Media reported GOP calls for price-gouging investigation, while ignoring previous Democratic callsApril 26, 2006 5:53 PM EDT ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
On the April 24 broadcasts of CNN's Paula Zahn Now and ABC's World News Tonight, as well as on the April 25 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America, news reports noted that congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), were calling for President Bush to investigate possible price gouging by the oil industry. But none of the reports mentioned that Democrats had previously called for a price-fixing probe, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who had called for such an investigation at a press conference a week earlier. Further, 15 Senate Democrats also sent a letter to Bush on April 18 calling for him to support legislation that would prevent price gouging.
In a report on high gas prices for ABC's World News Tonight, Washington correspondent Jake Tapper noted that "congressional Republicans were very mindful of blame when they called for the federal investigations into possible price gouging by the fuel industry," then quoted Frist saying, "We have to address this." Likewise, CNN anchor Paula Zahn reported in her broadcast that "GOP leaders are asking the president to order an investigation into whether price gouging or speculation are causing higher gas prices, while Democrats say the GOP is scrambling for political cover for the upcoming midterm November elections."
On Good Morning America, co-host Diane Sawyer interviewed Frist, noting that he was "targeting gouging," then said: "I'm going to play a bite of Senator Edward Kennedy [D-MA], who says ... this is the problem." Sawyer then played a clip from the April 23 edition of NBC's Meet the Press during which Kennedy csaid Bush "should have called the head[s] of the oil companies into the White House and started jawboning." After the clip, Sawyer asked Frist, "What about that, Senator? Time to tackle the profits of the oil companies?" suggesting that Kennedy was arguing only in favor of a windfall profit tax. However, during his Meet the Press interview, Kennedy also said: "And [Bush] ought to activate and call the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] -- which is basically a sleepy organization that has given an interim report in terms of price fixing and gouging -- he ought to get them off and have them working seven days a week, 24/7, to make sure that we know exactly who is price gouging."
On April 18, Schumer held a press conference at a gas station in New York to call for the FTC to investigate the business practices of the major oil companies, saying, "The bottom line is they are producing at 85-percent capacity when they should be producing over 90 percent. Are they scaling back production? Only by subpoenaing the companies and looking in their books will we get that answer." Fifteen Senate Democrats also sent a letter to Bush on April 18 calling for him to support pending anti-price-gouging legislation:
We are writing to enlist your support in enacting strong consumer protection measures that will protect American consumers from price gouging at the gas pump this summer. You are undoubtedly aware of projections from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) that gas prices will rise 25 cents per gallon across this nation compared to last summer. In light of these projections, we believe a federal anti-price gouging law should be enacted before the summer driving season begins in earnest, this Memorial Day.
Already, price gouging legislation (S. 1735) exists that has been cosponsored by nearly a third of the United States Senate, and endorsed by a number of state Attorneys General. This legislation would give federal and state regulators new authority to prosecute price gouging in the wake of national energy emergencies, as well as put in place measures to ban manipulation and enhance the transparency of our nation's fuel markets. One of the hallmarks of this legislation is that it would also apply to the wholesale fuel markets-an important distinction, given that it is often the large vertically integrated oil companies that dictate the prices that gasoline retailers can charge. While the oil companies rake in record profits, it is often these retailers that bear the brunt of consumer anger.
From the April 24 broadcast of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:
ZAHN: Now, GOP leaders are asking the president to order an investigation in whether price gouging or speculation are causing higher gas prices, while Democrats say the GOP is scrambling for political cover for the upcoming midterm November elections.
From the April 24 broadcast of ABC's World News Tonight:
ELIZABETH VARGAS (co-anchor): Good evening. We begin with high stakes and the nation's high gas prices. They were up yet again today. The government said a gallon of regular unleaded now costs, on average, $2.91. That is an increase of 29 percent in the last two months. The new math at the gas pump is starting to force Americans across the country to change their driving habits. We'll have more on that in a moment. But we begin in Washington. Congress returned from recess today, vowing to investigate oil companies as they prepare to report another round of record profits. Here's ABC's Jake Tapper.
TAPPER: Today, regular unleaded gasoline in San Francisco cost $3.10 a gallon. In Miami, $2.99. In Chicago, 2.96.
MOTORIST 1: I think we're being ripped off.
MOTORIST 2: Who do I blame? You know, there's really enough blame to go all around.
TAPPER: But with midterm elections coming up in November, congressional Republicans are very mindful of blame when they called for the federal investigations into possible price gouging by the fuel industry from refineries, to pipelines, to retail sales.
FRIST: Everybody is feeling it. Whether you're a farmer, you're a small business person; whether you're a mom or a dad taking kids to the school. We have to address it.
TAPPER: In Las Vegas, the president said he took the request seriously.
BUSH: If we catch them gouging, if we catch them in unfair trade practices, we'll deal with them at the federal government.
From the April 25 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
SAWYER: All right Senator, you're targeting gouging, which is the guy at the pump, the middle guy. How is this going to help, and how soon, specifically, the person paying $2.91 on average right now.
FRIST: Diane, you're exactly right, this $2.90, over three dollars in some areas right now, cannot be sustained by the person driving their kids to school today or filling up their tractor with fuel. There is no silver bullet. I think that's obvious to most people now, but we need to make sure, though the prices are ultimately determined by supply and demand, that the markets themselves work, and therefore, the Speaker and I did send a letter to the president to make sure that we fully investigate, using our entire government -- mainly the Department of Justice and the FTC -- that any evidence of price gouging be addressed and be addressed aggressively. In addition, in that letter, we asked both the FTC and the DOJ to investigate and to examine, to make sure that markets are not being manipulated in any way as we look to the future and the future commodity purchases of these -- these oil and gas reserves that we have today.
SAWYER: Well, you talk about the possibility of market manipulation, also want to talk about the record profits of the big oil companies. During the past four years, profits have jumped more than 260 percent, and you were holding hearings on this back last fall. I'm going to play a bite of Senator Edward Kennedy, who says, you know, this is the problem. Listen.
KENNEDY [video clip]: The president should have called the head of the oil companies into the White House and started jawboning. He should have done that a week ago. Why he doesn't do that, I do not understand. He ought to be pointing out that hardworking Americans, middle-class people, who have their sons and daughters in Iraq and in Afghanistan -- that this is not a time for greed.
SAWYER: What about that Senator? Time to tackle the profits of the oil companies?
FRIST: Well, I think we need to look at it, and that's why, I, very early on, the last time we had a spike, called for those hearings -- the hearings you heard Senator Kennedy just speaking at. We were told at that time by the executives from the various oil companies that those profits would be invested in increasing the supply side of the equation -- the production side of the equation. We may have to bring them back in, we'll have to wait and see whether they have done just that. The price ultimately is determined by supply and demand.
From the April 23 edition of NBC's Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: What are we going to do about $3-dollar-a-gallon gasoline?
KENNEDY: The president -- the president should have called the head of the oil companies into the White House and started jawboning. He should have done that a week ago. Why he doesn't do that, I do not understand. He ought to be pointing out that hard-working Americans, middle-class people, who have their sons and daughters in Iraq and in Afghanistan -- that this is not a time for greed. And he ought to activate and call the Federal Trade Commission -- which is basically a sleepy organization that has given an interim report in terms of price fixing and gouging -- he ought to get them off and have them working seven days a week, 24/7, to make sure that we know exactly who is price gouging. And third, we ought to have a bipartisan effort to recapture -- recapture these excessive profits that are going to the oil industry and return them to working families and middle-income families.