Vox picks a side in piece on fuel price gouging legislation

May 24, 2022

By Tim Worstall

Vox crosses the line from journalism into political advocacy as it covers the Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act. This is the bill just passed by the House (on a strictly D vote, no Rs voted for) which, essentially, gives the Feds the power to decide what gas prices should be.

To be in favor of such a bill is fine, however much we or anyone else might disagree with it. To be against is also fine – this is politics we are talking about. But here is where Vox crossed that line. 

“They’re purposely keeping supply low to earn record-high profits, squeezing families — and our entire economy — in the process.” That’s a quote from a California Democrat, and again, we might agree or not but quoting what someone has said is indeed journalism. 

The stepping over the line is when the editorial line seems to agree with that contention: “Oil and gas companies like Chevron and Shell may take advantage of the market’s instability by excessively hiking up gas prices while limiting production to boost profits, which in turn hurts consumers.”

When it’s the editorial voice suggesting such then journalism requires actually checking. That’s the difference between journalism and political advocacy – testing the contention against reality rather than positioning to impress the voters.

And the thing is that’s an easy thing to check. The Federal Government itself publishes a monthly estimate of what future domestic oil production is going to be. Reuters, here: “NEW YORK, May 10 (Reuters) – U.S. crude oil output is expected to rise 720,000 barrels per day to 11.91 million bpd in 2022, the government said in a monthly forecast on Tuesday.” 

Oh. Oil companies are responding to higher prices by increasing output. How about that.

Vox markets itself as “explaining the news”. It ranks among the top 100 news sites in the country and gains some 20 million visits a month from doing so. The thing about explaining that news is that it’s necessary to actually explain it. 

The little dividing line here is that quoting all sorts of people on either side is fine. Vox indeed does that. But when an assertion is made, a supposition floated, directly and not in quotes then it’s something that needs to be checked. And when reality is entirely the opposite of the assertion then that either needs to be pointed out or – well, or, what is being done is political advocacy, not journalism.


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