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Raymond J. Learsy Headshot

The New York Times Wins the Alfred E. Neuman Award For Its OPEC Coverage

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I know, this is getting tiresome. But the New York Times is relentless in its coverage of the oil industry and at shoveling OPEC alibis at us by the fistful. Its coverage is worthy not only of the "Alfred E. Neuman, What, me worry?" award, but now it has earned the even higher degree ribbon, "What, me think?" appended.

This weekend covering the OPEC heads of state meeting in Riyadh, the Times reached an epiphany in journalistic laziness and naiveté ("OPEC Gathering Finds High Oil Prices More Worrisome Than Welcome",11.17.07). As example, only a New York Times oil industry reporter could quote verbatim the nonsense served up by Prince Abdel Aziz bin Salam, Saudi Arabia's deputy petroleum minister as in:

"We are so perplexed and so frustrated with the idea we have anything to do with these prices."

To report this pearl of wisdom with complete seriousness is breathtaking. This without ever asking or questioning or informing his readers that the Prince's frustration could easily have been alleviated if Saudi Arabia together with its OPEC brethren reinstated the 1.2 million barrels a day they cut from their production quota a year ago.

For those not following the bouncing ball, and that's not your job, but for the New York Times one would have expected professional pride if not professional responsibility to inform its readership. In any case, a short explanation is in order. In November of 2006, with prices in the $50 plus range, OPEC cut its production quota by 1.2 million barrels a day. This cut was supplemented in February of this year with a further cut of 500,000 barrels/day. As prices were escalating past $80/bbl in August/September, OPEC announced, graciously in their view, that the 500,000 barrel/day cut would be reinstated, but not until November. That still leaves the perplexed and frustrated Prince Abdel Aziz bin Salam 1.2 million barrels a day short of his and OPEC's production quota of a year ago. Could this be the reason oil prices have escalated? Given this irrefutable statistic, only in the never never land of the New York Times' oil patch reporting would the Prince's confusion be presented with deadpan seriousness without further query.

The article goes on to advance the OPEC party line intoning the ususal concern about the falling dollar (please see "A Short Tutorial On The High Price of Oil And The Falling Dollar" 10.19.07). It then continues reporting to us that among the gathering at the Riyadh "fears are rising that that high oil prices will help throw the global economy into recession." (This, while OPEC members go skipping to the bank -- my aside.) The Times continues quoting such sound bites as that from the oil minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Dhaen al-Hamli, "These prices are potentially dangerous especially if they remain high...We cannot remain complacent."

A shivering resident of Maine couldn't have said it better.

Raymond J. Learsy is the author of the updated "Over a Barrel: Breaking Oil's Grip on Our Future"