A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Did Obama ‘Approve’ Bridge Work for Chinese Firms?


Q: Is President Obama responsible for Chinese companies building U.S. bridges with stimulus money, as reported by ABC News?

A: No. A viral email distorts an ABC News report. California officials hired a Chinese contractor and rejected federal money to avoid federal “Buy American” laws.

FULL QUESTION

Is this true?

Diane Sawyer reporting on U.S. bridge projects going to the Chinese…NOT Americans.

The bridges are right here in the U.S. and yet Obama has approved for Chinese contractors to come in and do the work. What about jobs for Americans???

Watch this video. It doesn’t take long to view.

U.S.A. Bridges and Roads Being Built by Chinese Firms

Shocking to say the least! This video is a jaw-dropper that will make you sick. (It was also shocking that ABC was actually reporting this story.)

The lead-in with Obama promising jobs in the U.S. by improving our infrastructure is so typical of all his promises!

FULL ANSWER

This email is an example of how things get distorted and go viral — even when the facts are just a click away. It’s true that ABC News did a report on Chinese firms winning contracts to repair U.S. bridges. But the report pointedly said states were to blame. It didn’t mention federal funds — let alone stimulus funds — except to note that California turned down federal money to avoid federal “Buy American” laws and hire a Chinese firm.

In a Sept. 23, 2011, broadcast, ABC News reported on bridge repair contracts going to Chinese firms in three states: Alaska, New York and California. But it gave details on only one project — a $7.2 billion repair of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. ABC News explained how and why the Chinese firm wound up with the contract, beginning with a decision by the California transportation department not to accept federal funds.

ABC News, Sept. 23, 2011: U.S. law actually requires major infrastructure projects to Buy America when the cost difference is reasonable. In California, U.S. firms say they would have met those guidelines. But state officials decided to turn down federal money for a major part of the bridge, allowing a Chinese company to get the job.

ABC News interviewed a CalTrans official who said the Chinese firm could provide the fabricated bridge decks more quickly because U.S. firms don’t have enough welders. The broadcast failed to note, however, that only some jobs, not all, will go to China as a result. And taxpayers saved a bundle. From a story in the New York Times last year:

New York Times, June 25, 2011: The assembly work in California, and the pouring of the concrete road surface, will be done by Americans. But construction of the bridge decks and the materials that went into them are a Made in China affair. California officials say the state saved hundreds of millions of dollars by turning to China.

California decided not to apply for federal funding for the project because the “Buy America” provisos would probably have required purchasing more expensive steel and fabrication from United States manufacturers.

At the end of his report, ABC News reporter Chris Cuomo says, “That’s why the Buy America laws were passed. If states can get around them, Diane, we’ll never bring America back.” (By the way, Cuomo is the son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, a Democrat.)

The broadcast mentioned a $400 million project to repair the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in New York, but it provided no details on it.

The New York Times did a short story on China Construction America, the company that won the Alexander Hamilton Bridge contract. The Times story said the logo of the company — a New Jersey-based subsidiary of a state-controlled construction company in China — “is becoming a familiar sight at public works projects around New York City.” It also said the company employs 500 employees in the U.S. and hires only union workers at New York City job sites. The Times did not, however, say whether any federal funding was involved.

The third project — a $190 million project in Alaska — went unnamed in the ABC News broadcast. However, it was named in a longer, print version of Cuomo’s report that ran on ABC News’ website that same day. In that report, ABC News said Alaska was “set to spend millions on foreign materials for the Tanana River Bridge Crossing and would largely fabricate the bridge overseas.” The article did not say whether any federal money would be used on the Alaska project. However, we found that it does involve federal money.

The Alaska bridge project had been on hold until last year, when the state provided the remaining $44 million to fully fund the project, which will be completed in 2014, according to the Anchorage Daily News and the project sponsor, Alaska Railroad Corporation. The project received $104.2 million in federal Defense Department grants and a total of $84 million from the state. The bridge work is only part of the railroad agency’s larger Northern Rail Extension project. The paper reported that the ground-breaking ceremony — which occurred five days after the ABC News report — was attended by Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, two Republicans who represent Alaska in Congress.

Who’s to blame, if that’s the right word, if the project ends up using manufactured steel from China? The National Steel Bridge Alliance blames the state railroad agency. The Alliance for American Manufacturing says the federal Buy American laws have been “weakened with loopholes and various exemptions that make it easier for bureaucrats to purchase foreign-made goods instead of those made in American factories with American workers.”

So, how did Obama get blamed for the decisions by state agencies and for state projects that, in at least one case, didn’t even use federal funds? The answer is a textbook lesson in how information gets distorted when emails go viral.

We looked at the nearly 100 emails we received on this subject and found that Obama wasn’t mentioned at all in the first few emails. Typical of the emails we received shortly after the ABC News report aired was this one from Oct. 11, 2011: “I just got an email regarding Diane Sawyer on ABC TV stating that U. S. Bridges and roads are being built by Chinese firms when the jobs should have gone to Americans. Could this possible be true?”

The answer: Yes, it’s true. End of story, right? Wrong.

Days later, emails started to appear in our inbox that claimed ABC News reported that Chinese firm were receiving stimulus funds to build U.S. bridges — even though the broadcast news story didn’t mention stimulus funds at all. (The report did include a clip of Obama delivering a speech on the need to rebuild America’s bridges and put Americans to work, but said nothing about the president’s $830 billion stimulus bill.) Still, we received emails such as this one on Nov. 4, 2011, that included this erroneous claim language: “Stimulus money meant to create U.S. jobs went to Chinese firms. Unbelievable….”

It didn’t take long for Obama to be blamed. That same day — Nov. 4, 2011 — we received an email that made this leap to Obama: “SOME CHINESE COMPANIES WHO ARE BUILDING ‘OUR’ BRIDGES. (3000 JOBS LOST TO THE CHINESE FIRM)…..AND NOW OBAMA WANTS ‘MORE STIMULUS MONEY’…..THIS IS NUTS ! ! ! If this doesn’t make you furious nothing will….”

This year, Obama’s name started to surface in the subject line of such critical emails — raising the attack on the president to yet another level and perhaps ensuring the email will be even more widely circulated. Since Jan. 17, we have gotten more than a dozen emails with the subject line, “ABC News on Obama/USA Infrastructure,” often preceded with the word “SHOCKING” in all caps.

The emails increasingly contain harsh language about the president. Since Jan. 11, 23 emails carried this added bit of Obama-bashing: “I pray all the unemployed see this and cast their votes accordingly in 2012!” One of those emails — a more recent one from Feb. 8 — contained this additional line: “Tell me again how Obama’s looking out for blue collar guys. He cancels pipelines, and lets Chinese contractors build our bridges…”

And so it goes, on and on. All from a news report that blamed state officials — not Obama — for spending taxpayer money on Chinese firms to build U.S. bridges.

— Eugene Kiely

Sources

U.S. Bridges, Roads Being Built by Chinese Firms.” ABC News. 23 Sep 2011.

Barboza, David. “Bridge Comes to San Francisco With a Made-in-China Label.” New York Times. 25 Jun 2011.

Semple, Kirk. “Bridge Repairs by a Company Tied to Beijing.” New York Times. 10 Aug 2011.

Cuomo, Chris. “Bringing America Back: Are Infrastructure Jobs Being Shipped to China?” ABC News. 23 Sep 2011.

Richardson, Jeff. “21-shovel salute opens Tanana bridge project.” Anchorage Daily News. 29 Sep 2011.

Railroad CEO informed EPA may block Tanana Bridge Permit.” Press release. Alaska Railroad Corporation. 27 May 2011.

Northern Rail Extension.” Alaska Railroad Corporation. 25 Aug 2011.

“NSBA Addresses ARRC Abuse of Federal Funds for $190 Million Tanana River Bridge Crossing Project.” Press release. National Steel Bridge Alliance. 20 Jul 2011.

A Shameful Use of Taxpayer Dollars in Alaska.” Press release. Alliance for American Manufacturing. 30 Aug 2011.