The Corner

The Janesville Plant

Pundits and fact-checkers are claiming that Paul Ryan misrepresented the history of the Janesville, Wis., General Motors plant in his convention speech. The primary charge is that the plant closed when Bush was still president. It seems the fact-checkers need to double-check their facts, however. While GM first announced plans to shutter the plant in 2008, the plant was not actually idled until 2009 (as reported here and noted here), and the shut-down schedule was faster than GM had initially announced. In 2008, GM said it would close the plant by 2010. What many of the “fact-checkers” missed is that an auto plant can produce more than one thing, so ending one production line need not lead to an actual plant closure. Conn Carroll has the rundown of the actual facts here. (More at Twitchy.)

The Dylan Matthews fact-check is particularly sloppy, claiming the plant was closed in June 2008, but citing as evidence an October 2008 NYT story that talks about the “planned” closure of the Janesville plant. The primary production line was idled in December 2008, though as noted above, some production continued until 2009. He then says Ryan knew this, citing a June 2008 Ryan statement lamenting GM’s announcement that it “planned to close its Janesville plant by 2010.”

UPDATE: After an exchange of a few e-mails, Dylan Matthews has updated his post. Here is how it first appeared:

The plant shut down in June 2008, when George W. Bush is president. Ryan says it had not yet shut down Obama was elected, that Janesville was “about to” lose the factory at the time of the election. This is false, as Ryan knew in 2008 when he issued a statement bemoaning the plant’s closing.

Here is how it reads now: 

The decision to close the plant was made in June 2008, when George W. Bush was president. Ryan says that Janesville was “about to” lose the factory at the time of the election, and Obama failed to prevent this. This is false, as Ryan knew in 2008 when he issued a statement bemoaning the plant’s impending closing. 

So the most glaring errors in Matthews’ post are fixed, but the comment is still quite curious. What was “false” in Ryan’s statement? Was Janesville “about to lose” the factory at the time of the election? Yes. Did Obama fail to prevent this as he had promised? Yes. One might argue the charge is unfair, as there was little any president could have done to keep the plant open, but that doesn’t make Ryan’s statement “false.” (And if you’re going to make this argument, you need to also acknowledge that politicians shouldn’t make these sorts of promises in the first place.)

I would also note, that even though this was a “fact-check” post, at this point, there is no note or acknowledgement on the post that it was revised. (Update: It now says “This post has been revised to clarify Paul Ryan’s inaccurate statement about the Janesville GM plant.“).

SECOND UPDATE: Ed Morrissey has still more. The fact-checkers really flubbed this one.

THIRD UPDATE: Dylan Matthews tries again in a new post. Note he no longer claims Ryan’s charge was false. The substance of the new post was that it was unfair, because there was nothing Obama could have done to save the plant, and as Janesville’s Representative, Paul Ryan tried to get the plant kept open. That’s a fair critique — but quite different than saying Ryan lied (and begs the question about whether political candidates should make the sorts of comments Obama made during the 2008 campaign). Still, Matthews still has some problems with overstatement and misrepresenting his sources. For instance, he claims that by December 2008, “the plant had reached a point of no return.” But that’s not quite true. If he’d checked some of the sources to which he linked, he’d see that the plant was idled and put on standby status — a status it maintained at least through September 2011.  

“This is a very strange dispute,” Matthews writes. Yep. It’s quite strange that some want to turn every political disagreement into a question of “fact.” Ryan’s point was that many people in Wisconsin supported Obama because they had hope and wanted change — and that Obama has failed to deliver. There’s room for legitimate disagreement as to whether it’s fair to cite the Janesville plant in this context, but ridiculous to try and turn such disputes into questions of “fact,” especially since every factual statement Ryan made last night about the Janesville plant was correct, and many factual statements made in Matthews’ initial post were not.

Jonathan H. Adler — Jonathan H. Adler is the Johan Verhiej Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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