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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Sept. 20-26

This week, readers sent us comments about Ford Motor Company’s recent advertising campaign and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s comments about the separation of church and state.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


Ford Focus

Your comments on Ford Motor Co. [“Ford Motor Co. Does U-turn on Bailouts,” Sept. 20] raise interesting questions on how the U.S. government supports the auto industry, Ford’s new ad campaign which touches on that point, and how you have analyzed these issues.

You are correct that Ford supported the auto industry bailout program, but you omit numerous critical facts. Ford did so NOT to fatten its own coffers, but to keep its competitors alive so that the auto subcontracting industry would not be wiped out, including Ford’s own subcontractors. So, in fact, Ford was forced to support that program. Losing your key subcontractors is simply not an option, as anyone familiar with the auto industry knows, and it is a fact which you failed to point out.

You also omit the fact that in order to survive on its own Ford borrowed about $27 billion from banks, and you omitted that Ford is now paying that money back, with interest, to the banks. You also omitted the fact that in the meantime, because Chrysler and GM’s debts were wiped out in bankruptcy proceedings, they now have very healthy balance sheets, whereas Ford, still saddled with billions in debt, has a highly leveraged and uncompetitive balance sheet.

You point out that Ford is taking advantage of the government’s loan program to develop better cars, but you don’t stress that other auto makers are also taking advantage of that program. You complain that Ford sold cars and so, benefited under the government’s “cash for clunkers” program. Should Ford have not taken advantage of that program, while its competitors did so? Another point you failed to consider.

You also omit the fact that other auto companies, particularly foreign makers such as Toyota, have taken huge subsidies from states and localities where they have located new plants. In fact, Toyota and their foreign brethren have made such subsidies a condition of locating a new plant in a particular locality. As a result, the foreign producers have spent the last 20 years building a huge amount of capacity in the U.S. — and now, overcapacity — at the expense of states and localities and to the detriment of their domestic competitors, including Ford.

I spent 40 years as a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering the Fords, General Electrics and Exxons of this world, and I think I know a bit about how to write a fair and balanced analysis of an economic issue, and, in particular, how the omission of critical facts can distort the picture.  Your analysis  doesn’t even come close to fair and balanced. In my view, it omits issues so critical that your analysis winds up as a gross distortion of Ford’s position on government aid, and also takes a cheap shot at Ford’s advertising program.

I wonder if you might consider changing your name from FactCheck to FactOmission.

William M. Carley
Chatham, Mass.

FactCheck.org responds: The reader is incorrect when he says we “failed to point out” that Ford supported the bailout program because the company was concerned about the impact on its subcontractors and the ripple effect it would have on the industry. Our item stated that Ford “feared a collapse of GM and Chrysler at the time would have hurt suppliers and, in turn, Ford itself.” We also quoted the company’s chief executive officer saying that “the collapse of one or both of our domestic competitors would threaten Ford because we have 80 percent overlap in supplier networks.”

Separation of Church and State

I’ve loved your site for many years. With respect to Bachmann’s comments on the separation of church and state [“Fanciful ‘Facts’ At Fox News Debate,” Sept. 23], your reporting is off base. Here’s why:

Jefferson states in his brief letter to the Danbury Baptists, “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions.” His theme was the inappropriateness of government attempts to exercise control over individual conscience. Many people believe Jefferson intended his comments about a “wall of separation” to assure the Danbury Baptists that they were protected from government intrusion or control, not to suggest that religious people, institutions, or ideas were barred from participating fully in government. An analogy is the wall around a bank building. Although, technically, there is a “wall of separation” between the bank and the outside world, obviously the purpose of the wall is to protect the bank from passersby, not to protect passersby from the bank. That is the sort of wall that many people believe Jefferson intended to communicate, with the Baptists in the role of the bank.

When Bachmann referred to the letter, she was well aware that it is the source of the phrase “wall of separation.” However, she represents the point of view of people who believe the phrase has been misappropriated, and that the letter actually contradicts what has become the popular interpretation, one the Framers never intended. Whether Bachmann is right or wrong about the interpretation is not the question. The issue is whether it should be considered a case of bad fact-checking.

Eric Robinson
Carson City, Nev.

FactCheck.org responds: Jefferson himself explained his intent — which does not support Bachmann’s earlier statement that church-state separation is a “myth” any more than the text of the letter does. Historian James Hutson, writing an article for a Library of Congress exhibit featuring the original of Jefferson’s letter, noted that Jefferson sent a draft of it with a cover letter asking for comment to Attorney General Levi Lincoln of Massachusetts.

Hutson writes: “Jefferson revealed that he hoped to accomplish two things by replying to the Danbury Baptists. One was to issue a ‘condemnation of the alliance between church and state.’ … He was [also] looking, he told Lincoln, for an opportunity for ‘saying why I do not proclaim fastings & thanksgivings, as my predecessors did.’ ”

Shortsighted Bipartisanship

I question if your article [“Obama’s Jobs Act ‘Bipartisan’? Not Entirely,” Sept. 12] used too short of a time frame in assessing Republican support. “Historically” is a little longer than since the last election.

Having followed politics for a fairly long time, I seem to recall proposals like the ones you mention as not having Republican support in the Congress since Obama came into office, having in the past enjoyed much broader Republican support. It would have been valuable to have had information regarding bipartisan support for past proposals along the same lines as proposals in the current jobs bill. And the time frame or context of that past support.

For example, No Child Left Behind included funds that can be used to hire teachers as made clear in a 2002 report from John Boehner as chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. Boehner was a cosponsor of that bill that funded teachers, training and school infrastructure.

Federal funding to support state level first responders, included funding for existing police, fire and EMT people and hiring new employees, I believe this type of proposal has enjoyed more support from Republicans in the past, especially post 9/11.

In the focus on the “now,” many voters lose the context given by the past. That context is important to weighing the truth of the claims made in the present, especially when clarified with “historically garnered bipartisan support.”

I think the president’s point was that, in the past, more Republicans supported these ideas, and currently Republicans reject them, even some who supported them in the past. So, a comparison of his remarks to the current Republicans in Congress misses the mark in providing complete assessment of the president’s remarks.

Roger Chance
Fowlerville, Mich.