Whoops: PolitiFact's 'Lie of the Year' Turns Out to Be True
12:25 PM, Jan 18, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
Last month, PolitiFact selected its "Lie of the Year." Given PolitiFact's dubious record of singling out Republicans for lying far more often than Democrats, you probably could have guessed the winner of this particular sweepstakes was a Mitt Romney campaign ad:
"Public expressed collective outrage"? That's essentially wishcasting on the part of PolitiFact, nor are they accurately representing what Mitt Romney said in the ad. In fact, here's PolitiFact's original "fact check" on the matter:
Ok. Now here's what the Reuters reported earlier this week:
So, yes, it's confirmed that Jeep will be producing cars in China. According to the Toledo Blade last November:
By expanding Jeep production to China, instead of increasing Jeep production in the U.S., it's safe to say Jeep (or more properly, Fiat, which now owns Chrysler) is choosing to create more jobs overseas instead of in America where taxpayers bailed the company out.
Now one could argue—and I suspect many pro-free trade, pro-globalization conservatives would make this argument—that expanding production overseas is good for Jeep, and what's good for Jeep in the long-run is ultimately good for the jobs they sustain in the U.S. job market. And if you dig deep into the PolitiFact ruling, that's their essential objection to Mitt Romney's ad: It implies that it would be better for Jeep to create more jobs in the U.S. in the short-term, instead of expanding overseas production. So in the end, PolitiFact's beef with the Romney ad was an entirely argumentative disagreement about what course of action Jeep should take, not a factual objection to Romney's true statement that Jeep was going to start building cars in China. However, disagreeing about the implications of manufacturing Jeeps in China doesn't justify calling Romney a liar for accurately stating Jeeps would be manufactured in China. PolitiFact didn't even dispute that, and even conceded the "Lie of the Year" was built on a "grain of truth." Rather, PolitiFact explicitly argued producing Jeeps in China is a good thing:
Further, PolitiFact criticized the Romney ad for something it didn't say. Romney's ad never said Jeep was "outsourcing" existing jobs. Again, a fair reading of the ad would be that it implied that Jeep was choosing to create new jobs overseas rather than in the U.S. And if we're going to get technical, what PolitiFact reported about Jeep wasn't accurate. Here's PolitiFact quoting a Chrysler spokesman in their "Lie of the Year" ruling:
But that turns out not to be entirely true! As the Detroit News reported earlier this week:
To recap, Jeep Patriots—oh irony, you capricious sprite!—that were heretofore exclusively produced in America and sold overseas are now going to be made and sold overseas. So there is one Jeep model that is in fact shifting production "out of North America to China," contrary to what Jeep's spokesman asserted at the time.
On that note, we all know that "fact checking" is kabuki journalism, but would it have killed PolitiFact to act like real reporters for five seconds and express some richly deserved skepticism about Jeep's carefully worded denials about producing cars in China? It was obvious that since the company had received a taxpayer bailout largely engineered by an incumbent president up for reelection, that it was not in Jeep's interest to upset the Obama campaign applecart. Michael Dorstewitz at BizPac Review points out that Jeep was pretty clearly engaged in obfuscation:
Now I'd be confounded by PolitiFact's total inability to handle basic empirical matters if their motivation wasn't so transparent. Their "Lie of the Year" write-up reads like a gleeful vindication of the Obama campaign. No really, they use the word "gleeful":
If we're really going to be scrupulous about who we trust, the fact that the "Lie of the Year" is nothing more than sophistry aimed at tearing down a Republican presidential candidate says volumes about PolitiFact's credibility.
UPDATE: Several people have written in to object on the grounds that when the Romney campaign first started making the accusation against Jeep, Mitt Romney said the following in a stump speech, which does muddy the waters a bit:
Emphasis added. Obviously, when it's framed that way it's not true. However, remove the word "all" from Romney's comment and it's perfectly unobjectionable. (According to CBS News, Romney's inaccurate characterization of what Jeep's move to China may have resulted from a confusingly worder Bloomberg story that was later clarified.) In fact, after Romney said this, his campaign, while reticent to directly concede that Romney's statement was erroneous, clarified the point they were trying to make:
In fact, that's exactly the argument that I point out PolitiFact ignored. Further, PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" is not that Romney lied in his stump speech. PolitiFact knows it's thin gruel to hang their accusation on a single word in a Romney speech. Which is why their headline is "Lie of the Year: the Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China," and that's why I confined my critique to the ad. The ad aired after Romney was called out for his misleading comment and the ad itself is much more carefully worded.
But if we're going to insist that a single stump speech comment is damnable assessment of one's motivations, then here's my nomination for "Lie of the Year":
Again, emphasis added. So when a Romney campaign aide quite accurately noted that fact checkers bring "their own sets of thoughts and beliefs" to their critiques, Obama defended fact checkers by lying about what the Romney campaign said in the process of accusing them of lying. Strangely enough, PolitiFact did not bother objecting to the president's dishonesty here.