Bashing 'Big Oil,' CBS Still Downplays Hugo Chavez's Use of Oil Profits

As first-quarter earnings reports gush in to newsrooms, the media are again portraying stockholder-owned American oil companies in a sinister light while ignoring or downplaying socialist oil barons like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

While ABC’s April 26 “World News Tonight” opened with an attack on the success of petroleum companies — anchor Elizabeth Vargas noted “overflowing profits for the oil industry as Americans struggle to pay rising prices at the pump” — it also featured a story that just briefly discussed how Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez is pumping some of his billions in oil money into undermining American interests.

The same night on the “CBS Evening News,” correspondent Byron Pitts slammed American petroleum companies as harming consumers and even their own gas station owners, though the Citgo station owner he featured worked for a company owned by Venezuela.

Over on ABC, correspondent Dan Harris was more realistic. “Before you get too steamed at the oil companies, take a hard look at oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Venezuela,” Harris said.

“It’s the producers,” of oil, countries like Chavez’s Venezuela, “that make the lion’s share of the profit,” Thompson Financial research director Michael Thompson told ABC News.

Harris informed viewers that Chavez’s regime stood to gain $34 billion from oil sales this year, money which helps the country’s dictator “to support anti-U.S. politicians across Latin America.”

Harris’s description was accurate but pulled some punches. Chavez has a well-documented history of consolidating his already-tight grip on Venezuelan oil to finance his regime at home and socialist allies abroad, including Cuba’s Fidel Castro, whom he supplies with cheap oil.

Yet CBS’s Pitts ignored Chavez’s political gamesmanship as he featured a gas station owner upset at his station’s fuel supplier, Citgo.

“Surging oil profits aren’t shared by gas station owners like Sal Sarra. He feels squeezed like everyone else,” Pitts complained, introducing the Citgo station owner. “Everybody’s paying that high price so somebody can get big and fat on the other end,” complained Sarra.

Pitts didn’t explain that it’s the anti-American Chavez who is getting “big and fat” from Citgo sales. Citgo, unlike publicly-traded corporations like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) or BP (NYSE: BP), is “a wholly-owned subsidiary of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.,” and therefore has “no publicly-traded equity securities,” according to the company Web page.

While Sarra couldn’t buy stock in the company he works for even if he wanted to do so, some “41 percent of all oil stock is owned by retirement funds with millions of American beneficiaries,” as ABC’s Harris noted in his “World News Tonight” report.

On March 1, the Free Market Project released a comprehensive study on the media’s sparse coverage of the Venezuelan dictator.