At a joint press conference with the Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on May 23, President Joe Biden was asked by a reporter if Americans should expect a recession as gas prices currently remain high. After initially responding that he did not think so — as the U.S. is growing economically and unemployment is at a pandemic low — Biden then noted that when it comes to gas prices, “we're going through an incredible transition that … when it's over, we'll be stronger and the world will be stronger and less reliant on fossil fuels.”
The mere suggestion that gas prices are helping drive the transition away from fossil fuels was enough to send right-wing media into a frenzy, illustrating both the utter contempt they hold for a future that is not dominated by polluting industries and their penchant for falsely claiming Biden is responsible for high gas prices.
Right-wing media predictably twisted Biden’s comments to advance their attacks on the Biden administration’s climate agenda
The right-wing media backlash to Biden’s comments was swift. Predictably, conservative outlets and commentators zeroed in on the “incredible transition” phrase and disregarded his other comments, where he noted his concern for high gas prices and laid out some of the things the administration is attempting to do to alleviate them, including a release from the strategic oil reserve.
One common line of attack suggests that Biden is somehow celebrating high gas prices. Articles published by the Murdoch-owned outlets New York Post and Foxnews.com, as well as The Washington Times, Breitbart, and The Federalist, ran with this framing that Biden is celebrating high gas prices. Fox Business correspondent Charles Gasparino also suggested this on Twitter. Meanwhile, Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner also led viewers to this conclusion on the May 24 edition of The Faulkner Focus, stating that "President Biden is getting called out for appearing to cheer on the high gas prices. While he says it's an incredible transition that would likely be going green faster.”
The framing that the Biden administration is somehow celebrating high gas prices is not new. For example, on the May 20 edition of Fox News’ America Reports, Fox anchor John Roberts said that there is “a growing sense out there among some people … the White House and people on the left are looking at these gas prices going, ‘This is great because it’s going to push people into the green energy sector. It’s going to get people buying electric cars.’”
Earlier, on the April 1 edition of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, host Tucker Carlson had pushed a conspiracy theory that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is an excuse for the Biden administration to raise energy prices “to get a Green New Deal.”
In line with the “celebration” framing, right-wing media also twisted Biden’s comments to suggest that high gas prices are “intentional.” For example, the Daily Caller tweeted, “So the high prices are intentional, Joe?” while Glenn Beck’s website wrote, “Did Biden just let slip that record-high gas prices were PLANNED?” Paid polluting-industry shills and longtime Fox News guests Daniel Turner and Steve Milloy also insinuated the same on Twitter.
Right-wing morning news shows on May 24 also followed this line of attack — on Fox & Friends First, Fox News contributor Brian Brenberg stated in regard to gas prices that “higher prices are part of the plan. They have always been part of the plan for him. He wants you to pay for his green dream transition.” On Fox Business’ Mornings with Maria, host Maria Bartiromo stated that Biden “just admitted it … this is all intentional. It’s a plan.” Will Cain, co-host of Fox & Friends, stated that Biden’s transition comments were an “absolutely outlandish statement that we are going to be talking about more this morning. Because it also plants the idea, confirms the idea in many people's minds, that this isn't an accident.”
Right-wing media’s “intentional” framing is absurd given that the president has very little control over gas prices, which are high right now for a number of reasons, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and rapidly surging demand for oil. It also contradicts Biden’s own position on the issue, as he recently promised to “work like the devil to bring gas prices down.” In fact, right-wing media have been making this claim even before Biden’s Tokyo comments. For example, on the May 20 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy implied that Democrats “want to inflict some pain upon people” to get them to stop using fossil fuels. On the May 19 edition of Fox Business’ Kennedy, Fox Business host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery aired clips of Republican senators accusing Biden of deliberately raising gas prices to force a transition to clean energy.
As usual, right-wing media took Biden’s transition comments and used them to attack any and all efforts to transition to clean energy. Fox News anchor David Asman tweeted that “Nothing is more dangerous” than Biden’s goal to transition away from fossil fuels. Longtime climate denier and Fox News regular Marc Morano tweeted, “The climate policies of the Biden administration are not only disastrous to the economy and are imposing maximum pain on the American people, but they are anti-human and anti-freedom." On Fox News’ Outnumbered, Republican businessman John James stated, “This is the modern day equivalent to let them eat cake … the agenda that Biden is pushing forward that's crushing American jobs and crushing our wallets.”
Right-wing media are carrying water for the fossil fuel industry
In the wake of these comments, some right-wing media commentators defended the oil and gas industry and called for increased fossil fuel use in the future.
On Fox & Friends First, Texas Republican congressional candidate Wesley Hunt stated about Biden’s comments: “He's got his words wrong. It's not about energy transition; it's about energy addition. … The bottom line is this — it's an all-hands-on-deck approach to fulfill the energy needs of this country. … This administration is trying to kill our industry but we are not going to allow that to happen.” On Fox & Friends, Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney blamed Biden for high gas prices and admonished him for ending America’s so-called energy independence. On Fox Business’ Varney & Co., Fox Business anchor Larry Kudlow called the idea of transitioning away from fossil fuels “woke” and then made the baffling claim that “there's all kinds of new technology that makes fossils very low carbon — we have the lowest emissions in the world.” Immediately following this segment, investment portfolio manager and frequent Fox guest David Bahnsen stated “You could have an incredible transition, you could admit you need natural gas, you could … admit that wind, solar is not going to get it done. He said it's not going to happen overnight — he’s right about that. It is also not going to happen in the next 30 years.”
Any and all climate and clean energy issues are attacked with fervor across right-wing media, which have historically been staunch defenders of the fossil fuel industry and willing collaborators in promoting climate change denial. This defense of the fossil fuel industry has only worsened throughout the Ukraine crisis. Even though oil companies are making record profits, and refusing to drill for more oil because high oil prices allow them to return more money to shareholders, and oil and gas production is close to hitting all-time highs under Biden, right-wing media perceive any criticism of the industry or any comments on attempting to transition away from the industry (as Biden suggested in 2020) as an affront to all that is good and holy.
Transitioning to a clean energy economy is the only way for consumers, in the long run, to feel less pain at the pump
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is largely financed by fossil fuels, as Russia is a major exporter of natural gas as well as a global supplier of oil and coal. Luckily, there are many prominent voices pointing this out and saying that Russia’s invasion should hasten the transition to clean energy. The European Union is speeding up its plans to adopt renewable energy. The International Energy Agency is also calling for a transition away from a fossil fuel economy. And climate scientists are urgently spelling out the need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Consumers will be more insulated from gas price volatility the less beholden they are to the global oil market. Rather than heeding right-wing media’s calls for increased drilling, and giving in to their fears that a clean energy economy will be devastating for the U.S. (quite the contrary), now is the time to begin the transition.