Thursday, August 30, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact Wisconsin, the Obama promise and the Janesville GM plant (Updated)

PolitiFact has earned its status as the least-dependable of the stable of left-leaning fact check organizations.  PolitiFact Wisconsin gives us one more sparkling example supporting that judgment with a fact check of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Ryan said President Obama broke a campaign promise to keep the Janesville (Wisc.) plant open.   PolitiFact Wisconsin detected no such promise from Mr. Obama.

 Here's what then-candidate Obama said in February 2008 (bold emphasis added) during a speech in Janesville:
This can be America’s future. I know that General Motors received some bad news yesterday, and I know how hard your Governor has fought to keep jobs in this plant. But I also know how much progress you’ve made – how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you’re churning out. And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your President.
Importantly, Obama opened his speech with references to the plant.  He then sketched his vision of America before mentioning how the Janesville plant could stay open if the government provides support.  In that context, Obama pledged to provide that support.  Does Mr. Obama use the specific term "promise" in his statement?  No, certainly not.  Does he guarantee the plant will remain open?  Again, no.  However, there is little doubt  that every person in Janesville listening to his speech took it as a pledge from the president to work to enact policies to keep the plant open. Mr. Obama did, in fact, pledge to do just that.

PolitiFact Wisconsin located no such pledge.

But it gets worse.  Much worse. PolitiFact builds its conclusion primarily on its claim that the Janesville plant closed before Mr. Obama took office (bold emphasis added):
Ryan said Obama broke his promise to keep a Wisconsin GM plant from closing. But we don't see evidence he explicitly made such a promise -- and more importantly, the Janesville plant shut down before he took office.

We rate Ryan's statement False.
GM announced the likely permanent closure of the Janesville plant in June of 2008, less than four months after Mr. Obama pledged to work toward an agenda that would keep the plant open for "another hundred years."

So, when is the plant closed?  When it closes for the last time?  When it produces its last GM vehicle?  When the company announces its permanent closure on a particular date?

When President Bush left office, he had provided Chrysler and GM loans to keep them going until the automakers could present restructuring plans to the Obama administration in April.

GM announced the final closing of the Janesville plant in April of 2008, and the final Chevy Tahoe came off the line in December 2008, before Obama took office as president.  On the other hand, the plant stayed open so that GM could build trucks for Isuzu:
The company stopped building SUVs at the plant just before Christmas.

That decision left about 1,200 workers unemployed.At the time GM said a crew would remain to complete an order for Isuzu.
But by June of 2009, while the Obama administration was still negotiating GM's fate and after completing the work for Isuzu, Janesville continued to maintain hope that its plant might reopen:
JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- There is a lot of optimism in Janesville today, after receiving word GM could reopen one of its idle plants to produce new fuel efficient cars, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce development.
If the GM restructuring deal brokered by the Obama administration resulted in continued production at GM's plant in Janesville, is there any doubt at all that Obama would receive credit for delivering on a promise?  Especially if the work involved hybrid vehicles?  The opportunity was there for the taking.

Why is so much of this information missing from a fact check?

Update 8/30/2012, 4:15 p.m.:

NPR fills in some of the missing information PolitiFact omitted.

Correction 8/31/2012:  Original version had wrong date for Obama's Janesville speech on first reference:  "Here's what President-elect Obama said in December 2008 (bold emphasis added) during a speech in Janesville:"  That sentence has been made accurate.

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