Fox anchors get facts wrong in rushing to defend oil companies against warnings of price gouging

President Joe Biden warned oil companies not to use Hurricane Ian “as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people”

Fox News anchors John Roberts and Neil Cavuto questioned why President Joe Biden warned oil companies against price gouging after Hurricane Ian hit Florida, wrongly asserting that oil production was unaffected and that there is no history of such predatory conduct.

While the full extent of the devastation in western Florida from Hurricane Ian is still being calculated, Gov. Ron DeSantis called it a “500-year flooding event” from the huge storm surge and Biden expressed concern of “substantial loss of life” from the storm.

Roberts strayed from Fox’s recent pattern of taking advantage of this devastating hurricane to undermine the scientific consensus of climate change, instead defending giant corporations against the president’s warning to “not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people.” Those oil companies have recently enjoyed “record profits” amid multiple global crises and the recovery from the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In defending the oil companies, Roberts falsely claimed that oil production in the region was unaffected by the hurricane in Florida and expressed doubt that there had “ever been a case” when the oil industry had used hurricanes to price-gouge customers.

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Citation From the September 29, 2022, edition of Fox News' America Reports

JOHN ROBERTS (CO-ANCHOR): John, the president warned oil companies not to price-gouge folks down there in Florida, which I thought was a little curious, because gas pricing down there is going to be a function of global prices of oil. And if anybody were to jack up prices it would be on a very local basis. And since the hurricane didn't really go through the oil-producing area of the gulf [Gulf of Mexico], there's no reason to think that we're going to see a dramatic storm-spawned spike in oil prices. So, why the warning to the oil companies?

JOHN KIRBY (NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL, STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR): I think the president clearly just wanted to make sure, and you saw Gov. DeSantis do this a little bit in his press conference, just make sure that people know that we're being vigilant. And we don't want anybody to take advantage of the desperate straits that so many Florida citizens are in right now. We don't want them to fall prey to any unscrupulous business practices. And the president, I think, was just laying down that marker. Again, he wants the focus to be helping the people of Florida get back up on their feet, recover from this, and do so in a way unimpeded or damaged by anybody who might try to take advantage of that effort.

ROBERTS: I don't mean to belabor a point, but has there ever been a case where the major oil companies have taken advantage of a storm like this to gouge people?

KIRBY: I don't have the history here, John, for it. I just know that the president feels strongly that we need to stay vigilant to make sure that the people can recover, again, in a fair and equitable way.

Cavuto went even further in emphatically denying that the oil industry had ever engaged in such disreputable conduct.

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Citation From the September 29, 2022, edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto

NEIL CAVUTO (ANCHOR): I want to echo again, there is no evidence. There was no evidence. There has been no evidence that gouging was going on of the oil companies, or the gas giants, were colluding to rig prices or all of a sudden take advantage of a bad situation by doing this sort of thing. So my point in raising this with John Kirby had nothing to do with that, I might point out. Why wag your finger and start accusing something and someone for an event that hasn't even happened? Gas stations throughout much of the state were running out of gas. Having nothing to do with people getting gouged, but a mad run on gas to get out of town. So to prematurely then make the argument that they were caballing in some sort of way, pardon that slang, when there's no evidence of it, and there's never been evidence of those charges in the past.

And this has been looked at over the last 40 years, independent commissions, [Justice Department] studies, Interior Department studies that have never once, ever once said this has happened. But they keep trotting it out. And it makes you wonder. They must know the facts, right?

In fact, Reuters had reported two days ago that “about 11% of oil production in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico was shut” as the hurricane “forced oil companies to evacuate workers and the storm took aim at Florida.” The day before, Reuters reported that major oil companies BP and Chevron “said they have shut-in production at offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico,” totaling just under half a million barrels per day of lost oil production.

Furthermore, there is evidence that the oil industry has used a hurricane to price-gouge before. A 2006 investigation by the Federal Trade Commission found that there “was evidence of price gouging” by 15 oil firms, including seven refiners, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina. From the report (emphasis added):

As directed by Section 632, the Commission also examined gasoline prices after the hurricanes to search for any instances of price gouging as defined by that legislation. In its examination of price-gouging evidence, the report analyzed financial data for 30 refiners, 23 wholesalers, and 24 single-location retailers. The report found that 15 of these firms – seven refiners, two wholesalers and six retailers – had higher average gasoline prices in September 2005 compared to August, and that these higher prices were not substantially attributable to either higher costs or to national or international market trends. Accordingly, there was evidence of price gouging, as defined by Section 632, for these firms. Additional analyses, however, showed that other factors, such as regional or local market trends, appeared to explain the pricing of these firms in nearly all cases.