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An Exhibition of Conservative Paranoia

Exhibit 42: A Record-High Obsession

When is a record high not a record high? When the Media Research Center decides it needs to be indexed for inflation (or not).

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/30/2007

Back in 2004, ConWebWatch noted that the Media Research Center's Brent Baker complained that it was a "Democratic Party/John Kerry campaign tactic" to assert that the high prices that consumers were then paying for gasoline were at a "record high" level because they weren't when adjusted for inflation -- specifically, in Baker's words, "at least 26 percent cheaper than in 1981 following the Carter-era inflation spiral."

Baker is still at it, trying to make an inflation-adjusted point on oil and gas prices, and has been for at least the past year. For instance:

  • April 20, 2006, CyberAlert: "Though in constant, inflation-adjusted dollars -- the only way to measure prices over time -- a price of a barrel of oil will have to exceed $87 to reach a record high, the broadcast networks have been falsely trumpeting nominal oil prices as a "record high."
  • April 22, 2006, NewsBusters post: "Friday night the three broadcast network evening newscasts again hyperventilated over the 'record' high price for a barrel of oil, though adjusted for inflation, the only competent way to measure any price over time, current $75 per barrel oil is $12 short of the real record high set in January of 1981."
  • May 15 CyberAlert item: "As another summer driving season approaches, media outlets cannot resist again hyping dire stories about the supposed 'record high' price of a gallon of gas when, adjusted for inflation, the current $3.10 average for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline is still lower than in 1981."

The MRC also issued a May 2006 press release asserting that news claims about record-high gas prices "were geared to fueling public fears with hyperbole, no evidence and hysterical claims."

However, as ConWebWatch pointed out back in 2004, the MRC has little interest in adjusting numbers for inflation when they don't make conservatives look good (or Democrats look bad). When conservatives spent the better part of the 1990s blaming Democrats for being responsible for what they called "the largest tax increase in history" in 1993, the MRC had no interest in correcting the claim; records show that -- adjusted for inflation, of course -- a tax increase approved in 1982 by a Republican Congress under the Reagan administration was the largest. And when a 1996 CNN report pointed out that it was the "largest tax increase in history," merely cites it as another out-of-context example of liberal bias. Similarly, MRC's brethren at made no effort to correct the record, despite printing three (count 'em, three) examples of Republicans calling it exactly that.

In October 2006, a trio of articles by Ken Shepherd, then of the MRC's Business & Media Institute (now NewsBusters managing editor) touted the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting a "record high," the third item asserting, "The Dow Jones average closed at a record high for the third consecutive trading day." Previous BMI reports in May, June and July 2006 made similar points.

But according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it wasn't a record when -- you guessed it -- adjusted for inflation:

On October 27, 2006, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 12,090.  Adjusted for inflation, that is down 14 percent from its all-time high on January 14, 2000. The Dow would need to rise another 1,946 points to set a new record, adjusted for inflation. It is only when no adjustment is made for inflation that the Dow can meaningfully be said to have closed at a record high.

And no, Shepherd didn't adjust for inflation, even though it's "the only competent way to measure any price over time" (and the Dow Industrial Average is based on price fluctuations).

When gas prices did, in fact, approach the inflation-adjusted price, Baker still found something to complain about. In a May 21 NewsBusters post (and May 22 CyberAlert item), he complained that news reports noting a "record high" were still inaccurate, because the current price "does not beat [the inflation-adjusted high] but only 'matches' it." Baker then attacked ABC's Charles Gibson because he "continued to deliver distorted reporting in which he refused to adjust for inflation" by calling the current price "another record high."

On the other hand, having the MRC's inflation-adjusted view of the world be overtaken by events seems to have finally pulled the plug on one of Baker's favorite memes. Now if he and the MRC will just admit that the Clinton tax hikes were not the biggest in history when adjusted for inflation ...

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