Here, from the Columbia Journalism Review, is a Reporter’s Toolbox of primary sources of information related to gasoline prices and oil production in the US, which journalists can use to evaluate and clarify the political rhetoric.
- Reporter’s Toolbox: Oil and Gas Prices, By Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review (March 22, 2012).
Every year, news stories about US gasoline prices appear in the early spring and remain popular until the end of the summer driving season in September. But “pain at the pump” takes on special significance during presidential election years, as Republicans and Democrats use gas prices to attack one another’s energy policies and curry favor with voters. This year, the GOP is blaming the Obama administration for rising prices, but in 2008, it was Barack Obama, then a senator from Illinois, who was pointing his finger at Washington. Make no mistake, all such accusations rest on shaky ground. The price of gasoline is determined primarily by the price of crude oil (in February it accounted for 72 percent of the cost of regular unleaded and 65 percent of the cost of diesel), which is established by a global market over which US energy policy holds little short-term sway.
The 2012 campaign has already seen innumerable claims and counterclaims related to gas prices and domestic oil production. Journalists should be fact checking all those statements, letting their readers and viewers know whether they represent truth or spin. More often than not, however, they drop competing quotes into their stories without assessing their relative merits. This is lazy reporting that does a disservice to voters. We understand it can be hard to dig up the necessary background on deadline, especially while traveling.
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