Hearne: The Story Behind the Story on ‘Hot Fuel’ & The Star

Remember the little ditty about not believing everything you read?

Check out yesterday’s editorial in the Kansas City Star. The one sticking up for reporter Steve Everly‘s six-year campaign to stamp out hot gas (and maybe win a Pulitzer).

“Kansas Retailers get a pass on ‘hot fuel,'” the editorial’s headline reads. “A costly verdict hurts consumers.”

That in reaction to a unanimous, 10-person Kansas jury that ruled earlier this week that gasoline-selling retailers were not ripoff artists engaging in the deceptive practice of selling “hot fuel.”

But before we delve into the questionable “science” behind Everly’s hot fuel concept, a brief lesson on how journalism often works….

A reporter listens to an album, watches a play, dines at a restaurant – then writes about what he or she  heard, saw or tasted – after which advertisers and other media attribute what that person wrote to the Kansas City Star. Or Pitch. Or New York Times. Or whomever.

One single person’s opinion somehow takes on the mantle of representing the full faith and prestige of an entire news organization.

But folks, it’s really just that one guy’s opinion – so take it or leave it.

Just because Robert Trussell was mad about some geezer-pleaser at the New Theater in Overland Park and happens to be a really good writer (and maybe decided not to drop the hammer on an advertiser) doesn’t mean the entire newspaper staff is on the same page.

Yet that’s how the game is often played.

So when that play hits Joplin, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll see a Trussell quote promoting it in local media ad touting that the “Kansas City Star” said it was great.

As for the Star’s “hot fuel” editorial yesterday, it’s based on the findings of a single, mid-level reporter. One who prior to hopping on the Hot Fuel bandwagon was choking out stories like, “Terms of bewilderment; The Confusion of winter bills can get you hot under the collar” and “Tank tutorial, First off, get the right size water heater.”

You see, with rare exception journalists are not scientists or experts in the field that they cover. They’re people who can write well and were taught how to ask questions. However, sometimes they ask the right questions, other not. Sometimes two and two adds up to four. Other times six.

Speaking of which, let’s do a some math on the so-called “hot fuel” claims.

In the Star‘s front page graphic Monday it estimated that a car with a 20 gallon tank getting 20 miles-per-gallon would travel 400 miles with cool 60 degree gas and 392 with 90 degree hot gas – a two percent hit.

Yet in Everly’s initial 2006 hot fuel opus, he reported that, “a database of fuel temperatures at 1,000 retail stations compiled by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, obtained by The Star, reveals that fuel in this country is sold at nearly 65 degrees when averaged year-round and across the entire country.”

In other words, fewer than 5 degrees above the benchmark 60 and far below the 90 degrees used to dramatize the miniscule mileage loss cited in the newspaper’s front page graphic.

Meaning that a less than a one percent difference – fewer than 4 less miles would be traveled – rather than the 8 claimed by the Star.

Longtime Prairie Village service station operator John Roney is skeptical of Everly’s analysis.

Roney’s family operated their family-friendly gas station since 1951 before selling out two years ago.

And even during the hottest of Kansas City summers Roney never remembers his gas – stored in tanks approximately 15 feet below ground = climbing anywhere near the 90 degrees the Star used to calculate a 2 percent loss in miles traveled.

“We had readouts on all of our storage tanks and I would push a button and it would tell me how much was in there and what the temperature was,” Roney says. “And I don’t ever remember it getting up to 90 or 95 degrees. It just didn’t because it was stored in the ground and we would check it each day.”

The bottom line on hot fuel:

“Overall it evens out,” Roney says. “Sometimes you’re on the bad side and sometimes you’re on the good side. And if you take an average over time, it’s negligible – over a year’s time it all evens out.”

Look, pretty much everyone is upset with the huge tax breaks granted to large highly profitable oil companies, but sensationalizing the reporting by referring to the companies as “Big Oil” makes it clear that Everly and the Star are trying to demonize them to make the story sexier.

The $64 million question: if the situation is so egregious, why did an entire jury of local consumers come down on the side of “Big Oil” after hearing both sides of the argument presented to them?


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13 Responses to Hearne: The Story Behind the Story on ‘Hot Fuel’ & The Star

  1. harley says:

    zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…wake me up when you write the next story.
    Maybe do something new on kcc hearne…a story about the star staff getting
    laid off…a story on the stories the star writes….a story on the medical tests
    of star employees….the size of the cubicles at the star…the size of the
    restrooms at the star…the size of the mops at the star….
    the types of printing press4es the star uses…how the star puts out magzines
    about quilting……please you bore the heck out of us.
    Please bring back whiney boy….where is whiney boy now that every single
    comment he’s made has been shown to be 100% WRONG….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    HC: How about a Star story that’s played nationwide that ignited a controversy that got shot down by a local jury this week with some reporting on why the jurors thought the better of it? Sounds like you’re the one with the Star obcession, I’m just covering the news, wild man.

    • harley says:

      damn i have a mouse and yutz in my pocket. im such a delbert!

      • harley says:

        Its a slo day on the nationul blogging front so i have time to come here and talk to the pleabs. I now use spel check and grammur check and dropped all the …………………….. but only when writing nationully. I can still right like a thurd grater here. Im so messed up i make my own skin crawl.

        • harley says:

          someone keeps using my name and posting ridiculous
          comments…if you want to play games…i can do that
          Hearne put an end to this asap!

          • harley says:

            someone keeps using my name and posting ridiculous
            comments…if you want to play games…i can do that
            Hearne put an end to this asap!

          • harley says:

            I keep commenting……. hearne make me stop ………….asap. I cant do it on my own ………..please block me

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    What’s egregious are the huge subsidies Big Oil (hey, I have no problem with The Star using the term) continues to get at a time when the country clearly needs to be moving away from a fossil fuel-based economy. Exhibit A: the recent announcement of layoffs at the wind turbine factory in Hutchinson. No, the paper is obligated to back up its reporter on the editorial page as opposed to the alternative – leaving him hanging out there to dry without any “cover.” And now that you’ve brought up the subject of Big Oil, let’s talk about Big Oil. It’s been over two years now since a drilling platform blew up in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 men and allowing God knows how much oil to spill into the water and yet there’s been maybe one arrest in connection with the whole thing. Meanwhile, BP is running ads on TV telling everyone to come on down to Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana for some fun in the sun … everything’s fine, back to normal, etc., etc. What a joke! Hey, what I’d really like to see The Star do is run a story on the emerging “gasoline deserts” here and there within the greater Kansas City area. We’re seeing fewer and fewer gas stations all the time, meaning longer lines at the ones still in business, not all of which are open 24/7. Sure hope the paper puts Mike Hendricks onto that in the not-too-distant future since he’s already done a piece on the city’s “food deserts.” OK, so the jury unanimously decides that Kansas gas retailers haven’t engaged in any deceptive practices by selling “hot” fuel. Fine. Round One goes to Big Oil, but the fight’s just getting started.

  3. the dude says:

    Or what about what basically is an ad for 15% ethanol being shoved down our collective throats by the EPA, congress and some Heartland group that had a story when I was listening to KCUR?
    The propaganda to push food crops as a viable fuel is ludicrous and will make a good chunk of the vehicles on the road instantly unusable if 15% ethanol is pushed on consumers. 10% in regular is bad enough for my old vehicles.

    HC: I’m with you. A better investigation (which wouldn’t take much investigating) is how it takes more energy to produce ethanol that you get out of it.

  4. harley says:

    Thanks for the mention herane. I can now count you among my legions of fans and disciples. Its true no one in this town nos more about hot fuel then me with the possible acception of Robertoooe but I think he rights on the national oil and gas blogs. I wanted to take a break from the national hot air blogs to discus this. Any help you need you cna right me at law4life1000@yahoo or fax me at 816 822 1167. I have a fax at Lifetime and in my car so I can get all the up to the minute fax, I mean facts. Fax is coming back cause I said so and Im right 246% of the time, nationully

    HC: Only now you are counting me among your “legion of fans”? I’ve been on board for nearly four years!

    • harley says:

      hearne….thats not the real harley. The crap these people are putting
      on your site make it look very bad. You know how to identify me
      so cut these fake posts out.
      You should really control these posts or you stand to look like
      a complete fool. If i owned this site i would lock out those ip addresses.
      It’s just getting way out of control. But you’re the one who looks
      like the fool here…not harley.

  5. harley says:

    hc thats a good pic off me scratching my hhead. whear did you get it? you should of seen whear my other hand wass. im such a nimrod!!!!!!!!

  6. mike says:

    The Star now needs to do a series of articles an whether we are paying for the fuel that is still in the fuel nozzle and hose when we are done filling up. Also, how much fuel evaporates as we are filling up? These are some serious issues they have not covered yet.

  7. Dave says:

    Just curious, Hearne …
    What makes Everly a “mid-level” reporter? Where exactly is that line drawn? What are the metrics?
    You were always, at your very best, a “low-level” reporter, by any measure.

    HC: Happy to help you, Dave. Just like on any team there are stars and there are everyday, average players. Dan Margolies was a star at the Star – a heavy hitter.

    I on the other hand was never a reporter there. I was hired as a columnist and left that way. A highly read and very highly paid columnist that on occasion did a bit of regular, straight news reporting with front pages stories everywhere from the A 1 section to business and what they used to call Metro (or Local).

    I’d say my record speaks for itself, thank you.

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