Earlier today, I wrote a lengthy critique pointing out the inconvenient fact that PolitiFact's Lie of the Year -- "The Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China" -- turns out to be true. It involves a lot of complicated back and forth, so I encouage you to read that post if you're not familiar with what's going on. But the thrust of the matter is that the Romney campaign ran an ad saying that Jeep, the recipient of a taxpayer bailout, was going to start producing cars in China. Well, now PolitiFact has responded to my criticism, albeit obliquely, and their response leaves a lot to be desired:
Our story focused on the clear message of the Romney campaign’s ad, that jobs in the United States were being moved to China, or perhaps that Jeep was moving its entire operations to China. That is not the case and has never been the case.
Emphasis added. Now if the message of the ad was "clear," why does PolitiFact say "perhaps" the ad meant to say "Jeep was moving its entire operations to China"? The ad, which you can watch here, never said that Jeep was moving U.S. jobs to China, let alone its entire operations to China. All the ad says, and this is correct, is that the Obama administration played a hand in selling Chrysler to "Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China." In fact, later in PolitiFact's response they make this concession:
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.
Emphasis added. Casting aside all of the obvious weasel words in that statement, it's pretty dubious to say the ad created "a false impression that all Jeep production was being moved to China." Now it's true there was some initial confusion over what Jeep was doing. Here's what happened: Romney wrongly said in a stump speech that Jeep was "thinking of moving all production to China." That remark seems to have stemmed from an imprecisely written Bloomberg report saying that Fiat, which owns Chrysler, "plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in the country." According to CBS News, the "piece subsequently clarified that Chrysler was considering 'adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.'" After it was pointed out by many in the press that Jeep was not, in fact, moving U.S. production overseas, the campaign clarified Romney's position on the matter:
The campaign did not respond to those questions but insisted that "the larger point that the Gov. made is that rather than creating jobs here, the foreign owner, handpicked by President Obama, is planning to add jobs overseas - which is still true." Romney did not mention the [Bloomberg] report at a campaign event in Ames, Iowa this afternoon.
So Jeep, which was currently producing almost all of its cars in America and then selling them overseas, was now planning to build cars in China instead of increasing production and creating jobs in the U.S. to meet increasing overseas demand. For a variety of reasons, it could be said that producing cars overseas makes business sense for Jeep. But the point the Romney campaign was making is that because Jeep received a taxpayer bailout at the behest of the president, creating jobs for American workers should be prioritized by Jeep before taxpayers are subsidizing the company's decision to create jobs in China.
Further, all of this was hashed out and reported before the Romney ad that PolitiFact singled out as the "Lie of the Year" even aired. PolitiFact didn't need to guess at the message the Romney campaign was trying to send, yet they chose to put pretty much the worst construction on what the Romney campaign ad said. As I said before, even free-traders and pro-globalization folks on the right may find the Romney campaign's argument against Jeep's expansion overseas disagreeable on economic and political grounds. But how exactly is it an example of the Romney campaign being deceptive?
Yet, PolitiFact still insists that they can divine a "clear message" from the Romney campaign ad and flatly state the purpose of the ad was to communicate something it doesn't say. PolitiFact's interpretation is directly contravened by the fact the campaign explicitly spelled out the precise nature of their issue with Jeep, which happens to dovetail nicely with what the capaign ad did, in fact, say. They said it was objectionable that Jeep wasn't prioritizing job creation in the U.S.—not that they were accusing Jeep of supplanting American jobs with jobs in China. Those are two very different things.
PolitiFact may disagree with Romney's ad, but they have no real basis to say it's deliberately deceptive -- let alone "Lie of the Year." Tellingly, after conceding Romney's ad was the "literal truth," PolitiFact's response doesn't address any of my substantive criticisms, largely restates what they've previously written on the topic, and asserts that they're justified in sticking with their claim Romney was deliberately deceptive only by citing other fact checkers who—surprise!—came to similar conclusions. They also add, "We found no independent experts who would agree with that claim; they too found the ad deceptive." However, being that PolitiFact seems thoroughly confused and/or wrong about the exact claim the Romney campaign was making, I wouldn't put too much faith in their efforts here.
PolitiFact has a reputation for alternately being unresponsive or inadequately responding to criticisms. And they haven't done anything to remedy that today.