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Romney’s Jeep Claim called the Political “Lie of the Year”

Campaign ad wins “four Pinocchios.”

by on Dec.13, 2012

GOP candidate Romney wound up taking fire from both Chrysler and General Motors for his claims during the final weeks of campaigning.

It looks as if Mitt Romney won something after all for his expensive campaign to become President of the United States despite his loss to the Democratic incumbent, Barack Obama.

PolitiFact has selected Romney’s claim that Barack Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China” at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 “Lie of the Year.” The site itself has notably been praised for holding politicians on all sides of the spectrum accountable for comments, claims and ads.

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“People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election,” the influential web site noted.

“It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign — that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep’s parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad,” PolitiFact noted.

What was worse, the site stressed, was that the Romney campgain stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

It’s not that President Obama and his campaign team were above falsehoods, either. PolitiFact noted the Democrats’ TV ads distorted Romney’s positions on abortion and immigration to make them seem more extreme than they actually were. A pro-Obama super PAC even created an ad suggesting Romney was responsible for a woman’s death when her husband lost his job at a Bain-controlled company, PolitiFact said in a statement that accompanied the award to the Romney campaign.

But the Jeep ad was brazenly false.

It started as a line in a speech about where an American brand of car would be made. It blew up into a lie heard by voters well beyond Ohio.

Bloomberg reported on Oct. 22 that Chrysler was planning to restart production of Jeeps in China – where it had been the first foreign automaker two decades earlier. The entirety of the Bloomberg report made it clear that Chrysler was considering expansion in China, not shuttering American production.

But one conservative news outlet seized on the report’s opening lines. The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard blogged on Oct. 25 about the Bloomberg story and incorrectly wrote that Jeep was “considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China,” a move that would “crash the economy in towns like Toledo, Ohio … .” The conservative Drudge Report then linked to Bedard’s post under the headline, “Jeep eyes shifting production to China.”

Within hours, Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri responded on Chrysler’s company blog.
“Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China,” Ranieri wrote, adding, “A careful and unbiased reading of the Bloomberg take would have saved unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments.”

But later that night at a campaign stop in Defiance, Ohio, Romney added a new line to his stump speech:
“I saw a story today, that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China,” he said, to boos from the audience. “I will fight for every good job in America. I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair, and if it’s fair, America will win.”

Despite the almost instant criticism of the Jeep statement, Romney’s campaign didn’t retreat, though. It doubled down with a TV ad for Ohio voters that weekend:

“Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama,” the ad began, adding, “Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.” A similar radio ad soon followed.

That in turn prompted another unqualified denial, this time from Chrysler Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne, who said Jeep assembly lines “will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different.”

Factcheck.org said Romney’s speech was “flat wrong” and the ad was misleading. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave the ad four Pinocchios, saying, “This ad shows that we have entered the final, desperate week of the campaign.”

When pinned down with questions on the ad, the Romney team either dodged or defended the ad as literally accurate. Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Romney, told the New York Times, “It would be better if they expanded production in the U.S. instead of expanding in China.” The automakers said that ignored common global trade practices.

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