Chrysler: Lies and Plant Closings

Gee, kinda chilly in NE Ohio in the early am for my running tour of the neighborhood. And I’m grouchy. I’ve been trying to run in a way that takes the stress off my foot (inflamed nerve) and now my hip flexor is either inflamed or in a knot, or both. Oh, mama. And I was thinking about an item I posted last week before heading to D.C. — about how Chrysler officials and members of the Obama administration lied about the closing of the Chrysler plant at Twinsburg.

That story interests me on many levels. One, we’re witnessing the implosion of middle class manufacturing jobs in Ohio — and the inevitable consequences this will have for workers, families, education and the state economy for years.

Second, in the aftermath of George W., the debacle on Wall Street and with the promise of the new administration to be open and transparent you would think we would have learned some lessons about the importance of telling the truth and what this means in terms of trust and credibility.

And third, it’s surprising to me how accepting we have become of plant closings, massive job losses — and the lack of honesty on the part of corporate and government officials. The Chrysler announcement was greeted with a resounding, ho-hum. Too bad.

So I was encouraged when I returned on Sunday to see that The Plain Dealer had decided to entry the fray. The paper took the administration and company officials to task in an editorial (Deceived by Chrysler and the Obama administration) and in a comprehensive story by Stephen Koff (Chrysler and Obama administration take the truth about plant closings for a spin). I encourage you to read both. They are examples of the kind of journalism that we are going to miss when that industry goes belly up.

Here’s from Koff’s story:

Congress members say they were blind-sided by the news the next day, May 1, that Chrysler in fact intended to permanently shutter five plants: one each in Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri, and two in Michigan.

The news was embarrassing as well as shocking, since many members, like LaTourette, had issued statements applauding, for instance, the report that no jobs would be cut at the 1,250-worker Twinsburg Stamping Plant. Candice Miller, a Republican congresswoman representing Sterling Heights, Mich., home of a 1,400-worker Chrysler plant, even went on the House floor soon after Obama’s announcement, saying it meant, “most importantly, no plant closures or new job losses.”

Wrong. Sterling Heights, like Twinsburg, would be sucker-punched the next day with news of a plant closing.

Were Congress members duped? If so, by whom and why?

The short answers appear to be yes, by both Chrysler and the White House. Chrysler’s top lobbyist, John Bozzella, has since apologized to LaTourette, as a company spokesman confirmed.

What’s more difficult to assess is why — other than the likelihood that the White House and Chrysler both wanted to announce the bankruptcy without an immediate onslaught of squawking from mayors, governors and members of Congress representing Twinsburg; Sterling Heights; Detroit; Kenosha, Wisc.; and Fenton, Mo.

The White House and Chrysler won major headlines across the country with first-day stories of saved jobs. With the exception of the Detroit Free Press, which had the plant closings in its Friday, May 1, editions, most media were unable to review the entire U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing until time for their Saturday editions, one of the worst days of the week for readership.

The bad news was largely limited to press outlets in cities where plants would close.

If it was, in fact, a media strategy, it worked. Despite complaints from a couple of congressmen — notably, LaTourette and Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan — the fact that congressmen believe the White House misled them has gained almost no traction in the press.

Then again, it has barely resonated among many rust-belt Democrats, despite their being just as surprised as LaTourette and Ryan. Theirs is a partisan silence, with their opinions known only because this reporter asked.

Would Democrats have been so quiet if President George W. Bush’s administration had announced that no plants would close, only to be boldly contradicted within 24 hours?

Oh, boy. Let’s see. Congress members duped. Well, yeah.

Successful media strategy. Initially, sure. In the long run, no.

Barely resonated among rust-belt Democrats. True — and too bad. But it reflects just how impotent Ohio’s congressional delegation is these days.

Would George W. have gotten away with this. Nope.

OK. OK. Told you I was grouchy. But the point is this: We are never going to regain trust in this nation as long as corporate executives and government officials refuse to tell the truth. What’s so hard about that?

Maybe Dennis Kucinich will find out. He’s jumping into this mess now — and I’ll bet he gets some answers. Say what you want about the Cleveland congressman, but he’s a bulldog when it comes to protecting constituents and at least asking some hard questions.

It’s not going to change the outcome for Chrysler workers and their families in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere. But maybe with some pitchfork prodding it will turn into a lesson learned for government officials who need voters and the public to trust them on a whole host of issues ranging from the economy to health-care reform.

Stay tuned.

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2 responses to “Chrysler: Lies and Plant Closings

  1. burghthoughts

    Closing 4000 Dealers, cutting the Advertising Budget 50%. Lets see, making the brands invisable and harder to find. What a great Business plan!!! I can’t wait for Government Health Care!!!!!!!! (Sorry-Its Friday)

  2. Yeah, this will be interesting. A handful of plants. Limited number of dealers. May end up being a problem in terms of running an actual business. Called my Chrysler dealer this morning. No answer initially. Yikes.

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