A campaign rally in Defiance
Like many political distortions, Romney's claim contained a grain of truth.
Chrysler was one of the companies that received billions in loans from the federal government. The government ended up forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy in 2009 when its debtholders couldn't reach an agreement. Since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the Italian car company Fiat has held a controlling interest.
By 2012, Chrysler and other automakers were doing much better — a fact that confounded Romney. In Ohio, a major expansion of its Toledo plant was in the works for the Jeep Liberty. In Detroit, the company was hiring workers to build the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
But Chrysler was thinking of reviving the Jeep brand in key foreign markets, and like other American automakers, Chrysler preferred to build cars in the countries where it intended to sell them — a common strategy to reduce tariffs and transport costs.
Bloomberg reported Oct. 22 that the company was planning to restart production of Jeeps in China. 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."
Reporters mentioned the mistake in their stories the next day, it lit up the Internet, and the liberal cable channel MSNBC attacked Romney for not knowing the facts.
"His lie is embarrassing, frankly, and it should be unsettling for the rest of the world," said MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "Imagine Romney waking up in the Lincoln bedroom or whatever, checking his conservative Twitter feed and running with whatever he finds there."
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."
PolitiFact and other fact-checkers weighed in and said the ad was inaccurate. PolitiFact rated it Pants on Fire because it "strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture." 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.
There was no give from Romney. Maybe that wasn't surprising.
At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, journalists had challenged the Romney campaign team about an ad that falsely claimed Obama was ending work requirements for welfare. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse responded by saying, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."