Downtown Bureau

News: The New Hollywood

Nobody really knows where the stories of $3 a litre gas started, but we do know the media ran with it without any verification or proof.

By Jason Leach
Published October 07, 2005

Last week's gas shortage frenzy has cost one gas station owner his job - and his ownership of the station.

After Hurricane Katrina, we were all aware of the potential for a quick spike in gas prices that was possible once again had Rita not veered north before making landfall. However, on the morning of Thursday September 22, as Rita was 48 hours from making landfall, the media began shouting about an immediate spike of 50 - 100 percent in gas prices before the end of the day. The result? Massive lineups at the pumps and and overall panic as people rushed to get gas before the unprecedented spike.

One can't really blame the public for their response. After all, we saw what happened after Katrina and the media spent the past several days going on about "price gouging" and other sensational theories regarding the oil industry. People were already nervous and it showed on September 22.

Nobody really knows where the stories of $3 a litre gas started, but we do know the media ran with it without any verification or proof. Hamilton's CHML had a talk show on when I tuned in around 11:30 am. The host was asking callers to call in and tell the public what the prices were, and every call that I heard was reporting prices in the range of $1.00 - $1.30 a litre.

Yet the hosts continued to say, "well, someone said it's $2.50 in such and such a place, so I'll believe them." So much for fact-finding and responsible programming.

As we've all heard by now, a station in Lincoln, Ontario had a price of $2.20 a litre between 3-5 pm on September 22. The media felt vindicated for their hysteria and the front pages of newspapers and TV broadcasts spoke to no end about the gouging and corrupt oil industry.

As a side note, has anyone ever wondered why gas prices are 98.3 or 101.7? Why not just leave it at 98 cents or $1.01? One factor is that this industry in extremely competitive. That point 3 cents can make a huge difference in the bottom line and in the choice of a customer.

Most folks would be interested to know that gas stations actually have a smaller profit margin than other major industries like the insurance industry, bottled water industry, and even the big processed food companies.

Taking oil out of the ground and preparing it for use in your car is much more expensive than running tapwater through a Brita filter and then selling it for $2.00 a litre. Who's really doing the gouging?

In an interview with a local newspaper, the owner of the gas station in Lincoln was asked why he raised his price so high. He responded that he was working by himself in the middle of the day (usually a slow time) and hundreds of cars were piling into the station. They were getting mad at the slow service and he didn't know what was going on, so he raised the price way up to discourage some of the motorists and ease the crunch.

Now the fellow has lost his job and his station and we've all been led to believe that a 'bad seed' has been removed from the system.

It sounds to me like our local media decided to take on the role of Hollywood for a day and lather everyone into a frenzy. That's what happens when they cross the line from proper, factual journalism into the role of entertainer and sensationalist.

Instead of having a gas station owner fired, I'd rather see an investigation take place into the source of the media panic and why nobody bothered to issue orders from head-office to relax with the doomsday reporting and instead try to gather facts.

Of course, I already know the answer to that question - a bigger audience means more money and that's all the matters at the end of the day.

By the way, here's a small piece of news that escaped the headlines on Monday, September 26. Gas prices in the U.S. Have fallen by 50 cents a gallon over the past two weeks.

That's right. While we were all being led to believe that price gouging was taking place and companies were skyrocketing the price of fuel before Rita even made landfall (another common story heard in the leadup to Rita's arrival), the numbers show that the opposite was actually happening.

But once again, the media seems to think that a sensational show resulting in heated discussion around the water cooler the following day is more important than actually broadcasting the news.

We're being gouged all right - of our common sense and dignity.

The sad part is, most of us are so out of touch with reality that we fall for this stuff every time. After all, if they say it on TV then it must be true...

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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