June 7, 2011

WaPo Fact-Checker on Obama Auto Bailout Claims: ‘One of the Most Misleading Collections of Assertions We Have Seen’

Filed under: Economy,Positivity,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:19 pm

FactCheckerGraphicWaPo0611The educated guess here is that Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler is currently not the most popular person in the White House.

On Saturday, in a relatively rare rebuke originating from what G. Gordon Liddy has mockingly derided as “Washington’s quaint little alternative newspaper” (daily circulation 741,000 in March 2005, 551,000 in March 2011), Kessler ripped into the President’s claims about the auto bailout, giving him “Three Pinocchios,” which in his ratings system means “Significant factual error(s) and/or obvious contradictions.” Kessler found “weasel words,” a “misleading figure” (actually, more), and (imagine that) a straw man.

Here are selected paragraphs from Kessler’s KO (bolds are mine; internal link was in original):

What we found is one of the most misleading collections of assertions we have seen in a short presidential speech. Virtually every claim by the president regarding the auto industry needs an asterisk, just like the fine print in that too-good-to-be-true car loan.

… Let’s look at the claims in the order in which the president said them.

“Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes American taxpayers for their support during my presidency …”

… Not so fast. The president snuck in the weasel words “during my presidency” in his statement. What does that mean?

According to the White House, Obama is counting only the $8.5 billion loan that he made to Chrysler, not the $4 billion that President George W. Bush extended in his last month in office.

… Through this sleight-of-hand accounting, the White House can conveniently ignore Bush’s loan, but even the Treasury Department admits that U.S. taxpayers will not recoup about $1.3 billion of the entire $12.5 billion investment when all is said and done.

This is chicanery. Under the president’s math, Chrysler paid back 100 percent of Obama’s loan and less than 70 percent of Bush’s loan. A more honest presentation would combine the two figures to say U.S. taxpayers got back 90 percent of what they invested.

“GM plans to hire back all of the workers they had to lay off during the recession.”

… Obama is only talking about a sliver of workers — the 9,600 workers who were laid off in the fourth quarter of 2008.

In the second-last paragraph, the weasel words are “during the recession.”

Obama’s strawman argument is that opponents wanted to do nothing, which Kessler demonstrated isn’t so. I would argue that the path Obama chose was to “do nothing” — about the UAW’s outsized wages and benefits. As Ron Gettelfinger informed GM workers in May 2009, post-bankruptcy contractual arrangements involved “no loss in your base hourly pay, no reduction in your health care, and no reduction in pensions. The government’s moves during bankruptcy were about maintaining the status quo at the expense of specific creditors, the car-buying public, and the rest of the country.

I also can’t let Kessler’s critique go by without noting that Chrysler’s ability to repay was aided by theft in bankruptcy from its secured Non-TARP lenders during bankruptcy proceedings. In effect, those victims of theft partially enabled the company to get back on its feet.

That criticism aside, it’s good to see someone at WaPo actually giving Obama the skewering he deserves. Just don’t expect it to become a habit, with the likelihood of meaningful hits gradually moving down to near zero as November 2012 approaches.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


1 Comment

  1. I hope Kessler takes the Metro to work every day because I wouldn’t want to see him start his car any time soon….

    Comment by Jason — June 7, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

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