Another Small Business Speaker Undermines Fox's “Built It” Narrative

Another small business owner featured at the Republican National Convention undercuts the Fox-fueled “We Built It” narrative surrounding the event.

Steven Cohen, president of Ohio-based manufacturing company Screen Machine Industries, is scheduled to speak tonight at the convention. According to a press release from his company announcing the speaking appearance, Cohen will speak on “political issues important to manufacturing.” Much like Sher Valenzuela, the Delaware small business owner that was featured on “We Built It” day at the convention, Cohen's business has also received help from the government.

Screen Machine has received more than $2 million in government contracts, including nearly $220,000 in stimulus funds, and claims a “long and proud history of supplying heavy-duty American Made equipment to government agencies and the US Military.”

The “We Built It” narrative, which was the featured theme of the convention yesterday and has become a focal point of the campaign, is premised on Fox News' deliberate distortion of comments President Obama made at a campaign speech in Virginia last month. During that appearance, Obama pointed out that business owners find success not only through their own entrepreneurship, but also the help of public infrastructure and “this unbelievable American system.” In the month since, Fox News -- in unison with deceptive ads from the Romney campaign and anti-Obama super PACs -- has focused on a brief snippet of Obama's speech to claim the president was denigrating small business owners.

The Fox-fueled narrative surrounding Obama's remarks about small business owners has been undermined by fact-checkers, public funding for the convention, and the presence of speakers like Valenzuela at the event. “In short, the Republicans are inadvertently underscoring the point that President Obama was expressing in his 'you didn't build that' comment in July," explained the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof.

Steven Cohen further underscores Obama's point.

The Associated Press reported last September on how Republican presidential candidates were “bashing President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plans as a colossal waste of taxpayer money,” but doing so during appearances at “businesses that benefited from the president's landmark stimulus package.” One such business was Cohen's Screen Machine Industries, where Romney campaigned last year.

According to the AP, Screen Machine was the recipient of nearly $220,000 in stimulus contracts. Cohen was asked about the apparent contradiction and explained that due to the wide scope of the stimulus it would be difficult for a presidential candidate “to go to any manufacturer and find someone who was not directly, or indirectly, affected somehow”:

“There was a tremendous amount of money that went to all sectors. It would be very hard for a Mitt Romney, or a presidential candidate from any party, to go to any manufacturer and find someone who was not directly, or indirectly, affected somehow,” said Steven Cohen, president of Ohio-based Screen Machine Industries, which hosted a Romney event in July and received stimulus contracts worth nearly $220,000.

“I think it would be irresponsible for an American manufacturer not to go after their fair share,” Cohen told The Associated Press this week. “The question is whether it was a wise investment. That's for someone else to answer.”

The stimulus funds are only a portion of more than $2 million in federal contracts won by the company from agencies including the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Veterans Affairs. As recently as last week, the company sold $11,500 of equipment to the Department of Justice.

Other aid Screen Machine received from federal, state, and local agencies includes:

  • In 2004, Licking County, Ohio was awarded a $160,000 grant “through the Ohio Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Economic Development Program, which is administered by the Ohio Department of Development,” which was used to install waterlines “to help the Screen Machine... expand operations.”  
  • According to a Screen Machine press release, the company was given an “Export Achievement Certificate” by the U.S Commerce Department in 2006, an award that “recognizes U.S. companies that have benefited from export services of the Department's U.S. Commercial Service to make their first export sale or expand into new foreign markets. ”
  • On their website, Screen Machine details how they were able to ship equipment to Afghanistan in 2010 for use at military installations, and touts the company's “long and proud history of supplying heavy-duty American Made equipment to government agencies and the US Military.”

None of this diminishes the success of Cohen's business, which was founded by his father more than 40 years ago. But no matter how much Fox and the GOP distort Obama's comments, both small business owners the RNC is featuring in primetime this week affirm Obama's underlying point -- that businesses succeed with the help of the “American system.”