Romney adviser asks Washington Post to reconsider fact-check of Jeep statement

The Washington Post  | The Weekly Standard

Mitt Romney adviser Stuart Stevens wrote to Washington Post's "Fact Checker" Glenn Kessler this week asking him to look anew at his four-Pinocchio rating of a Romney ad that asserted Chrysler was moving Jeep production to China.

Chrysler said it plans to make "at least 100,000 Jeeps in China when production starts in 2014," Reuters' Stephen Jewkes and Stefano Rebaudo reported last week.

Conservatives have felt disproportionately singled out by national media organizations' fact-checking apparatuses for some time. Last summer GOP strategists told The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard they were "poring through the backgrounds" and Twitter accounts of PolitiFact writers searching for evidence of bias. (PolitiFact is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which in turn is owned by Poynter.)

Weekly Standard writer Mark Hemingway says PolitiFact's rating of the Jeep ad as its "Lie of the Year" "reads like a gleeful vindication of the Obama campaign."

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.

The friction about the ad comes down to close readings of its words and the context in which they are presented. (The Examiner's Bedard figures in this discussion, too; it was one of his columns that set this ball rolling.)

Kessler restates his case, saying it's a "very thin reed upon which Romney’s defenders have hung their argument" -- whether job gains in Jeep's China facilities offset gains in jobs in America. Hemingway writes: "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."

Jeep's owner Chrysler has said it's adding jobs in America, too. The point of friction here seems to be a seesawing notion of when it's appropriate to read a campaign's words expansively. Hemingway points out that to someone who supports globalization, an American car manufacturer adding production in another country would seem like a desirable economic outcome. The Romney ad didn't appear to be doing that; it casts globalization as necessarily zero-sum when it comes to jobs, a fascinating discussion but perhaps not the one Romney was shooting for.

"[D]isagreeing about the implications of manufacturing Jeeps in China doesn't justify calling Romney a liar for accurately stating Jeeps would be manufactured in China," Hemingway writes. But that's not really what this disagreement is about, is it? It's not so much a seesawing notion of when it's fair to read a campaign's words expansively as a grudge match between the nation's fact-checking apparatus and a group that feels manhandled by it.

In strict economic terms, though, these attempts to relitigate past rulings are probably good for journalists employed at fact-checking operations in a non-election year.

Related: GOP strategists review PolitiFact findings, say they ‘back up our argument about media bias’ | Want to invoke our Lie of the Year? Get it right (PolitiFact)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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