Let Detroit do what?

New interest in an old Op-Ed

What is the most viewed story on The New York Times website right now?

It’s an Op-Ed piece from nearly four years ago, November 18 2008. The author is one Mitt Romney, who may regret the headline: Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.

The reason, of course, is that the piece came up in Monday night’s debate, followed by a long debate over What Mitt Meant.

Romney argued that he had written that the auto companies:

…can get government help and government guarantees, but they need to go through bankruptcy to get rid of excess cost and the debt burden that they’d — they’d built up.

This was followed by a lot of crosstalk and cross talk:

OBAMA: Governor Romney, that’s not what you said…


OBAMA: Governor Romney, you did not…

ROMNEY: You can take a look at the op-ed…


OBAMA: You did not say that you would provide government help.

ROMNEY: I said that we would provide guarantees, and — and that was what was able to allow these companies to go through bankruptcy, to come out of bankruptcy. Under no circumstances would I do anything other than to help this industry get on its feet. And the idea that has been suggested that I would liquidate the industry, of course not. Of course not.


OBAMA: Let’s check the record.


ROMNEY: That’s the height of silliness…


OBAMA: Let — let — let’s…


ROMNEY: I have never said I would liquidate…


OBAM: …at the record.


ROMNEY: …I would liquidate the industry.


OBAMA: Governor, the people in Detroit don’t forget.

A lot of fact-checkers have weighed in on what Romney actually wrote and on whether his idea of private but government-backed financing for Detroit (as opposed to Obama’s government loans) was possible when Detroit was sinking and finance was frozen, and they tend to agree with Obama on this one.

On the narrow question of whether Romney recommended any government help, FactCheck.org recognizes that he did:

In fact, Romney called for a “managed bankruptcy” that would include federal “guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing,” which qualifies as indirect government assistance by any definition. What Romney opposed was the direct federal aid Obama implemented.

Clearly, Romney wrote this:

But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost.

And anyway, readers are checking the piece out for themselves.

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Mike Hoyt was CJR's executive editor from 2001 to 2013, teaches at Columbia's Journalism School and is the editor of The Big Roundtable, a startup that is a home for narrative writing. Tags: , , ,