Fact-checking the factcheckers on Ryan’s speech; Update: “As president, I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville”

posted at 10:01 am on August 30, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

Seems like fact checkers need to do some fact checking of their own assumptions.  Paul Ryan’s speech last night included a reference to a GM plant in Janesville that closed, which Ryan used to criticize Barack Obama for failing to meet his campaign promises.  A number of “fact” checkers jumped all over Ryan’s anecdote to claim that he lied about the circumstances of the plant’s closure.  We’ll just take one example, from the AP’s “fact’ check:

RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: `I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”

THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants – though not the Janesville facility – to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.

Actually, those “facts” aren’t quite accurate, either.  As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported in September of last year — long before Ryan got added to the ticket — the Janesville plant got shut down in 2009, after being notified of their pending closure in December 2008:

General Motors Co. has committed to reopen its idled plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., and keep its shuttered assembly plant in Janesville on standby status.

The commitment to the former Saturn plant in Tennessee was part of a contract settlement reached late last week between GM and the United Auto Workers union.

Since they were shut down in 2009, both the Janesville and Tennessee plants have been on standby status, meaning they were not producing vehicles, but they were not completely shut down. …

The Janesville plant stopped production of SUVs in 2008 and was idled in 2009 after it completed production of medium-duty trucks.

Remaining on standby means not much has changed in Janesville. Community leaders say they would be ready if the GM plant reopened, but no one seems to be counting on that.

Production continued into 2009 on trucks — and into April, as this local TV report from April 2009 shows, courtesy of our good friend Morgen Richmond:

Clearly, the job of “fact checker” in the mainstream media must not involve research skills.  Nor does it take much in comprehension, because these supposed fact checks started with a misrepresentation of what Ryan actually said.  Here are his actual words, emphasis mine:

President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

Ryan acknowledged that the plant had already been slated for shutdown in 2008.  That was his point.  People voted for him because they thought Obama represented hope to get the plant back in operation.   In fact, that had been known since at least February 2008, when Obama came to Janesville to speak, and specifically addressed the plant closure in his remarksdelivered at the plant itself — and promised to keep it and other plants like it open “for the next hundred years” (emphasis mine):

It was nearly a century ago that the first tractor rolled off the assembly line at this plant.  The achievement didn’t just create a product to sell or profits for General Motors. It led to a shared prosperity enjoyed by all of Janesville.  Homes and businesses began to sprout up along Milwaukee and Main Streets.  Jobs were plentiful, with wages that could raise a family and benefits you could count on.

Prosperity hasn’t always come easily.  The plant shut down for a period during the height of the Depression, and major shifts in production have been required to meet the changing times.  Tractors became automobiles.  Automobiles became artillery shells.  SUVs are becoming hybrids as we speak, and the cost of transition has always been greatest for the workers and their families.

But through hard times and good, great challenge and great change, the promise of Janesville has been the promise of America – that our prosperity can and must be the tide that lifts every boat; that we rise or fall as one nation; that our economy is strongest when our middle-class grows and opportunity is spread as widely as possible.  And when it’s not – when opportunity is uneven or unequal – it is our responsibility to restore balance, and fairness, and keep that promise alive for the next generation.  That is the responsibility we face right now, and that is the responsibility I intend to meet as President of the United States. …

Those are the steps we can take to ease the cost crisis facing working families.  But we still need to make sure that families are working.  We need to maintain our competitive edge in a global by ensuring that plants like this one stay open for another hundred years, and shuttered factories re-open as new industries that promise new jobs.  And we need to put more Americans to work doing jobs that need to be done right here in America.

That’s the promise that Barack Obama failed to deliver — even when the government took ownership of GM.  Ryan had it exactly right, and the fact checkers have made a mockery of their own profession by stepping all over their own biases to refute Ryan.

Update: Guy Benson goes after more “fact checks” of Ryan’s speech from Team Obama.

Update II: More from Reason’s Shikha Dalmia, noting that the Janesville plant was actually one of the choices to keep open when Obama extended the automaker bailout:

Here’s what GazetteXtra.com, a Janesville paper, reported on Feb 2, 2009:

Full-size sport utility vehicle production has ended at the local General Motors plant, but medium-duty truck production is continuing—not starting—in Janesville.

And it likely will continue into May, when the lights finally go off in the facility that has been producing vehicles since 1923.

When GM officials announced last June that SUV production would cease in Janesville, they also said that medium-duty truck production would conclude by the end of 2009, or sooner if market conditions dictate.

What’s more, the administration actually did consider keeping the Janesville plant alive after it nationalized GM by commandeering the bankruptcy process. According to Shepardson’s story:

In June 2009, GM considered three sites to locate a small car: its Orion plant in Michigan; Janesville, Wis.; and a Spring Hill, Tenn., plant slated to close in November. GM picked Orion and later reopened Spring Hill.

Now why would Obama choose to close the only plant he had actively “suggested” he’d keep open? Could it possibly have something to do with the fact that it was in Ryan’s (Republican) hometown? Just askin…

I believe the retrofit costs would have been higher in Janesville, which is why the plant wasn’t chosen — but it’s clear that the plant wasn’t closed under Bush, and that Obama had an opportunity to make good on his promise.

Update III: BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski finds this promise from Barack Obama in June 2008, after the notice went out that the plant would shut down over the next several months, emphasis mine:

“Reports that the GM plant I visited in Janesville may shut down sooner than expected are a painful reminder of the tough economic times facing working families across this country. This news is also a reminder that Washington needs to finally live up to its promise to help our automakers compete in our global economy. As president, I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville so we can build the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow and create good-paying jobs in Wisconsin and all across America.” Source: media.gazettextra.com  /  via:uppermichiganssource.com

Sounds like a promise — and it certainly did to the people of Janesville.  Will the “fact” checkers fact-check themselves now?


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