Wrote Borenstein and Gillum:
A statistical analysis of 36 years of monthly, inflation-adjusted gasoline prices and U.S. domestic oil production by The Associated Press shows no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump Political rhetoric about the blame over gas prices and the power to change them—whether Republican claims now or Democrats’ charges four years ago—is not supported by cold, hard figures.
The Daily News on the day of Obama’s speech ran a different AP article, by Andrew Miga, which fact-checked an attack ad by Crossroads GPS—a right-leaning nonprofit advocacy group (doesn’t disclose donors) founded with the help of Karl Rove—airing nationwide on cable TV and on local stations in cities like Columbus. Citing Borenstein and Gillum’s statistical analysis, Miga refuted the ad’s claim that Obama’s “bad energy policies mean energy prices we can’t afford.”
Little of that fact-based reporting could be found in local Ohio media last week, but one exception was the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s well-done Q&A-style fact-check of energy-related claims and counterclaims emanating from the campaign trail. “Their rhetoric can be conflicting and confusing,” wrote the Plain Dealer’s Stephen Koff the day after Obama’s OSU speech. “So with the president in the Buckeye state, now is a good time to separate facts from myths.”
Koff did just that, addressing issues such as gas prices, the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska, and imports and exports of petroleum products. No other paper in Ohio seems to have taken as much care. The Toledo Blade had a decent story the day before Obama’s speech, which went into more detail than most. It mentioned statistics such as average oil production and permitting under the Bush and Obama administrations, but the stats came from Democrats and Republicans, not the reporter, Tom Troy’s, own sleuthing, so it’s hard for readers to tell whether or not to believe them. And a second Blade piece following the address offered more of the he-said-she-said fare. Like its counterparts in Columbus and Dayton, the paper relied on a syndicated article, this one from The Washington Post, to provide evidence-based context.
If energy policy continues to play a major role in the presidential contest, as it likely will, local coverage must improve. It is simply not enough to quote Democrats and Republicans making claims and counter-claims. There are facts that reporters can bring to bear to let their readers know who’s being honest and who’s not. The data aren’t always easy to dig up, especially on deadline, but references like the AP’s statistical analysis and CJR’s toolbox can help in a pinch. Voters need more from their local press.