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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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Monday, July 17, 2000

Volume 8, Number 14

Kudos... to The Washington Timesís Patrice Hill

The last issue of MediaNomics reported that independent experts believed that the EPAís clean air rules were a major factor in pushing gas prices to record levels in Chicago and Milwaukee in June, but that ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC failed to aggressively pursue that angle and instead repeated the Clinton administrationís assertions that industry "price gouging" was to blame. (See "Networks Let Government Slide Off the Hook in Gas Price Run-Up," June 30).

Now the Washington Timesís Patrice Hill has uncovered an Energy Department memo showing that the administration was fully aware that its rules were a problem, despite contrary public assertions by President Clinton, Vice President Gore, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, EPA chief Carol Browner and other top-ranking officials.

In a front-page story in the July 14 Washington Times, Hill revealed that the memo from the Energy Departmentís acting policy director, Melanie Kenderdine, informed officials that the EPAís requirement that some cities use reformulated gasoline to conform with clean air rules, was a "major reason" for the price increases. That memo was sent on June 5, a full week before public statements by EPA officials prompted the broadcast networks to promote the notion that oil industry profiteering was behind the record price hikes. "The White House has now put the oil industry on notice," CBSís Bob Orr stated on the June 12 Evening News. "If any evidence of price gouging surfaces, regulators will come down hard."

At the time, most outside experts believed that regulators were at least as responsible as the oil companies. Now, thanks to Hillís reporting, itís apparent that the regulators themselves knew they were at fault, and were deliberately trying to focus the publicís anger on oil companies, despite the absence of evidence that oil companies had done anything wrong.

"It is clear from the June 5th memo that the DOE, whose primary responsibility is oversight of our nationís energy supply, believed that a lack of gasoline inventories in the Midwest, as well as EPA regulations, were not only Ďfactorsí which led to higher gasoline prices, but in fact the primary causes," Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert wrote in a letter to the EPAís Browner.

"Nowhere does this document indicate, or imply, that price gouging was a factor; nor has any other federal study or investigation," Hastert wrote, as reported by Hill. The Speaker also wrote that public statements targeting oil companies appeared part of a "coordinated strategy" by White House officials and others to escape responsibility.

From June 12, when EPA officials publicly stated that their regulations could not have been responsible for the steep rise in prices, through June 26, the four network evening newscasts ran 16 stories about the idea that the oil companies were gouging consumers. Now that additional facts have come to light, it remains to be seen whether the networks will start challenging the EPAís version of the facts. On Friday, only the CBS Evening News bothered to mention the memo, casting it as a conflict between the Speaker of the House and the Clinton administration. ABC and NBC have been silent, so far.

Kudos to Patrice Hill for helping to set the record straight.

ó Rich Noyes


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