Paul Ryan and a GM Plant

At the Republican National Convention last week, Paul Ryan gave a speech criticizing President Obama’s recovery efforts and explaining how he believed Mitt Romney could do a better job.

Soon after, multiple reporters began “fact-checking” Ryan’s speech, dismissing much of it as lies. Unfortunately, the fact-checks soon needed to be fact-checked themselves.

For example, when USA Today “fact-checks” Ryan’s statement on Romney’s record (“he balanced the budget without raising taxes”), they admit that Ryan’s statement is true, but insert some of their own narrative as well. This is the difference between impartial and biased reporting:

“It’s true that Romney balanced the state budget every year — as Massachusetts’ Constitution requires— and Romney never raised personal income taxes. But as we have noted whenever this claim has arisen — which has been frequently — Romney did hike government fees by hundreds of millions of dollars, and he also closed loopholes on some corporate taxes.”

If this is a fact-check, why bring up alternative arguments that have nothing to do with what Ryan said?

Something else the fact-checks point out is that Ryan blamed Obama for closing a GM plant in his hometown – Janesville, Wisconsin. The GM plant closed before Obama took office. The question is, did Ryan really blame Obama for closing the plant? Here is Ryan’s response to this criticism:

“What they’re trying to suggest is that I said that Barack Obama was responsible for our plant shutdown in Janesville. That is not what I was saying. Read the speech. What I was saying is the President ought to be held to account for his broken promises. After our plant was shut down he said that he would lead an effort to retool plants like the Janesville plant to get people back to work. It’s still idle, people are still not working there.”

His argument is not that Obama closed the plant, but that Obama promised it would be open for a hundred years. The President did not keep that promise, nor did he keep the promise to restart the plant.

Check out an unedited interview with Ryan where he first responds to the fact-checkers:

14 responses to “Paul Ryan and a GM Plant

  1. I created a brilliant response (cocky smile) as long as your blog entry and thought I pressed ‘post comment;’ apparently I didn’t (sheepish smile.) Sorry. That wisdom is gone forever. Perhaps I’ll try again next time.

  2. I’m sorry, I don’t see the same bias you do in the USA Today report. Ryans says, “without raising taxes.” USAT says it’s true that Romney never raised “personal income” taxes. Based only on what I read here, I see this a helpful clarification, not part of a biased agenda. USAT further clarifies by saying he raised fees and closed loopholes. If they were to report this in a context of saying Ryan lied, thereby calling these actions a raising of taxes, that would be bias. Additionally, How is this ‘alternative argumentation’ rather than fact checking? They’re saying, it’s a true fact that Romney did not raise ‘personal income’ taxes. If they’re going to call a claim true in their fact checking they need to protect themselves. With this clarification they are doing precisely that. They are recognizing that some (Not necessarily themselves) would see revenue enhancements such as fees and the closing of loopholes as an increase in taxes. That strikes me as fair enough.
    My opinion of USA Today is that they try pretty hard to give equal space to opposing points of view. I would see them as more fair and balanced then, let’s say, Fox News, MSNBC.
    Speaking of that, on the Janesville plant thing, I suspect Fox News is much more fair and balanced than ‘Hot’ Fox was pretty hard on Ryan not only for this particular aspect of his speech but the entire thing. One Fox commentator called it one of the most misleading speeches in political history. (That’s not a quote and I don’t know the source beyond what I just said.) Too bad I’m not interested enough concerning this spat to find and listen to more than just clips so I can get a more complete story before pontificating.
    Obama said:
    I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give the assistance you need to retool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another 100 years. So, that’s our priority… I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America, I want it to thrive right here in Janesville, Wisconsin. And that’s the future I will fight for as president of the United States of America.
    Here’s what Ryan said in his speech:
    “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: `I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”
    My responses:
    1. Obama kept to his promise to provide government support. Romney would not have done that and was bold enough to say so. (He said this in Michigan. I applaud him for such bold honesty.)
    GM plants ‘LIKE the Janes plant’ (from Ryan’s account of Obama’s speech) have been retooled and are around today.
    2. The fact that that plant did not last another year is in no way a failure of Obama’s. It was closed before Obama was elected. It does not take licentious inferring to conclude that Ryan is strongly implying that Obama is at fault for Janesville’s current idleness. Whether or not that is a just implication is questionable, but certainly debatable.
    3. Ryan said something like, if Obama promises one thing in his campaign and then does the opposite people want to hold him accountable. Obama did not promise to keep that particular Janesville plant open. It strikes me as unfair to claim Obama did the ‘opposite.’ Ryan had better be careful about what he promises in his campaign. He is advancing the notion of creating 12 million new jobs in the next four years. Few agree that is within the realm of possibility no matter what policies or politicians we choose.
    4. Now that we’ve had a week of Republican ‘deceits,’ it’s time for a week of Democrat ‘deceits.’ How sad. I thoroughly appreciate how difficult it is to create an honest speech that is effectively persuasive. This must be doubly hard for politicians who devise speeches according to what polls say the people want to hear. It’s also sad that apparently, no matter what our protestations, we respond to dishonest mud-slinging. Sadly (yes, thrice sad), I have noticed a distressing increase in Obama instigated mudslinging compared to his last campaign.
    5. I like fact checking sites such as ‘snopes.’ It’s my judgment that they are fair, try their best to be unbiased, clarify where needed, and recognize how difficult it can be to assess varying degrees of truthfulness.

    • Nice dialog here as always. Given what Don has said, I want to advance our understanding of the Janesville GM plant controversy.
      Paul Ryan said his buddies heard Obama say in 2008, “… I want it to thrive right here in Janesville, Wisconsin.” Ryan didn’t say Obama was responsible for it’s closure. In what consideragain has quoted above, Ryan contends that what Obama said constituted a promise, which is plausible but still open to interpretation. What I think is indisputable is that his high school buddies felt great disappointment. This fits in totally with the theme of Ryan’s speech.
      I don’t see any other explicit or implied meanings in the plant closing passage that merit a “fact check.” Yet, many mainstream outlets have honed in on it specifically. I attribute it to group think.

    • Good point about the USA Today thing. I see exactly where you’re coming from. I would call them very centrist as well (and so would the authors of a book I read on media bias – a summary here: And though I would argue that “balanced the budget without raising taxes” is a factual statement, I see your points.

      Also, I think Obama was talking about the plant in Janesville specifically for rhetoric’s sake. He knew as well as anybody that there was a good chance it would close down. But I still would not say Ryan should be vilified for saying a completely factual statement. I wish I had the time to respond to all the fact-check criticisms in that USA Today article (some of which I would actually agree with).

      It’s similar to a promise Obama made that he would “cut the deficit in half” by the end of his first term. Now he has taken to blaming Bush and a failing economy for the national debt. Regardless of who’s “fault” the debt is, he can be legitimately criticized for making that promise.

      I too like real fact-check sites. Snopes is good for rumors, and are great for political speeches and statements. Check them out!

      • Thanks for the link to this article. Some of my favorite quotes:
        1. While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper’s news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times.
        2. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. (Besides magazines, these are my favorite sources for news.)
        3. Only Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter. (Whoa! Does this mean the average voter is that far right?)
        4. The most centrist outlet proved to be the “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.” (Dorothy’s favorite.)
        5. The fourth most centrist outlet was “Special Report With Brit Hume” on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. (I’ve never watched it, but would have made that assumption.)
        6. “If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox’s ‘Special Report’ as ABC’s ‘World News’ and NBC’s ‘Nightly News,’ then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news,”
        7. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist. (Yeah, my naïve assessment had merit.)
        8. Yet another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom relates to National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet. (I hear that all the time.)

        I wonder:
        1. How did they define ‘liberal?’ Important to know since that was the yardstick.
        2. I wonder if they had used conservative as a yardstick if the results would have skewed differently.

        • Great observations! The book truly was excellent. The reason I like it so much is because he spends the first few chapters explaining how he got to the results he did. And it’s based on clearly explained math, not unfounded conjecture.

          They use several methods to determine the PQ (political quotient) of various Congressmen, cities, and news outlets. One example of one of the more simple ways is when they used “conservative facts” and “liberal facts” about the same issue, then measured how many of each were reported by each news station. Another way was to measure the citations of studies from think-tanks in news articles, counting up which ones cited “liberal” think-tanks more often and which ones cited “conservative” think-tanks more often. They used multiple methods to decrease the margin of error as well, explaining how their results would actually, if anything, underestimate the “leftness” of the media.

          They used both “liberal” and “conservative” as yardsticks – finding the PQ of the average voter and/or congressman by multiple methods, and then comparing that to their findings for the news outlets. I don’t necessarily agree with every conclusion (for example, he tried to argue that McCain would have won if the media had been different), but he does a great job explaining every conclusion and method.

          • I’m still interested in how he defined ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ How did he determine which facts were ‘liberal’ facts and which were ‘conservative’ facts. What makes for a ‘liberal’ think tank, and what makes a ‘conservative’ think tank. How he defines these determines what his conclusions will be about which media are left, centrist, or right. When it comes to domestic policy, foreign policy, defense spending, economic policy, positions on social issues, issues of personal freedom, individualism vs communitarianism, what is the content he used to define liberal, conservative, or centrist? What content determines ‘average political quotient?’ Did he answer those questions in the first few chapters?

          • Exactly – he describes all of his methodology for that. I sent you a copy of the book so you can take a glance. I know you’re busy, but no pressure to read the entire thing – just whatever you find relevant.

  3. Perhaps the ‘fact checkers’ should have simply watched the video in the link at the end of this post, of the speech President Obama gave at the Janesville GM Plant in 2008. It verifies that everything Paul Ryan said in his speech was accurate.

    It is also a very dangerous thing when ‘fact-checkers’ are actually biased themselves and use the title ‘fact-checker’ as a means of representing their own views as accurate and as unquestionable authority.

      • And Ryan isn’t promising wonderful things without knowing what is possible? 12 million jobs in four years. Really?

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