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Analysis: Myth That Offshore Drilling Would Lower Gas Prices Gets Boost from Major Media

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September 4, 2008

Analysis: Myth That Offshore Drilling Would Lower Gas Prices Gets Boost from Major Media

For Immediate Release: September 4, 2008
Contact: Dan Beeton, (202) 239-1460

Washington, D.C. -- The media has played a significant role in convincing Americans that offshore drilling for oil in the United States could significantly lower the price of gasoline, according to an analysis released today by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Even though the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Agency has stated that the benefits from such drilling would be too small to have any significant effect on oil prices, the media has overwhelmingly conveyed the impression that it could. Media coverage of the issue may have influenced public opinion, with a majority now favoring expanded drilling, as proposed by presidential candidate John McCain.

“This is a clear case where the overwhelming majority of the media has not done its job, and the McCain campaign is benefiting as a result,” said CEPR Co-Director and co-author of the paper, Mark Weisbrot.

The paper, “Oil Drilling In Environmentally Sensitive Areas: The Role of the Media,” finds that in 267 television news broadcasts, the Energy Information Agency data was cited only once. Also, in 91 percent of the news programs in this sample, there was not even an opposing opinion presented.

“There really isn’t any excuse for the media to ignore the official data on this issue,” said Weisbrot. “It’s like reporting on the economy and ignoring the official date on GDP growth, unemployment, or inflation. No wonder the public is confused.”

Recent public opinion polls show 69 percent of respondents favored expanded drilling, and 51 percent said that they believed that "federal laws that prohibit increased drilling for oil offshore or in wilderness areas" were a “major cause of the recent increase in gasoline prices.”1

The paper also notes that the role of the biggest media outlets in shaping public opinion on offshore drilling is underestimated by the results in the sample. Talk radio, which is overwhelmingly right wing, reaches a weekly audience in the tens of millions,2 and reinforced the message that the proposed drilling would lower gasoline prices.

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[1] CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll, July 30, 2008 [http://www.pollingreport.com/energy.htm]
[2] See, “The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio,” Center for American Progress and Free Press (2007) [http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/06/pdf/talk_radio.pdf]

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The Center for Economic and Policy Research is an independent, nonpartisan think tank that was established to promote democratic debate on the most important economic and social issues that affect people's lives. CEPR's Advisory Board of Economists includes Nobel Laureate economists Robert Solow and Joseph Stiglitz; Richard Freeman, Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and Eileen Appelbaum, Professor and Director of the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University.