined, as gas and oil both dropped to recent lows.
In addition, NBC “experts,” including “Mad Money” host Jim
Cramer, were wrong close to three-fourths of the time (13 out of
CBS experts were accurate more than half the time (56 percent)
and wrong just 44 percent. The “Evening News” team was also the
most consistent in its use of both gas and oil prices. When gas
was high, CBS covered the price, but it did the same as the
BMI has four
recommendations to help the media improve energy coverage in the
Predicting the News:
Journalists aren’t fortune tellers. They are supposed to report the
news in a neutral fashion. When they or guests make predictions,
they should do as ABC did and point out how wrong, or right, they
prove to be.
Hyping high oil prices one day and discussing a drop in gas prices
the next is confusing to viewers. Network news shows should create a
consistent template and include both pieces of news and show them
regularly whether they are up or down.
Follow up the
High gas and oil
prices have a sweeping negative impact on the economy and are
newsworthy. Similarly, a decline in those prices has a positive
economic effect and is just as newsworthy. Journalists need to
figure out a way to cover both.
The theme of high energy prices was one of consistent consumer pain.
High gas prices forced workers to telecommute, hiked food prices and
caused a ripple effect through the economy. When gas prices
plummeted, the media moved the discussion on to other negative
topics – such as home foreclosures or Wall Street. When gas prices
were good news, they received nowhere near the same attention they
had when they were bad news.
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