Mar 21

Oil prices down, gas prices up — the press snores

Big Oil gets a pass

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When it comes to gas prices, here’s math the media doesn’t care about:  

Right before Russia invaded Ukraine, crude oil was trading for $99 a barrel, and American motorists were paying $3.61 at the pump. Crude then quickly jumped to $130 and gas prices soared to $4.30. Last week, crude tumbled back down to $99, but we’re still paying the same $4.30 for gas, according to AAA.  

For a press that obsessed over gas prices as they climbed, while platforming Republican claims that President Joe Biden was to blame for the energy inflation (another White House “crisis”), the media have now lost interest in the gas station saga. It’s another case of putting extra energy into chasing Bad News for Biden stories. And news outlets have shown no interest in putting Big Oil under a microscope to highlight what role they play in today’s stubbornly high gas prices.

Is price gouging a factor today? Democrats think so. “As American families work to make ends meet, Congress must take action to investigate reports of illegal profiteering, anticompetitive business practices, and price gouging within the oil and gas industry and hold public hearings, as appropriate,” wrote 32 members of Congress who signed a letter to U.S. House and Senate leaders urging “immediate investigations.”

The press couldn’t care less. During the week of March 6-12, when they were in a frantic mode, often reporting live from outlier gas stations that were pushing astronomical prices, “gas” was mentioned 1,450 times on CNN, CNBC, Fox News, and MSNBC, according to TVeyes. By contrast “price gouging” that week was referenced just 45 times. There hasn’t been an ounce of media skepticism in play for this story.

As gas prices skyrocketed, the media presented a very succinct cause-and-effect storyline: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine disrupted the global energy market, which caused the price of crude oil to jump, triggering U.S. pumps prices to increase immediately and dramatically, sometimes by more than 15 cents in a single day.

• “Russia’s War Is Raising Gas Prices” (New York Times)

• “Ukraine-Russia War Sparks Price Increases Across U.S.” (Wall Street Journal)

• “How the Ukraine-Russia conflict may push up prices for Americans” (CNBC)

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The press was clear, “Gasoline prices are based on the cost of crude oil, which jumped in response to the invasion and Western sanctions,” the Times recently stressed. Added the Washington Post, “Every $10 increase in the price of crude oil adds about 24 cents to the cost of each gallon of gasoline and is quickly reflected in what you pay at the pump.”

So how come when the price of crude oil dropped $30 in a week, consumers kept paying the same high prices at the pump? Why isn’t that considered a big news story — is there no media formula for how prices are supposed to come down?

This continues the media’s pattern of refusing to hold Big Oil accountable.

Gas and oil companies, currently banking record profits, are usually portrayed in the ongoing coverage as disinterested players who have nothing to gain from higher prices because, according to the narrative, Big Oil is simply passing along the marketplace increases to consumers. Rather than drilling for more oil as demand naturally surged when world economies recovered from the pandemic, energy companies are instead using billions in profits to reward shareholders by buying back their stock.

“For now, most large shale companies aren’t answering the White House’s call [to drill more], sticking to commitments they made to limit production and return more cash to shareholders, an effort to win back investors who fled the industry after years of poor returns,” the Wall Street Journal reported last month. Companies say they don’t care how high the price of crude climbs, they’re committed to not drilling more. “Scott Sheffield, chief executive of Pioneer Natural Resources, told investors in February: “$100 oil, $150 oil, we’re not going to change our growth rate.””

The Journal recently profiled a West Texas oilman whose private company is among the few that’s actively expanding drilling operations. He said he’s never seen a market with surging prices yet so little drilling competition from the major, public corporations. “This is almost too good to be true,” he said. Good for him, bad for U.S. consumers.

Virtually none of that context regarding Big Oil has been included in breathless gas price reporting. They’ve been given a free ride about drilling, raising gas prices, and why they remain sky-high when barrels of crude dropped 20 percent in a week.

There was a time when the mainstream media cast a constantly skeptical eye not only on Big Oil, but on Big Business in general. Today, they get a pass, while Biden gets the blame.

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💻 GOOD STUFF:

Axios wandered into strange territory last week when it published a story based on a document editors were told could not be authenticated.

From CNN’s takedown, “"Appalled" at Axios”:

The White House spent much of Friday frustrated by an Axios report that it believes was based on a fabricated letter purportedly written by Ukraine's top national security official. The Axios story, written by reporter Zachary Basu, said that Oleksiy Danilov had asked the US earlier this month "to go beyond traditional military aid and provide the country with the funding, training and weaponry to support a long-term resistance movement." 

But Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova later told Axios that she believed the letter was "falsified." And officials at the National Security Council also told Axios they have no record of receiving such a letter from Danilov.

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🎸 FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, “State of Mind” (featuring Margo Price)

Tom Petty’s longtime guitarist returns with a new album, via his admirable side band. “State of Mind” sounds instantly timeless, largely thanks to Nashville’s Margo Price who elevates the song to a trance.

Fun Mike Campbell fact: He wrote “Boys of Summer.” Petty was offered the song but opted not to record it. Don Henley did, and turned it into a smash.

Home is a state of mind
State of mind
Home is is a state of mind
State of mind
And you left a hole in my heart
Big enough to drive a truck through
But now there's no way home that I can find

🎙 Click here to listen to the music that’s been featured on PRESS RUN, via Apple Music.