When the presidential candidates are calling each other liars or something close to that, that’s hardly new – but a major American corporation all but calling a presidential candidate a liar, when did that happen before? Never mind happen twice. In one week.
Widespread coverage of the story of the Chrysler Corporation’s flat contradiction of Mitt Romney’s campaign assertions, followed by General Motors doing the same, suggests that such sharp corporate responses are unprecedented. Certainly the relationship of these corporations to the Republican Party are far removed from the time when one of President Eisenhower’s cabinet members said that, “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa” (although the urban legend version has him saying “what’s good for General Motors is good for America”).
The catalyst for these sharp corporate reactions came on October 25, in Defiance, Ohio, when Mitt Romney told listeners at a campaign rally: “I saw a story today that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China.”
Romney’s Comment Was Not True
That was not true. The Bloomberg story stated: “Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. [Chrysler] referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
Chrysler executive Gualberto Ranieri responded promptly to Romney campaign comment with a blog statement that used italics for emphasis: "Let's set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China…. A careful and unbiased reading of the Bloomberg take would have saved unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments."
Ranieri called Romney’s conclusion "a leap that would be difficult even for professional circus acrobats." Romney neither responded not retracted the comment.
On October 28, the Romney campaign came out with a television ad that kept pushing the story, with more carefully crafted language, but continued controversy. Firedoglake reported that the ad is “ so false that, as you can see by the title of the video, it’s posted on youtube by people opposed to Romney.”
Chrysler’s CEO Objected At Length
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne went public on October 30 in a lengthy email that began: “Chrysler Group’s production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate. I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China….”
After mentioning specifics of Chrysler’s production infrastructure, Marchionne concluded his email by saying: “Jeep assembly lines will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different….”
Romney and his campaign have declined to discuss the Jeep statement on the record, despite repeated questions from reporters. Romney continued making variations of his initial claim in stump speeches, and his campaign issued a radio ad that went further, and claimed General Motors (GM) was also shipping jobs to China: “Under President Obama, GM cut 15,000 American jobs, but they are planning to double the number of cars built in China, which means 15,000 more jobs for China. And now comes word that Chrysler plans to start making Jeeps in, you guessed it, China.
“The ad is cynical campaign politics at its worst,” said General Motors spokesman Greg Martin: “We think creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back in this country should be a source of bipartisan pride.”
GM said: “Campaign Politics at its Cynical Worst”
GM spokesman Martin also said: “We’ve clearly entered some parallel universe during these last few days. No amount of campaign politics at its cynical worst will diminish our record of creating jobs in the U.S. and repatriating profits back to this country.”and two Detroit papers criticizing Romney for “falsehoods and half-truths” (Denver), “blatant lies” (Cleveland), and “ things up out of whole cloth” (Youngstown).
By October 31, the Denver Post joined other newspapers around the country, including the Toledo Blade, the Cleveland Leader, the Youngstown VindicatorFactCheck.org called Romney “flat wrong” in his original comment on Jeep going to China, while the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC -- which “promotes ethics in public life”) argued that Romney was right and the media are biased.
Although NLPC quotes an ambiguous section from the original Bloomberg story to bolster its argument, it goes on to omit the Bloomberg clarification later in the same story about “adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”
“It's difficult to quantify a candidate's relationship with the facts, but The Washington Post's fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, has calculated that, for much of the campaign, Romney and Obama were roughly even in their prevarications until the past few months. Back in May, Romney's average "Pinocchio" rating from Kessler was 1.97 on a scale of 0 to 4. Obama was at 1.91. Now, Obama is at 2.11 and Romney is at 2.40 -- putting him at the level of hogwash perpetrated during the primaries by Rick Perry (2.41) and Newt Gingrich (2.44)…. Romney is in a whole new category…. When it comes to truth, Romney still lives in Defiance.”