What happens when factcheckers become tools of a Presidential campaign? They step into the place of actual journalism, even when that step puts them squarely at odds with investigative reporters who actually report facts sometimes. The
July 4, 2012

What happens when factcheckers become tools of a Presidential campaign? They step into the place of actual journalism, even when that step puts them squarely at odds with investigative reporters who actually report facts sometimes.

The Washington Post's recent article on Bain Capital and Mitt Romney's role in outsourcing jobs to India and elsewhere confirmed what the Obama campaign had been attacking all along -- Bain Capital was in the business of making money, not creating jobs, rendering Mitt Romney's claim that he knows how to create jobs bogus. Despite the pearl-clutching Democrats who whined about attacks on Bain, there's no question that ads like the one at the top of this post are effective in critical swing states.

Those ads aren't effective because they tell lies. They're effective because they ring true, and the people most affected by Bain moneymaking ventures actually live in those states.

The attacks have so upset the Romney campaign that they actually sat down with the Washington Post in order to strong-arm them into changing their story so that all of the Bain decisions impacting workers happened after Romney left as an active Bain partner. That story stood in direct contradiction to the claim of Washington Post factchecker Glenn Kessler, leaving Romney with the sole option of using factcheckers to dispute the Obama campaign's claims.

Brooks Jackson of Factcheck.org was happy to comply with the Romney desire to change that story to one more favorable to Romney last week. After being challenged by the Obama camp, Jackson followed up a subjective hissy fit, Jackson calls the Obama campaign's claims "all wet."

Jackson's claims hinge on an assumption that just doesn't pass the smell test. In order to accept that Factcheck.org's facts are actually facts, one must accept this: Events occurring after Romney mounted his dressage horse to save the Olympics are completely disconnected and unrelated to the time when Romney was firmly in control of the reins at Bain Capital.

That just isn't how the corporate world operates. Not even close. Here's an example, where Factcheck claims that Romney had nothing to do with outsourcing jobs while at Bain:

  • Two electronic outsource manufacturing services companies controlled by Bain Capital closed plants in the U.S. and moved work to Mexico. But Romney had left Bain more than a year before the plants closed at both companies.
  • A picture frame company with operations in the Far East, including in China, closed a plant in South Carolina. The Obama campaign cites the plant closing, but those workers were manufacturing photo albums for professionals — a line of work that the company discontinued because it was such a small part of the business.

In the first case, Factcheck claims that the cite of a June, 2000 Bloomberg news brief as an announcement proves that the jobs were shipped out to Mexico after Romney had left Bain's daily operations in late 1999. They cite the date of the report compared to the date Romney's dive into the Olympics as their fact-based evidence that he had nothing to do with that.

Did they actually look at board resolutions? Minutes of management meetings? These decisions are made long before they're announced publicly. It's not unusual for public announcements to be made as long as a year after the actual decision is made. There are documents to sign, disclosures to be made, side deals that might make a difference, financing to be secured, and so on.

This was a pattern and a goal at Bain Capital, after all. The whole reason for Bain's existence was to turn a big profit for investors, using assets of businesses they rode in to "streamline".

Finally, FactCheck avers that Romney was so preoccupied with the Olympics rescue that he wasn't involved in the day-to-day affairs or decision-making at Bain Capital. This directly contradicts the facts which one might expect factcheck.org to actually verify. The biggest fact they overlooked in this supposed factcheck? Mitt Romney was CEO of Bain Capital and had 100 percent control as late as 2001. This isn't a secret. It's by Romney's own admission.

In August, 2001, Biz Journals reported:

Romney, 54, is giving up his 100 percent control of Bain Capital to 26 managing directors. The firm has made 170 venture and buyout investments in companies like pizza delivery chain Domino's Pizza Inc., brokerage Datek Online Holdings Corp. and retailers Staples Inc. and the Sports Authority Inc.,

Nay, nay, says Jackson, because the Olympics were eating up all of his time and attention, leaving him no time to sign off on all those outsourced jobs:

Similarly, the Obama campaign cites a Washington Post story from 2007 that quotes a Romney lawyer, R. Bradford Malt, as saying that he “finally resigned and reduced his role at the company to that of a passive investor in 2001.” That’s true, but we read that to mean only that Romney went from being an absentee owner to being a passive investor. Nowhere was Malt quoted as saying Romney took any active role in managing Bain after leaving to run the Olympics.

Never mind those W. Mitt Romney signatures on documents between 1999 and 2001, right?

If we accept Factcheck's conclusions, then we should also accept that Mitt Romney signed off on plant closures and offshoring jobs without knowing what he was signing because he was so busy with the Olympics.

Or we can simply accept that he did know what was happening and didn't care or pay enough attention to it to care.

Either way, it doesn't change the underlying claim. Bain Capital, while under Mitt Romney's leadership, closed plants and sent jobs to Mexico, China, India and elsewhere. Whether or not Romney was active or passive is irrelevant -- his name was on the door.

Consider their argument in the context of a sitting United States President. Are we supposed to believe Mitt Romney would not be responsible for some official government act because he was paying attention to some other government thing and so the failure of that government thing that affected real people was simply not his fault because the other government thing succeeded?

We all know the answer to that. Think of it in terms of Dubya's Katrina response. Sure, it wasn't his administration's fault that New Orleans drowned without any assistance from the administration because it was really Brownie at the helm, and he did a heckuva job, right?

Jackson walks through this entire kerfuffle with the mind of a Talmudic scholar less concerned with practical reality than a theoretical and legalistic interpretation with the sole aim of rehabilitating Romney and giving him some talking points to rebut Obama.

The real scandal here isn't what Romney did or didn't do at Bain or how the Obama campaign framed that in ads. The real scandal is that the Romney campaign shopped around and finally was able to co-opt someone at factcheck.org into spinning it his way, proving what we should already know: Facts don't matter. They certainly ought to, but they don't.

But hey, Romney gets some lukewarm talking points out of it, even if he did have to squeeze the facts until they screamed. Good luck trying to sell that to actual workers who suffered the actual impact of the Bain Capital Profit Model.

[crossposted to odd time signatures]

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