Fox News and The Daily Caller are promoting the baseless charge that the Obama administration illegally ended a pension plan for workers at Delphi, an auto parts maker, because the workers weren't union members.
The Daily Caller alleges that emails it has obtained show that the Obama Treasury Department was the "driving force" behind the decision to end the Delphi pension plan, instead of the independent federal agency that insures pensions, called the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC). And Fox News has made the same charge. But the emails show nothing of the sort.
The email exchanges come from PBGC employees in 2009, when the government-led rescue of the auto industry was being carried out.
In reality, the emails are so far removed from their context that it's impossible to draw definitive conclusions about them, but the Daily Caller does its best to fill in the blanks by doctoring quotes and ignoring inconvenient information.
Only one of the 16 emails comes from a Treasury Department employee, and it doesn't show pressure to terminate the Delphi pension. In fact, unions aren't mentioned at all in the emails.
Fox has devoted several segments to hyping the cooked-up story. For instance, today, Fox's Lauren Simonetti appeared on Fox & Friends First and claimed that "all along, Treasury and White House officials have claimed that the pension decisions were made by the independent Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. Key officials even testified to that under oath. The emails recently obtained by The Daily Caller show that's not the case."
Previously, the Daily Caller reporter who wrote the story, Matthew Boyle, appeared on the August 7 edition of America Live to claim the emails "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt" that the "Obama administration political officials were the ones who ultimately made the decision, coercing the PBGC officials into terminating the pensions of these non-union workers."
Boyle's article makes much of the fact that one of the emails says PBGC personnel were "disinvited" to a meeting by the Treasury Department:
One email dated Thursday, April 2, 2009 shows PBGC staffer Joseph House discussing a meeting he and his colleagues were anticipating with the entire auto bailout team the following day.
House emailed PBGC colleagues Karen Morris and Michael Rae that during the Friday morning meeting, the "agenda is everything -- lead off with Chrysler, then we'll get into GM/Delphi."
Morris had written earlier that day that the PBGC team would "probably get invited to the Monday meeting at tomorrow's meeting," and that the Monday meeting would involve "talks" on the GM and Delphi portions of the bailout plan. Those strategies, she wrote, including "pension issues," would be "kicking off" that Monday.
But after the Friday meeting, House emailed PBGC staffers Karen Morris and John Menke. "We've been disinvited," he wrote. "It's for the best."
"Who uninvited us?" Morris replied.
"Treasury," House responded.
Boyle then writes this probably broke the law, because PBGC was excluded from "the meeting during which the discussions began."
But the emails don't provide enough evidence to reach that conclusion. The exchange between the PBGC employees simply doesn't establish whether Delphi's pensions were still on the agenda at the meeting in question.
Indeed, the subject line of the email from House reads "NO DELPHI MTG Monday":
Boyle goes on to claim that the sole email exchange involving a Treasury employee -- an official named Matthew Feldman -- "run[s] counter to the PBGC's mandate of independence." But Boyle doctors the text of one of the emails to alter its meaning. Boyle writes:
House wrote to Feldman on Thursday, April 16, 2009, that he wanted a "very brief follow-up" discussion to "ensure that we're acting responsibly/protective" as they moved toward terminating the pensions of non-union Delphi workers.
In fact, House did not request a follow-up with Feldman to "ensure that we're acting responsibly/protective." House requested the follow-up in one sentence, and then in the next, told Feldman that PBGC is "acting responsibly/protective" by "initiat[ing] our internal process here":
The response from Feldman was, "Understood. You should do what you need to."
Boyle's sinister interpretation of that passage only works if the email is spliced and removed from the larger context of PBGC's internal processes of communicating with designated representatives at other agencies working on the auto rescue.
Boyle also misrepresents who might deliver a "rubber stamp" to an agreement toward the end of the process:
In another series of emails between PBGC's John Menke and Karen Morris, Feldman -- an Obama administration official -- emerges as the facilitator of the Delphi pension termination. Menke wrote of the need to obtain a "rubber stamp" from Treasury Department officials before the cutoff was finalized, and from others who were supposed to be excluded from the decision-making process. [emphasis added]
Boyle later quotes the part of the email that debunks his own description. In fact, Menke wrote that GM might "rubber stamp" the proposal -- not Treasury officials:
"Terry [Deneen], Joe [House] and Greenhill seem inclined to tell Feldman that this does it for us," Menke wrote. "Terry is taking it up to Board reps meeting this afternoon and expecting to get a head nod, which he will then have Greenhill convey to Treasury."
"Feldman will then take it to GM and get their approval, which will either be a rubber stamp or one last chance to nick us on the deal," Menke added. [emphasis added]
These emails simply do not show what the Daily Caller and Fox claim they do.