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As host and senior editor of NPR’s (National Public Radio) business-focused, Marketplace, Kai Ryssdal has a tough job. He and his staff have to meld business, politics, and society into small chunks of edible information for his listeners to consume during one of four syndicated shows that air multiple times each day.

For most people, developing and presenting an informative, factual, unbiased radio program about business and everything around it would be a tax that is over 100% of their brain’s income. But Ryssdal isn’t ‘most people.’

So it would be perfectly reasonable to give Mr. Ryssdal a break and overlook a segment that didn’t really measure up to a perfect journalistic standard. Sorry, Kai, but you don’t get that break.

Last week, (April 18, 2017,) Ryssdal and Maria Hollenhorst produced a segment on oil pricing called, “Why boom-bust oil prices may be here to stay.” Ryssdal was interviewing former President George W. Bush advisor, Robert McNally who recently came out with a book called, Crude Volatility.

In his book, and during this interview, McNally attempts to generate fear that low oil prices are bad. Only, he doesn’t use the words, “low oil prices.” Instead he refers to price instability and price swings. McNally uses the euphemism of price stability to indicate artificially high crude oil prices are good, and free market, low crude oil prices are bad.

Historical Crude Oil Price (red line = adjusted for inflation. Credit: Wikipedia)

Adjusted for inflation, crude oil prices were relatively stable for forty years at around $20/barrel from 1933 to 1973. McNally implies that once OPEC began controlling the oil market in the 1970’s, the artificially high price of crude oil was a ‘stable’ oil price. He seems to suggest that the return to lower oil prices at the end of the 20th century and in the past two years are a sign of instability, simply because the free market is controlling the prices.

From his book and interview, it is clear that McNally is a conservative, on a first name basis with major oil executives, and one who believes that the future consumption of oil, as Agent Smith might say, is the sound of inevitability. It is also clear McNally desires to be a mercenary for oil corporations that seek to manipulate the market for their gain.  

What isn’t clear is why Kai Ryssdal gave him a pass on his attempt to generate fear of free market influences on crude oil prices. Ryssdal is too smart to not see McNally’s pandering to his oil clients, and the Marketplace staff had to know that McNally is not an unbiased source of information. 

Sure, high oil prices are good for oil companies and their investors, but wasn’t this past election allegedly about making things fair for the poor guy who has to pay the price at the pump?

(Marketplace is owned and operated by American Public Media)