I’ve already made myself clear about our glorious post-fact universe, and I don’t really think these examples of the traditional media supposedly meeting their obligations relative to Paul Ryan’s convention speech fit the bill. These examples come from the segregated “fact-check” organizations and the opinion pages of the large newspapers and media outlets. The facts are shunted off to the side, separated from the “news,” which is a calm regurgitation of what happened, ripped from context and perspective.
James Downie’s call to journalists offers a glimmer of hope, but only a glimmer:
With tonight’s speech, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have doubled down on their twin bets of 2012 — that journalists will sit back and name winners and losers without regard to who is telling the truth, and that voters are too ignorant to care about the truth. Do not let them be right.
I just don’t think Downie will be all that pleased with the results. So it’s odd for me to even consider trudging out and setting the record straight on one of these falsehoods. But the story of the Janesville GM plant is too egregious, so let’s just get through it on the off chance that some journalist might take heed.
Then-candidate Obama showed up at that Janesville plant in February 2008, during the primaries. This is what he said:
“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,” Obama said. “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.”
That was February. By June, GM announced they would close the Janesville plant. And Paul Ryan, along with his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, wrote a letter to GM asking them to reconsider. But he did more than that. He used what power, influence, and federal funds he could muster to try to convince GM to stay put. Matthew DeLuca writes:
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, was a leading member of a task force convened by the state’s Democratic governor in 2008, Jim Doyle, to save a once-flourishing automobile plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, according to state officials.
After General Motors announced on June 3, 2008 that it intended to close the nearly 100-year-old plant by 2010, Ryan joined a core group of about a dozen other Wisconsin officials from both parties in the GM Retention Task Force. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the company suspended all operations at the facility by Dec. 23, 2008, eliminating 2,400 jobs. It has been in “standby” mode since.
In his role on the task force, Ryan—the House Budget Committee chair whose plans to reduce the size of government and with it the extent of what he’s called “crony capitalism” made him a national figure—negotiated directly with GM executives; about how a taxpayer-funded “incentive package” to try to convince the company to keep the plant in his district running.
Then Ryan voted for the auto bailout, under the Bush Administration, and sought to get stimulus money used for the purposes of saving the Janesville plant.
This is what House members are SUPPOSED to do for their districts, by the way. It’s perfectly acceptable behavior, and would be a dereliction of duty if it weren’t undertaken. Janesville needed that plant. But it shut down in December of 2008. It’s on “standby” should GM ever need to use it again, and with GM on an upward trajectory – which wouldn’t have happened without the auto bailout – that could come to pass. But it’s not likely that would happen. Janesville’s plant made full-size SUVs and that market simply collapsed. The entire factory would have to be retooled. The loss at Janesville is as much about product mix – and the missteps of a private company – as anything.
The larger point, that the recovery did not come fast enough to matter for a great many people, is correct. Grafting that onto the Janesville GM plant is a hard sell. But that’s what Eric Fehrnstrom tried today:
“[H]e didn’t talk about Obama closing the plant, he said candidate Obama went there in 2008 and what he said was with government assistance, we can keep this plant open for another 100 years,” argued Fehrnstrom. “Here are we are four years into his administration; that plant is still closed. I think it’s a symbol of the recovery that hasn’t materialized for the people of Janesville, Wis., just as it hasn’t materialized for Americans everywhere.”
Only the methods that could have been used to more quickly materialize that recovery are methods that Paul Ryan publicly despises but privately tried to enact over and over again for Janesville. They involve more public spending. If Paul Ryan wants to argue for a bigger bailout for GM, he can go ahead and do that explicitly.