Chicago Tribune columnist fueled right-wing bloggers on false accusation against Obama

››› ››› BRIAN LEVY

Columnist Jim Mateja wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "has more homework to do" and "should [hire] a fact-checker" because Obama stated that "Japanese cars [are] now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon." In fact, a report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change stated that the 2002 average fleet fuel economy value in Japan was 46.3 miles per gallon.

In his May 10 Chicago Tribune column, Jim Mateja wrote that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "has more homework to do" and "should [hire] a fact-checker" because Obama stated that "Japanese cars [are] now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon." Mateja asserted that Japan does not "mandate fuel-economy standards" and quoted a Toyota representative in the United States saying, "No carmaker gets 45 m.p.g." However, as Hotline associate editor Marc Ambinder wrote in a May 11 weblog post, "Obama was right." Ambinder cited the Pew Center on Global Climate Change's December 2004 "Comparison of Passenger Vehicle Fuel Economy and GHG Emission Standards Around the World," which stated that "[t]he European Union (EU) and Japan have the most stringent standards" on fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. The report also stated that, according to the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers Association, the 2002 average fleet fuel economy value in Japan was 46.3 miles per gallon. More recently, on March 21, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) asked former Vice President Al Gore at a House hearing if he supported an "increase [in fuel-economy standards] like they have in Japan, that's over 45 miles per gallon?" Mateja's falsehood about Obama's claim was picked up, uncorrected, in the conservative blogosphere:

  • In a May 10 blog post, National Review Online contributor Jim Geraghty wrote that Obama "Botched the Facts" and that the column was a "good catch."
  • In a May 10 post, Power Line blogger Paul Mirengoff uncritically wrote that "Jim Geraghty reports that Obama botched his facts." Fellow Power Line blogger John Hinderaker added that "Obama is showing a disconcerting tendency to make things up, as well as a lack of common sense" because "it should be obvious that no company's entire fleet of automobiles -- let alone a country's -- averages 45 mpg."
  • In a May 11 post, Jim Addison of Wizbang Politics uncritically cited Mirengoff's post, writing that Obama "misstated fuel economy statistics, according to Paul Mirengoff of Power Line." Addison added that "Obama's youth and inexperience is [sic] beginning to show."
  • A May 11 post on Human Events Online's Rightometer blog linked to the Tribune column under the headline "Obama Must be Tired Again." The post also quoted "The Whistler" of the blog Say Anything, who wrote in a May 11 post about the Tribune column that Obama is "a fool" who is "willing to make up anything he has to" and suggested that Obama has no "grip on reality."
  • In a May 11 post, NewsBusters executive editor Matthew Sheffield, citing Mirengoff and Mateja's column, said that Obama made an "unforced error" and a "significant mistake," adding: "By the standard the liberal press set for President Bush on Iraq WMD, Barack Obama is a 'liar' then."

In a May 10 blog post, Politico senior political writer Ben Smith linked to the Tribune column saying that it "hit[] [Obama] on an emissions error" but at an unspecified time added an update saying "[t]he error appears to be the Trib's, not Obama's." Similarly, as Ambinder's May 11 blog post noted, the Hotline's blog uncritically linked to the Tribune column on May 10, saying, "Toyota fact checks Barack Obama on emissions."

From Obama's May 7 speech:

For years, while foreign competitors were investing in more fuel-efficient technology for their vehicles, American automakers were spending their time investing in bigger, faster cars. And whenever an attempt was made to raise our fuel efficiency standards, the auto companies would lobby furiously against it, spending millions to prevent the very reform that could've saved their industry. Even as they've shed thousands of jobs and billions in profits over the last few years, they've continued to reward failure with lucrative bonuses for CEOs.

The consequences of these choices are now clear. While our fuel standards haven't moved from 27.5 miles per gallon in two decades, both China and Japan have surpassed us, with Japanese cars now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon. And as the global demand for fuel-efficient and hybrid cars have skyrocketed, it's foreign competitors who are filling the orders. Just the other week, we learned that for the first time since 1931, Toyota has surpassed General Motors as the world's best-selling automaker.

From Mateja's May 10 Chicago Tribune column:

Obama this week flew to Detroit to deliver his message that the U.S. auto industry is the villain for "investing in bigger and faster cars while foreign competitors invested in more fuel-efficient technology."

The domestics certainly haven't flooded showrooms with gas/electric hybrids like the Japanese. But in fairness, the newest Japanese assembly plant in the U.S. produces 14-m.p.g. Toyota Tundra pickups, not Prius hybrids rated at 60 m.p.g.

"While our fuel standards haven't moved from 27.5 miles per gallon in two decades, both China and Japan have surpassed us, with Japanese cars now getting an average of 45 miles to the gallon," Obama said.

"I'm not sure where he got that figure," Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said. "No carmaker gets 45 m.p.g. Ours is closer to 30 m.p.g."

If elected president, perhaps Obama's first appointment should be a fact-checker.

Not just for number crunching but also because neither China nor Japan mandate fuel-economy standards. And the 27.5 m.p.g. standard was set by the government, not the automakers.

Obama did offer Detroit an olive branch, a choice of federal dollars to pay for up to $7 billion of the domestics' annual health-care costs for retirees through 2017 or $3 billion through 2017 to help retool plants to build more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Posted In
Environment & Science
Network/Outlet
Chicago Tribune
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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