Here's a weird little story in the world of the Fact-checking Industry that doubles as a 2012 election year coda. Former Romney campaign strategist Stuart Stevens wants the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler to take another look at the "Four Pinocchios" Kessler gave a late-stage campaign ad from the Romney camp that claimed, among other things, that President Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China," and, in response, "Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
The coupling is key, because it let the ad take a generically true fact -- Jeeps are going to be built in China -- and add some cheap demagoguery by implying that "American jobs" were thus at stake. The matter caused a minor kerfuffle when it was aired, and Chrysler had to take pains to tell frightened auto workers in Ohio that they were, in fact, not going to lose their jobs.
Stevens, however, reckons that now that Chrysler is going ahead with Jeep production in China, Kessler needs to revise his previous rating. Stevens wrote in a letter to the Post:
“I would hope that you would take another look at this and stress test it for accuracy away from the heat of a campaign,” Stevens wrote. “I've been doing campaigns and writing about campaigns for some time and I believe that the ad and Romney's statement were completely accurate, unusually so by any standards.”
As Stevens put it: “It seems that the crux of the argument revolves around the question of Chrysler (Fiat) moving production from the U.S. to China. That question has been answered. They are moving production to China and other countries.”
Uh-huh. Well, Kessler -- beyond pointing out that he rated the ad as highly inaccurate for reasons beyond the argument over who was building Jeeps where and when and with whom -- makes the obvious point that Chrysler's announcement doesn't actually change any of the material facts. Chrysler, at the time of the Romney campaign ad's release, said that “Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China," and that, according to previously announced plans, the company was simply going to "return Jeep production to China, the world’s largest auto market, in order to satisfy local market demand."
From the auto company's point of view, nothing has changed. In fact, Chrysler is adding jobs in the United States, "including more than 1,100 new jobs for a second shift at Toledo, Ohio, where a next-generation Jeep SUV is being manufactured."
Nevertheless, if you are building Jeeps for the Chinese market, then someone has to make those Jeeps, so why not Americans? Here is where you have to understand that the vagaries of trade restrictions prevent "jobs" from being a frictionless, fungible commodity. Kessler writes:
Gualberto Ranieri, a spokesman for [Chrysler Chairman Sergio] Marchionne, said Jeeps will be produced in China in order to save on shipping costs and to avoid a 37 to 42 percent tariff that is levied by the Chinese on vehicles with an engine displacement of 2 to 3 liters. He said that such mid-range vehicles simply couldn’t be competitive in the Chinese market if they are imported.
As you might expect at this point, Stevens didn't agree with Kessler's conclusions in this case anyway, insisting, "At the time of this ad -- and today -- all Jeeps sold in China are made in the U.S. Yes, with the current tariff laws in effect. Chrysler is making the decision to stop production for the Asian market in the U.S. and shift that production to China. By any reasonable standard, that is moving jobs to China.”
Kessler, however, has a pretty clever riposte:
That may be the standard for campaign ads, but not for reality. As long as those Chrysler workers are still making Jeeps in the United States -- and especially when the company is adding even more U.S. jobs, it is a real stretch to say the U.S. jobs are moving overseas. When the Romney campaign fought back against claims of outsourcing during the election, in fact, it made exactly the same argument in a slide presentation leaked to Politico.
So, the Romney campaign should have maybe checked with the Romney campaign to get the straight dope on the accuracy of its own ad.
Also, Obama did not "sell Chrysler to Fiat," unless he was vested with special "selling stuff to Fiat" powers before being sworn in as President, but that's almost incidental, here.
At any rate, it's worth pointing out that way, way back when the 2012 campaign season was in its infancy, the Romney campaign explicitly stated its overall view of fairness in campaign ads and made it very clear that they were going to use advertising to tell a lot of ornate lies:
First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.
With all that in mind, the larger question is: why bother sweating Glenn Kessler with this? The Romney campaign took a shot at unsettling Ohio voters with a falsehood, it was totally in keeping with its previously announced campaign-ad strategy, and this ad in particular just didn't pan out.
That's the long and the short of it folks, and I guess Mitt Romney still isn't president. The end.
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