COMMENTS: Persian Gulf Fuels Oil

The weeklong standoff between London and Teheran over the 15 British sailors and marines held captive by Iran finally found a domestic angle. The Story of the Day was the rising global price of crude oil--and of gasoline at American filling stations. It was the day's only development that warranted coverage by a reporter on all three newscasts. NBC led with the price at the pump and CBS chose the frictions between Iran and Britain. ABC selected President George Bush's visit to disabled combat veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Crude oil was the angle chosen by CBS' Anthony Mason. He noted that the very tension fomented by Iran's refusal to release its British prisoners was creating "an economic opportunity," increasing income from its exports by more than $4 per barrel in the past week. Mason called it "profit from fear." Fully 20% of the globe's oil consumption ships through the Straits of Hormuz at the southern end of the Persian Gulf. Shutting those straits would increase the cost of a barrel from $65 to $100 "in a heartbeat."

The cost of domestic gasoline was the angle preferred by NBC and ABC. ABC's Betsy Stark (subscription required) noted that the price at the pump normally spikes at this time of year anyway, as refineries switch from winter to summer blends, "but the hostage standoff with Iran has inflicted a double whammy on prices" with the national average price for a gallon at $2.61, already 11c higher than this time last year. Stark added that motorists are apt to conserve fuel once average prices exceed $3. NBC's Andrea Mitchell added that the seasonal bottleneck is compounded this year by fires at refineries in Indiana and Texas.


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