A muddy Bloomberg story sets up Romney’s Jeep attack

The wire's poorly worded story is misread

Mitt Romney’s gotten in hot water with the nation’s burgeoning horde of fact checkers by asserting that Jeep “is thinking of moving all production to China.”

That’s clearly false. Chrysler is considering adding Jeep production over there, not closing up shop here and outsourcing everything to China.

But Romney preceded his claim by saying he’d “seen a story” that told him this. It turns out that story was an easy-to-misread piece by Bloomberg News.

It’s a good example of how subpar writing and editing—a longstanding problem with Bloomberg—can mislead readers.

We’re thrown off immediately in the lede:

Fiat SpA, majority owner of Chrysler Group LLC, plans to return Jeep output to China and may eventually make all of its models in that country, according to the head of both automakers’ operations in the region.

Most readers would read this as reporting that Jeep is moving all production to China, rather than adding production there to serve the China market.

We’re not told otherwise by Bloomberg until the second sentence of the fifth paragraph, and even that is worded poorly (emphasis mine):

Chrysler currently builds all Jeep SUV models at plants in Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.

Ledes are critical in any news story, obviously. They tell readers what the news is, are the most likely part to be read (besides the headline), and they frame how the rest of the piece is viewed. But they’re extra important for a wire service like Bloomberg whose copy is picked up by harried editors across the world and stuffed into newsholes that typically don’t allow for the full text to run.

Bloomberg’s story was picked up by at least fourteen news outlets, according to Factiva. Just one of them included the critical caveat line that “Manley referred to adding Jeep production sites rather than shifting output from North America to China.”

If Bloomberg set this one up, the Washington Examiner helped it take off, and Paul Bedard’s misreading of the Bloomberg story stands uncorrected and unclarified.

Basically, anybody in half a rush could be excused for misreading Bloomberg’s story. But the Examiner has no excuse for not updating its miss.

As far as the Romney campaign, its subsequent TV ad drops the “all production” bit but has come in for criticism, in part, for saying that Chrysler’s Italian owners “are going to build Jeeps in China.” But that happens to be true, even if it was happening before 2009 under its German and private-equity ownership. Cars made overseas by an American company (even one with Italian owners) are cars that won’t be made in the U.S., and it’s fair to say those jobs are outsourced.

On the other hand, it’s high hypocrisy for Romney the free-trader private-equity guy to attack anyone for outsourcing production, much less for a bankruptcy plan that actually worked. He was hardly opposed to outsourcing while at Bain Capital, and his bankruptcy plan had little chance of success because it relied on markets, which weren’t working at the time.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,