Cable news coverage of gas prices

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Cable news spent more than double the amount of time covering gas prices when they were rising than when they were declining

Fox news dominated coverage of both stories

Gas prices have been a focus of cable news networks since they began to spike in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Fox News has been leading the coverage.

While prices had been steadily rising since before the war, the invasion and related sanctions and disruptions pushed them to record highs beginning in March. By mid-June the national average hit $5 a gallon for the first time ever before it started to slowly decline.

Beginning last week, prices have reached around $4.5 a gallon which reportedly is one of the fastest declines in retail gas prices in a decade. While prices are expected to drop further over the next couple of weeks to catch up with the falling price of oil, it is uncertain whether or when they will stabilize. However, rising gas prices have garnered more cable news attention than declining prices — and Fox News has led the coverage on both fronts.

Media Matters reviewed coverage of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC when gas hit a record $5 a gallon — from June 13 through June 15 — and again when gas dropped to $4.5 — from July 18 through July 20:

Key findings

  • Combined coverage of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC of rising gas prices was more than twice as long as combined coverage of declining prices.
  • Cable news dedicated a total of at least 4 1/2 hours to gas price coverage from June 13-15 and just over 2 hours from July 18-20 after prices fell.
  • During both periods reviewed, Fox News accounted for more than half of the total time spent covering gas prices. From June 13-15, Fox News spent 2 hours and 49 minutes or 63% of total time and from July 18-20, the network covered gas prices for over an hour or 56% of total time.
  • CNN spent 56 minutes covering gas prices between June 13 and 15 while spending 30 minutes from July 18-20, reflecting a 46% decrease in coverage.
  • MSNBC spent 45 minutes covering gas prices between June 13 and 15 while spending 24 minutes from July 18-20, reflecting a 47% decrease in coverage.
  • Cable news covered high gas prices more than declining gas prices

    On June 13, gas prices hit a national average of $5 a gallon for the first time ever — the vast majority of reporting by CNN and MSNBC that day covered this headline with little context. However, coverage over the next two days was more in-depth, providing substantive discussion of the myriad factors that influence domestic and global fuel prices. Perhaps one of the best examples of this was the June 15 edition of MSNBC’s The Reidout

    Host Joy Reid noted specific factors for the high gas prices, including, “Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions”; “U.S. oil production has been slow and has been down since 2019”; and “higher demand for gas.” Reid also highlighted the record profits that high prices were affording oil giants. The segment included an interview with Lindsey Owens, executive director of Groundwork Collaborative, which focused on how to hold oil companies accountable and featured clips from an April congressional hearing on price-gouging. Quoting an industry CEO from the clips, Reid pointed out that “oil companies are a cash machine when oil prices are at this level.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the June 15, 2022, edition of MSNBC's The Reidout

  • However, the volume of coverage on CNN and MSNBC that accurately conveyed to audiences why gas prices were spiking to record highs paled in comparison to the volume of coverage on Fox that pushed the lie that Biden is solely responsible for the pain Americans are facing at the pump.

    And notably, coverage of gas prices dramatically decreased after prices peaked and started to decline. CNN and MSNBC covered gas prices 46% and 47% less, respectively, when prices significantly dipped in late-July.

    On July 18, White House National Economic Council Director Brian Deese appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and spoke directly to the media's coverage of gas prices and suggested that the decline was as newsworthy as the rising prices. Deese said:

    “We know that gas prices really take a bite out of people's pocketbooks and also capture a lot of media attention. When gas prices were going up, your network and others covered it constantly. Now gas prices are coming down. This is the longest sustained period of gas price reductions in over a decade. Over the weekend we saw the largest single-day decline in gas prices since 2008. Gas is below $4 a gallon at 20,000 gas stations across the country. So that is good news.”

  • Fox dominated coverage of both high and declining gas prices

    Over a three-day period, from June 13 through June 15, Fox dedicated nearly 3 hours of coverage to record gas prices. Even though gas prices are fixed to a global oil market, and events like the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have disrupted both supply and demand, the vast majority of Fox coverage insisted that Biden was to blame for high prices at the pump in the U.S.

    Prime-time hosts Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson each dedicated monologues to gas prices. On the June 13 edition on Hannity, the host argued that “there is no mystery surrounding why we have spike in gas prices” and that one needed to look no further than Biden’s campaign promises to understand why gas prices are so high:

    “Two years ago on the campaign trail, Joe Biden, when he wasn't hiding in his bunker, told us that … he was a card-carrying member of the climate alarmist cult. He vowed to destroy the oil and gas industry and even threatened to throw oil executives in jail. He openly dreamed of a green new deal and promised to move away from fossil fuels altogether even if that meant sacrificing high paying career jobs in the energy sector in the process.”

    And on the June 15 edition of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Carlson also tied gas prices to promises Biden made on the campaign to “end fossil fuel”, beginning his monologue by stating, “Over time, it is possible to draw legitimate connections between decisions that politicians make and the catastrophes that follow. The rising gas prices, for example, … in America now qualifies as a catastrophe.”

    And during the June 14 edition of America’s Newsroom, a so-called “straight news” program on the network, co-anchor Bill Hemmers interviewed Mike Sommer, the CEO of Big Oil’s lobby arm the American Petroleum Institute, to cast blame on Biden and present the industry as the answer to high gas prices. Hemmers amplified the industry’s wishlist of actions to lock in the country’s reliance on fossil fuels before asking Sommers, “Do you believe this administration has any inclination to move on these ideas now?” Sommers responded that the list is “really a menu for lawmakers to tackle this issue” and eventually concluded, “But given their approach so far to American energy independence, I'm not optimistic.”

  • Video file

    Citation From the June 14, 2022, edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom

  • This three-day period was not unique, but rather representative of Fox’s coverage since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. For the past five months, the network has consistently blamed Biden’s energy policy and focus on climate action for high prices through its relentless coverage while running cover for, and echoing the talking points of, the oil industry

    Despite spending months blaming Biden for rising gas prices, the network was loath to give the Biden administration credit for any decrease in the price at the pump. While the network acknowledged that prices were declining, the vast majority of coverage deviated little from its high gas price rhetoric by continuing to blame Biden for the increased cost of fuel while mocking the administration for taking credit for falling gas prices.

    On the July 19 edition of Faulkner Focus, anchor Harris Faulkner interviewed Sen.Tom Cotton (R-AR), who complained that Biden was attacking the oil and gas industry, saying, “We could produce enough oil and gas and coal here to be totally energy independent and to support our allies overseas. But Joe Biden and the Democratic Party continue to wage their ideological war against American industry.”

    On the July 19 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Ainsley Earhardt mocked Biden for taking credit for reducing gas prices and blamed him for the increases, “The Biden administration, though, is taking credit for the decreasing gas prices, which is making everyone laugh because they're the reason for the problem in the first place. … So even though, yes, they have gone down a little bit over the last few weeks, it's still not enough. It's like saying I'm taking $100 out of your pocket and I'm going to put $50 back in, but you are still out of $50”.

  • Too often Fox shapes climate and energy stories

    Coverage of fluctuating gas prices is not the only story Fox is shaping. The network has often dominated coverage of key climate and energy actions or newsworthy moments. In April, when congressional hearings examined the role of the oil industry in record gas prices, the network devoted 49 minutes of coverage to the hearing, much of which defended Big Oil and insisted that Biden’s policies are responsible for high gas prices. In comparison, CNN and MSNBC covered the hearings for only 10 minutes and 4 minutes, respectively, effectively letting Fox shape the narrative around this moment and failing to use it as a catalyst to inform viewers about what is driving the price at the pump.

    After the Green New Deal was introduced in 2019, Fox News relentlessly attacked the climate and justice actions and hammered the same messaging — tethering the proposal to radical socialism, climate alarmism, and economic devastation, while vilifying those who champion it. In comparison, CNN and MSNBC made only a cursory attempt to articulate what the Green New Deal is and what it would accomplish. As a result, for Fox viewers, the Green New Deal has become synonymous with extreme socialism manifested by a fake climate crisis.

    In the month after Biden unveiled his climate agenda as a presidential candidate in July 2019, Fox News aired 7 times the number of segments CNN aired and more than 4 times the segments aired on MSNBC. In fact, the network’s coverage of energy and climate issues in the fall months of the 2020 presidential campaign played a role shaping the related presidential debate questions.

    After Biden signed a package of executive orders (including canceling the Keystone XL pipeline) on January 27, 2021, Fox spent approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes that day discussing them. CNN spent nearly half as much time, at approximately 53 minutes, MSNBC spent 1 hour and 24 minutes discussing the topics. While this data may not be as striking, it doesn’t include the amount of time Fox spent covering, for example, the canceled Keystone XL pipeline long after the other networks had moved on. Even now, Fox News has still repeatedly invoked the scrapped pipeline as one of the reasons contributing to the current energy crisis, even though the pipeline would not have had an impact on gas prices.

    It is troubling to see CNN and MSNBC repeatedly yield coverage of major climate and energy stories to Fox News, and it’s time for the networks to step up.

  • Methodology

    Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on cable news networks CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel for terms “gas,” “gasoline,” “fuel,” “pump,” “diesel,” “tank,” or “gallon” within close proximity of any of the terms “record,” “price,” “cost,” “soar,” or “high,” “increase,” “surge,” “inflate,” “spike,” or “skyrocket” or variations of the term “rise” from June 13, 2022, through June 15, 2022.

    We also searched the same gas-related terms within close proximity of any of the terms “record,” “cost,” “price,” “decrease,” “drop,” “fall,” “fell,” “low,” “decline,” “less,” “down,” or “tumble” from July 18, 2022, through July 20, 2022.  

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when gas prices were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of gas prices. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed gas prices with one another. We also included headline reports, which we defined as instances when an anchor, host, or correspondent read a short news report about gas prices in rapid succession with several unrelated stories.

    Additionally, we included passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed gas prices without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about gas prices scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.