What a Gas! | Ohio’s Voting Meltdown | Trust the Media? Trust Your Government?

Hold the Hybrid—A picture may be worth a thousand words, but three pictures can provide priceless publicity. That’s why Senate Democrats recently held a press conference at a local Exxon station a block from their offices on Capitol Hill, where gas is $3.10 a gallon for regular unleaded. It doesn’t help that Exxon’s outgoing CEO recently won a $400 million compensation package. Three pictures of the senators and the sign, all nearly identical, ran in the Washington Post.

The next day, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert tried a similar stunt, driving in a fuel-efficient hybrid car to a press event at another Capitol Hill gas station. Afterwards, Hastert opted to ride back to his office in the comfort of his standard large black SUV. An AP photographer captured the switcharoo, which became an instant classic on the Internet. Guess which party is winning the debate over gas prices?

The only thing that both parties can agree on these days is that high gas prices are hurting the GOP. Of GOP insiders polled by National Journal magazine, 55 percent believe soaring prices may cost their party seats in the midterm elections (91 percent of Democrats concur). “We’re the party of Big Oil in the mind of the voters,” a GOP strategist admitted. “High gas prices are going to be the final nail in the GOP’s coffin this election year,” Chuck Schumer gleefully predicted.

The New York Times cited “conflicted loyalties” for Republicans: the good of the country or the good of U.S. oil companies? More often than not, Big Oil has won out. The energy bill passed by Congress last year provided $2 billion in tax breaks for oil and gas companies. On three occasions over the past five years House Republicans have blocked proposals to raise fuel efficiency standards. Dick Cheney famously dismissed conservation as a “sign of personal virtue.”

The best Republicans could do was propose a $100 rebate for consumers, not even enough for two fill-ups of Hastert’s SUV. Within a week the plan was dead, after Democrats called it insufficient and Majority Leader John Boehner dubbed it “insulting.” The Wall Street Journal said the move seemed “destined for the pandering hall of fame.” When you do everything wrong, it’s hard to do anything right.

Meltdown in Ohio—Ohio has long served as a political harbinger for the nation. Let’s hope its experience with voting technology doesn’t prove prophetic as well. On May 2, Ohio held its first punch-card election, powered by Diebold. According to the Associated Press, “election officials had trouble printing ballot receipts, finding lost votes or tabulating election results.” In Cuyahoga County, the state’s largest, officials reverted to paper ballots after the optical scan machines malfunctioned, and counted 17,000 absentee ballots by hand. Memory cards went missing in at least 20 polling places. The chairman of the local elections board (and head of the Ohio Republican Party) gave Diebold an “F” for performance. Added the head of the Ohio ACLU: “We’re not conspiracy theorists unless gross incompetence is a conspiracy, and that’s what we saw.”

You Can Trust UsPublic trust in the media is rising worldwide, even though Americans remain among the most pessimistic consumers of news. A 10-nation, 4-continent poll conducted by the BBC, Reuters and the Media Center found that Americans distrust the media more than citizens of any other country, with 69 percent believing that coverage doesn’t report both sides of the story. A near majority believe the press is inaccurate, and 68 percent think it follows too much bad news. Attitudes in the U.K. are strikingly similar, if slightly more optimistic. Americans and Brits prefer their governments over their reporters. The best brand in the U.S. turns out to be Fox News. And we thought CNN was the “most trusted name in news.” From a White House podium, Tony Snow is smiling.

An Ensemble Scandal (Act Two)—Among the cast of characters in the developing drama twirling around former California congressman and convicted crook Randy “Duke” Cunningham: The Watergate Hotel (reprise), cigars (reprise, alternate take), prostitutes, poker, members of Congress, crooked defense contractors, a shady limousine company, a top-ranking CIA official and, our favorite, the former CIA case officer and Congressional aide to outgoing CIA director Porter Goss nicknamed Nine Fingers.