Saturday, January 19, 2013

Was the Jeep Move to China Really a Lie?

The Weekly Standard website ran this blog from Mark Hemingway titled "PolitiFact Concedes Their 'Lie of the Year' is the 'Literal Truth'"

So Politifacts awarded the "Lie of the Year" to the Republican ad saying that Jeep was moving its production to China.  Mark Hemingway points out that the so-called lie was actually the truth, because the wording of the ad was more like "the Obama administration played a hand in selling Chrysler to Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China."

Politifacts concedes this:
"The Romney campaign was crafty with its word choice, so campaign aides could claim to be speaking the literal truth, but the ad left a false impression that all Jeep production was being moved to China."
My impression was that this ad, true or not, was trying to get people to vote Republican by showing Obama in a bad light.  And it backfired, not because it was a lie or because it was the truth, but simply because it made people realize that Obama had done a good thing.

First, this ad ran in Ohio, where they actually make Jeeps, and so people do real serious fact-checking on any statement about Chrysler moving to China.

Obama had a hand in selling Chrysler to the Italians.  However, anyone who knows the car business understands that Chrysler had previously been sold to Mercedes Benz (a German firm), which had nothing to do with Obama. And selling to Fiat (an Italian company) is not the same as selling to a Chinese firm that is moving production to China. Second, Chrysler declared bankruptcy, also not Obama's fault.  Chrysler (makers of Jeep) did get a financial bailout from Obama, and that was what most people in Ohio were thinking about when they saw the ad, so it's not surprising the ad backfired.  So thousands of jobs were saved by Obama, and this ad simply highlighted how out of touch the Republicans were with the car-making public of Ohio.

The second "fact" highlighted by the ad, trying to make Obama look bad was Jeep production moving to China. Admittedly the ad narrative didn't say jobs "moving" to China. (although the words "return to China"  appeared briefly in print)  It said "Jeeps would be built in China", possibly giving the impression that jobs would be moving.  Actually, this was a NEW assembly plant in the planning stages, that Chrysler had not yet announced publicly.  So Chrysler was forced to come out with a public statement that the plant was a new assembly facility to build Jeeps for the emerging Chinese market.  Was that bad news for the Ohio workers? No, it was actually good news.  Only a PR specialist with no knowledge of the car business would think it was bad news.  Let me explain why its good news (I am not a Chrysler worker, but I know people who have worked for car companies, and there are many car factories around here.)  So this is why it is good news to open a Jeep assembly plant in China. The assembly plant is often a way to open up a market to your cars, just as Japanese makers have opened assembly plants in Canada to sell their cars.  When a new market opens up with a new assembly plant, many components of that car are still made in the home factories.  And some jobs actually go to Americans who move to China to help supervise the construction and operation of the plant.  Also, being a new market, no jobs are lost at home.

Actually, setting up a plant in China could be good or bad, depending on how the deal is worded, and the conditions that are set by China. It could be very bad if the Chinese plant started exporting ultra-cheap Chinese Jeeps to the USA or other parts of the world.  It could be very good if the Chinese assembly plant opened up a huge new market in China for American built components in Chinese-assembled Jeeps.  But if this deal is the way things usually work, it's a good deal for Jeep and Chrysler.

In the final analysis, this ad backfired because it gave the impression that this deal was going to be bad for Ohio, where they make Jeeps, and it left Ohioans wondering if Romney and the rest of the Republicans cared about them at all.  Because Romney himself had misunderstood this point and said in a speech that "Jeep was moving to China".  If Romney himself misunderstood the issue, I'm not sure you can get away with the claim that "The ad was worded clearly enough that nobody could mistake it."

The basis of the ad was an incorrect news story from Bloomberg, saying that Fiat, which owns Chrysler, "plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in the country."  The ad was careful to not make the same mistake. But by picking up this story without fact checking it, the Republican campaign further reinforced the negative perception that they wanted the car companies to fail, and were prepared to let them fail, while Obama had done something good by keeping them alive.

Ironically, the ad starts out "Who will do more for the car industry...?"  When the dust settled, and the points were clarified, the answer turned out to be Obama.

Quoting the ad:
"Obama took Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold it to the Italians, who are going to build Jeeps in China."  The key "fact" being left out is that Chrysler is back in business in the USA because of Obama's bailout that was vigorously opposed by the Republicans, including Romney.  Such an ad may work with voters who don't know much about the business, but it was stupid to run it in Ohio.

Then the printed false quote from Bloomberg was superimposed on the video of the ad in case you didn't see it, it came at 23 seconds in.  (Almost like subliminal messaging) But the ultimate lie was that Romney would do more for the car business than Obama.

1 comment:

  1. The 'propaganda intent' is always to spin the facts so that anyone not considering the statement carefully (or bothering to fact check) gets a specific, desired, impression. And, as relatively few voters, in the tempest of 'information' we get these days, actually do fact check, this strategy generally succeeds.

    In fact, there is no shortage of statements made by Romney during the campaign that are not as 'subtle' as this Jeep thing, statements that are simply, outright, lies.

    And Politifact maintained one of the most referred to lists ...