February 8, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story under the headline “Republicans See Politics In Chrysler Super Bowl Ad.” The story was published on the Times Wire service at 8:34 pm ET Monday, and appeared on page A13 of Tuesday’s print edition. The byline went to Jeremy Peters and Jim Rutenberg. Three other reporters – Brooks Barnes, Jackie Calmes and Stuart Elliott – contributed to the reporting. In the online edition, the story ran to two pages.
The topic of the story was of course the two-minute Chrysler ad titled “It’s Halftime in America,” which ran during the Super Bowl halftime and featured iconic actor-director Clint Eastwood “likening Chrysler’s comeback to the country’s own economic revival.” You can see a video of the ad here.
The story’s Exhibit A Disgruntled Republican: former Bush political operative Karl Rove. The report cites part of Rove’s comments to Fox “News”:
… Rove … said Chrysler was trying to settle a debt to the Obama administration for rescuing Detroit carmakers with billions of dollars in loans.
‘The leadership of auto companies feel they need to do something to repay their political patronage,’ Mr. Rove said on Fox News, where viewers of the network’s morning program ‘Fox & Friends’ rated the ad their least favorite of the game. ‘It is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.’
Rove’s full remarks (video at the same link) were
This [ad] is a sign of what happens when you have the government getting in bed with big business like the bailout of the auto companies. They begin to, the leadership of the auto companies feel they need to do something to repay their political patrons. Remember, we lost $1.8 billion as taxpayers on the government bailout of Chrysler, and we’re going to lose $14 billion in the bailout of Chrysler and General Motors. And you got to bet in the boardrooms and management suites of these two big car companies, they are saying to themselves, ‘Look, the president bailed us out rather than making us go through the normal bankruptcy, he bailed us out. We’re going to end up not having to pay back this money to the taxpayers. A hundred-thirteen thousand jobs were saved at a cost of $14 billions dollars we’re going to lose as taxpayers. That’s a million dollars a job. That’s pretty damned expensive. And of course they’re going to repay their political patrons.
I was frankly offended by it. I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the President of the United States and his political minions are using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management which has benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they’ll never pay back.
The reporters go on to cite Obama political operative David Axelrod and press secretary Jay Carney in (tweets) and remarks which do not directly deny that the White House masterminded the ad. Toward the end of the report, there’s another non-denial denial from Steve Rattner, who advised President Obama on the auto bailout and who has not worked for the administration since July 2009. The story does say that both Eastwood and Chrysler management “denied that politics were at play.” To give these denials “context,” the reporters write,
But [the denials] ignored the fact that as a major beneficiary of a government loan program derided by many conservatives, whatever it does over the course of the next nine months will be scrutinized in a political light. Based on rates NBC was quoting advertisers, the two-minute spot cost Chrysler about $12.8 million.
For more “context,” the report claims that although Clint Eastwood “usually voted Republican, [he] has acknowledged recently having a political change of heart.”
To further solidify the notion that the ad really is political, and not the innocent celebration of the “American spirit, pride and job growth,” that Eastwood said it was, the Times reporters write that “The ad’s title…, along with its uplifting and inspirational script, recalled one of the most famous campaign ads ever produced, President Ronald Reagan’s re-election year “Morning in America” ad of 1984 — albeit with a post-recession twist.” The reporters note that
Shown before an audience of more than 110 million people, according to Nielsen, the advertisement came at a fortunate time for Mr. Obama’s re-election team. It dovetailed with a positive jobs report on Friday and the rolling start of a general election campaign that it assumes will be run against Mitt Romney. (Mr. Romney opposed the auto bailout, as did Mr. Eastwood in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in November.)
Wow! First we have Karl Rove’s charges, which were pretty explosive. He accused President Obama “and his political minions” of playing dirty politics and of misusing billions of dollars of taxpayer funds to extract a “Chicago-style” patronage payout from the fat-cat management of Chrysler. All the players are bad actors: the President, “his minions,” and Chrysler management. Rove seems to imply that Eastwood is their unwitting stooge.
Add to that, this “circumstantial evidence”: the reporters can’t find any of Obama’s “minions” to directly deny that the administration had an involvement in the ad; in “context,” Eastwood’s and Chrysler’s denials are not persuasive; Eastwood has recently abandoned the GOP; the ad is reminiscent of a famous Reagan campaign ad; the ad cost a bundle and ran at “a fortunate time” for the Obama campaign before a huge, bipartisan audience; Obama’s likely general election opponent spoke out against the bailout; and Chrysler is, after all, beholden to Obama.
If I relied solely on the New York Times for my news, I would suspect Karl Rove got it right. Like Rove, I would be “offended.”
Ah, but I have other sources. I am offended. But not by the Chrysler ad. I am offended by the New York Times. Here’s why.
The Times reporters proved they know what context is. But here’s a tidbit of context they left out of their long story. On Monday, before the Times reporters turned in their story, David Shepardson of the Detroit News reported, “Rove didn’t mention that it was Bush who first agreed to save Chrysler. Chrysler nearly collapsed in late 2008 under private equity ownership. Bush agreed to a $4 billion bailout of the company. By all accounts, Chrysler is performing far better than predictions.” Also on Monday afternoon (3:57 pm ET), David Edwards of Raw Story reported, “Although Obama did sign off on $85 billion in aid to the auto industry after taking office, Rove’s former boss, President George W. Bush, also provided over $17 billions in loans in 2008.”
How about that? Karl Rove, a/k/a “Bush’s Brain,” forgot to mention during his little tirade that it was his boss President Bush, not President Obama, who initiated the Chrysler bailout. If Bush’s Brain can forget those little details, is it fair to expect the Times reporters to do better? They can’t be spending all their time reading the Detroit papers or online journals like Raw Story. So, absent combing through obscure sources, how would they know Bush started the bailout ball rolling? Maybe they could have gone to their research department. Or Google. Or Nexis-Lexis. Or FactCheck.org. Or theTimes archives. The Bush bailout was a huge story in 2008 and early 2009. The issue was so controversial – as David Herzsenhorn and David Sanger of the New York Times reported on December 19, 2008 – that when he decided to override Congress’s refusal to fund the automakers, President Bush made
… a televised speech before the opening of the U.S. financial markets, [and] said that under other circumstances he would have let the companies fail, a consequence of their bad business decisions. But given the recession, he said the government had no choice but to step in.
‘These are not ordinary circumstances,’ Bush said. ‘In the midst of a financial crisis and a recession, allowing the U.S. auto industry to collapse is not a responsible course of action.’ He said that a reorganization under bankruptcy protection was not a workable alternative.
In 2008 and 2009, the Times published more than a dozen in-depth stories on the bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. Jackie Calmes, who “contributed” to yesterday’s Times report on the Eastwood Chrysler ad, also worked on two of the 2008 bailout stories. Evidently, Calmes decided not to “contribute” President Bush’s “contribution” to Chrysler for the current story.
If five New York Times reporters – and their editor(s) – could not put Rove’s remarks in “context,” one New York Times op-ed columnist could. Two hours after Peters and Rutenberg filed their story, Charles Blow filed a “Campaign Stops” post in which he wrote, “The Detroit News was quick to point out yesterday that it was George W. Bush who stroked the first check to Chrysler.” Blow also cites a FactCheck.org report on the Chrysler bailout as well as a July 2011 Times story that reported that the government had divested its interest in Chrysler, “leaving taxpayers $1.3 billion short of recovering the full investment.”
Blow writes, “Trying to eschew Bush’s role in order to tarnish Obama’s results is fundamentally dishonest. Trying to put the bailouts or the loss solely on Obama is simply dishonest.” Yet that is exactly what five of Blow’s colleagues over in the Times newsroom did when they failed to mention that President Bush initiated the auto bailouts. This New York Times story is, as Charles Blow proves, “fundamentally dishonest.”
Former President Bush, by the way, is still proud of his decision to bail out Chrysler and GM. As Alisa Priddle of the Detroit Free Press reported yesterday,
Former President George W. Bush, who extended bridge loans to the auto industry as one of his administration’s last acts, told auto dealers Monday he would do it all again. Bush gave the closing address to about 22,000 dealers and their families attending the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention….
Bush said he was a believer in the marketplace and that corporations had to pay for their own problems or bad decisions. ‘But sometimes circumstances get in the way of philosophy,’ Bush said. ‘I would make the same decision again.’ The Bush administration gave the auto industry $25 billion in emergency aid including $13.4 billion for General Motors and $4 billion for Chrysler, as well as aid for their finance companies.
There’s more. Although the Times reporters couldn’t get a straight denial from the White House of involvement in the ad, other news outlets did so. Richard Wolf of USA Today, for instance, reports in the lede of a story on the ad, “The White House today denied any involvement in Chrysler’s ‘Halftime in America’ advertising campaign, unveiled by Clint Eastwood during Sunday night’s Super Bowl.”
The Times reporters don’t say so, but Eastwood was not just an actor in the ad. According to his long-time agent and manager Leonard Hirshan, “He rewrote it to make it suit his needs. People have to understand that what he was doing was saying to America, ‘Get yourselves together – all of you – and make this a second half.’ It’s not a political thing.” Eastwood himself told Fox “News,”
I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama…. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I am not supporting any politician at this time…. If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.
If a person “usually voted Republican but has acknowledged recently having a political change of heart,” one might reasonably surmise he had become a Democrat, the other major party in our two-party system. Such an implication further weakens Eastwood’s credibility. Hey, no wonder he’s helping the Democratic president. He’s an enthusiastic convert! So is Eastwood a Democrat now? According to Lynn Elber of the Associated Press,
He’s a penny-pinching conservative who vigorously backs gay marriage and environmental protections. He supported GOP presidential contender John McCain in 2008 and can’t recall voting to put a Democrat in the White House, but expressed admiration for California’s Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
And last week, presumably well after he rewrote the Chrysler script and after he cut the ad,
Eastwood told The Daily Caller that the Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is ‘as good as anybody else; in the race but that he will decide on a candidate in another month or two after ‘listening to all that crap on television.’
The DC asked Eastwood if he is still ‘not a fan’ of President Barack Obama – which he stated in 2010 – and for his opinion on GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney.
‘I didn’t say I wasn’t a fan of his, I said I thought he was a pretty good guy. At least he seems to be – I never met him…. Now, whether any of these other guys [Republicans] would be any better, it’s a coin flip.’
You know, I tend to believe Eastwood when he says he is “certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama.”
I will not pretend to take the word of Chrysler executives as to what their motivation might have been in approving the Super Bowl ad. But a company that is in the business of selling cars has little incentive to alienate millions of potential customers who happen to be Republicans. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that Chrysler management purposely created an ad which overtly boosted the Democratic candidate for president.
It is not out of the realm of possibility, however, that Chrysler had in mind to boost the government. In fact, I think that was the purpose of the ad. Keach Hagey of Politico points to a 2011 “Harper’s Magazine panel charged with thinking up a hypothetical Super Bowl ad for the federal government. It was the issue’s lead story, with the cover title: ‘A Super Bowl Spot for Uncle Sam: Can Madison Avenue Make Us Love Our Government?’” One member of that panel: “Mark Fitzloff, an executive creative director at Wieden + Kennedy, the advertising agency that made the [Chrysler] commercial.” The Harper’s article is firewalled, but Hagey writes that during the panel discussion, Fitzloff mentioned Reagan’s “Morning in America” ad, though he said, “if they had launched that on the Super Bowl, I don’t think Reagan would have been reelected.” However, “later in the Harper’s forum,” Hagey reports,
Fitzloff riffed on the themes that would ultimately appear in his own ‘Halftime’ ad. ‘There’s got to be some kernel of what the government is that is above the fray of partisanship, and that both sides revere, a greater good that we’re all striving toward,’ he said. ‘I think that’s what World War II certainly provided; we always say how that war ended the Depression and changed a mood. That’s what we need to do, short of starting a war Wag the Dog-style.’
So there you go. The purpose of the ad was political in a way. But it was not partisan. As Eastwood said in the ad,
I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.
Whatever the way forward, it surely is not the Karl Rove way. Rove and other Republicans used what was a message of unity to attempt to further divide Americans. Since this is an appropriate place for football metaphors, I’ll suggest that the New York Times took Rove’s ball and ran with it. Rove may have been the quarterback, but the ball carriers were as “fundamentally dishonest” in advancing the ball as was Rove when he made the handoff. Consider this column my version of a penalty flag.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com