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Monday, September 3, 2012
MRC Misleads on GM Plant Closing, What Obama Said About It
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center has its Republican marching orders on criticism of Paul Ryan's claims about the General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis.: 1) The plant closed in 2009, not 2008, and 2) President Obama promised to keep it open. Both claims are either misleading or false.

Here's how the MRC has forwarded these talking points:

  • An Aug. 30 NewsBusters post by Matt Vespa asserted that "the plant closed in June of 2009" and that "Obama promised to keep the plant open, but then shut it down."
  • An Aug. 30 post by Ken Shepherd asserted that "assembly line operations ceased in the spring of 2009," citing a Janesville Gazette article stating that "about 100 employees" were still on the job at the time. Shepherd also declared that "campaigning on hope and change, then-Sen. Obama optimistically held forth that a government bailout would save the Janesville plant. Alas, the government bailed out GM, but GM didn't save the plant from being shuttered."
  • An Aug. 30 article by Matt Cover declared: "Ryan is in fact correct. The Janesville GM factory stopped production of SUVs in December 2008 and closed its doors for good in 2009 – less than one year after Obama promised to keep it open for another hundred years."
  • An Aug. 31 MRC item by Kyle Drennen asserted that Ryan made an "accurate claim that President Obama promised to keep open a GM plant that closed in 2009."

All of these writers take great pains to ignore the fact that the vast majority of the plant was shut down, and the vast majority of its workers laid off, in December 2008 -- before Obama took office. From the Janesville Gazette article that Shepherd cites:

SUV production ended in Janesville on Dec. 23, a little more than five months after the plant lost a second shift of production.

More than 2,000 hourly and salaried GM workers were laid off as a result of the production cuts. Supplier companies laid off another 1,200 people.

The plant's main purpose was to build SUVs. That line shut down in December 2008, laying off nearly all of the 2,000 workers hired by GM to build them. The 100 or so employees who remained between December 2008 and mid-2009 were not building SUVs for GM but, rather, medium-duty trucks for Isuzu under contract with GM. Thus, the plant was, for all intents and purposes, closed in December 2008. It's dishonest for the MRC to take a binary approach by insisting that because a handful of workers remained until 2009, Ryan is correct to claim that the plant was "open."

CNS' Cover did concede that "the Janesville plant shut down the majority of its production in December 2008," but it's buried in the second-to-last paragraph of his article, and it comes several paragraphs after his assertion that "Ryan is in fact correct."

On the second point, Obama never actually promised to keep the plant open. As PolitiFact points out, Obama "had pledged to help keep the Janesville plant and others like it 'viable.' That's not quite the same thing as pledging keep the Janesville plant open."

Shepherd tried to skirt that, claiming that "Ryan did not directly blame the plant's closing on President Obama."

The MRC also largely ignored the fact that Obama made his statement in February 2008, but GM didn't announce that the plant would close until June 2008 -- again, before Obama became president.

Further, as former auto czar Steve Rattner noted, the auto companies that were bailed out by government -- not the government itself -- decided which plants stayed open:

“In this case the government, we aren’t really equipped to make those decisions,” he said. “We go to management and say, ‘Give us a plan, show us what you’ll do and what your business will look like.’ We look at the numbers and say whether we think it works, or if it needs more or fewer plant closings. But beyond that we have no expertise to decide whether a plant in Janesville should be kept open versus one in Wilmington, Del., or Tennessee or anywhere else.”

No MRC item mentioned Rattner's statement.

UPDATE: NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard joins the misleading parade in a Sept. 3 post, declaring that "if the plant remained open 'through late spring 2009,' Ryan's right." Sheppard quotes only from a quick summary debunking the claim by Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler, ignoring a more detailed piece by Kessler pointing out that "The plant was largely closed in December 2008 when production of General Motors SUVs ceased — before Obama was sworn in."

Posted by Terry K. at 9:59 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, September 3, 2012 8:58 PM EDT

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