Matt Vespa Makes A Hash Of It

In an effort to slam MSNBC hosts Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton, Newsbusters’ Matt Vespa managed, in only a few short paragraphs, to make an incredible mess of just about everything regarding a matter addressed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan last night in his acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention. The issue causing all the fuss is the now-shuttered General Motors plant in Janesville, Wisconsin. The background:

Two weeks ago (Aug. 16) at a campaign stop in Ohio, Ryan said:

“That plant was shut down in 2009. I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open. One more broken promise. We used to build Tahoes and Suburbans. One of the reasons that plant got shut down was $4 gasoline. You see, this costs jobs. The president’s terrible energy policies are costing us jobs.”

…which was a fictitious narrative. Candidate Obama did indeed visit the Janseville plant in February 2008 but he made no promise to “keep that plant open,”[1] nor, setting aside the fact that presidents have no power to dictate such decisions, would there have been any need for any such promise–at the time of Obama’s campaign stop, GM hadn’t yet decided the plant would be closing. That only happened four months later. In June, 2008, GM announced it would be shutting down production of medium-sized trucks at the plant by the end of 2009 and SUVs by 2010 or sooner, shuttering the plant. As it turned out, the plant didn’t even make it to the end of the year. In October, 2008 came reports that GM may close the plant earlier than expected. Candidate Obama called it “a painful reminder of the tough economic times facing working families across this country,” and

“also a reminder that Washington needs to finally live up to its promise to help our automakers compete in our global economy. As president, I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville so we can build the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow and create good-paying jobs in Wisconsin and all across America.”[2]

On December 23, 2008, a month before Obama became president and well before he could enact “terrible energy policies” or any other policy, the plant essentially shut down, giving the sack to thousands of employees.

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Janesville Autoworkers Pose With the Last Vehicle Off the Line, 23 Dec., 2008

Only a skeleton crew of a few dozen were maintained beyond that and only to complete an outstanding order of vehicles for Isuzu, work which concluded a few months later in April. Ryan’s narrative was nonsense but became a well-circulated talking-point in right-wing circles.

In his speech to the RNC last night, Ryan talked about the Janesville plant again, significantly modifying his earlier remarks:

“When he [Obama] talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory… 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. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”

During MSNBCs post-speech coverage, hosts Ed Schultz and Al Sharpton took issue with Ryan’s false narrative, pointing out that the plant was closed during the Bush administration, before Obama had even become president.

Newsbusters’ Matt Vespa was having none of that: he asserts that, in last night’s speech, Ryan “reiterated that President Barack Obama promised to keep the plant open, but then shut it down.” But, in fact, Ryan dropped any overt reference to this claim from his RNC speech.[3] Where did Vespa get the idea Ryan had “reiterated” it? Vespa links to a right-wing blog, which does, indeed, say:

“During Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech, he talked about a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin that he said closed down after President Obama made a promise that it would remain open.”

Vespa apparently interpreted this as meaning Ryan had reiterated his earlier claim and never bothered to listen to the actual Ryan speech.

In his zeal to bash Schultz and Sharpton, Vespa doesn’t even get straight his own charges against them. In response to Ryan’s comments, he writes, “the left-wingers went rabid, and supported the false narrative that the plant was closed by George W. Bush.” As Vespa’s own video clips show though, neither Schultz nor Sharpton claimed “the plant was closed by George W. Bush.” They, instead, noted–correctly–that the plant had been closed during the Bush administration.

Vespa characterizes their comments as “patently false remarks” and asserts that “in actuality, the plant closed in June of 2009.” To support this, he quotes and links to an article from the Janesville Gazette, but in neither the portion he quotes nor in the longer article is there any claim that “the plant closed in June 2009.” Instead, the article notes that “General Motors will end medium-duty truck production in Janesville on April 23, four months to the day after the plant stopped building full-size sport utility vehicles.” And that’s exactly what happened. Today, the righty blogosphere, in an effort to defend Ryan, has widely circulated the notion that the skeleton-crew held over to finish up that last order meant the plant was still open for business until April ’09. That’s apparently where Vespa picked it up–the right-wing blog to which he links offers that particular spin. By any fair analysis, that spin is a fundamental misrepresentation of reality, while what Vespa calls “patently false remarks” and a “false narrative” by those “left-wingers”–the “rabid” ones–were correct.

Vespa concludes this mess by asserting “it appears that Mr. Schultz and Mr. Sharpton are, unsurprisingly, wrong. It was closed under the Obama administration.” In the real world, every fact-checking outlet under the sun has refuted Ryan’s remarks.[4]

–j.

[1] In the relevant remarks, Obama, speaking of the transition to clean energy autos, said: “…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. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your president.”

[2] Something Obama has, in fact, done as president. GM has so far chosen not to make use of these incentives to retool the Janesville plant but in another twist on this story, Paul Ryan’s infamous budget proposal, which nearly every Republican in both houses of congress voted to pass, completely eliminates the biggest of the programs offering these incentives. That’s certainly no way to get Janseville retooled and running again and no ground on which to stand while accusing someone else of failing to make it happen.

[3] Though he transformed his earlier claim into a more general one about the failure to deliver a promised recovery, Ryan’s inclusion of the Obama comment was clearly a coded reference to that earlier claim, an inference aimed at the Republican base among whom that claim had circulated.

[4] Some of those fact-checkers have gotten various elements of the story wrong but their conclusion is correct.

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