Political agenda trumps Volt facts on "fair and balanced" channel

Political liberals have long hated General Motors, partly because long-ago GM leaders did bad things and built bad products, but mostly because it was really big, successful and profitable. And most probably still do. Never mind that it's now a very different company run by very different people with very different – including very "green" – priorities.

But in the last couple years it's become fashionable for conservatives to hate GM as well because "Obama bailed it out." And to deride and despise GM's Chevrolet Volt extended-range EV because they think Obama forced GM to build it. Never mind that his predecessor began the auto bail-out as the U.S. housing and financial markets collapsed in late 2008, bringing the country's economy crashing down around them. And that the Volt's development began nearly two years before the 2008 election and continued full-steam through GM's 2009 bankruptcy and recovery. Obama and his minions had absolutely nothing to do with it.

We can argue all day about how and why the U.S. auto industry was saved. Private investors – including mutual and retirement funds – were stiffed, the UAW was strengthened and gained partial ownership, Chrysler was handed to Italian automaker Fiat, and an auto-industry-ignorant presidential task force compelled GM to drop four U.S. brands and both GM and Chrysler to put thousands of their dealers out of business for no good reason. Much of that was bad, but it's undeniable that both are coming back strong with their best-ever products.

It's foolish to contend that the U.S. auto industry did not need to be saved. Center for Automotive Research (CAR) studies have long shown that as many as 10 other jobs – at suppliers, dealers and small businesses surrounding and supporting auto industry facilities nationwide – depend on each automaker job. That means that if hundreds of thousand of auto jobs had been lost, millions of Americans would have found themselves out of work as a result.

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Those who argue that foreign-owned "transplant" assembly plants are as good for the country (and as "American") as a home-owned industry are badly misguided. Assembly cost is roughly five percent of a vehicle's total value, transplant profits go overseas, and the majority of their good jobs are in their home countries. Would we really want to be like England and Canada, whose (mostly factory) auto jobs are controlled from other countries?

And those who insist that GM and Chrysler could have survived equally well through non-government "managed" bankruptcies forget that zero private capital was available for business loans or bankruptcies in late 2008. Federal (taxpayer) support was the absolute last resort. And the reason that Ford had sufficient funds to weather the crisis was that it had run out of money two years earlier, when it still could (and did) mortgage itself for working capital.

After all, if GM succeeds (as it is), and if the Volt succeeds (as it probably will), that's good for Obama and bad for Republicans.

So, because "Obama bailed out GM," says he likes the Volt and has squandered billions of taxpayer dollars on a host of "green" businesses, most of which are now financially troubled or already out of business (see Solyndra), conservatives – led by Fox News and conservative radio and print pundits – believe that it's politically necessary to trash and destroy the Volt. After all, if GM succeeds (as it is), and if the Volt succeeds (as it probably will), that's good for Obama and bad for Republicans who desperately want to defeat him.

It began with totally ignorant reporting about the car itself ("It goes only 40 miles, while the less-expensive Nissan Leaf goes 100 miles" – as if the range-extending engine wasn't there), continued through gleeful reports of weak early sales ("Nobody wants one") with no mention of its slow initial build and roll-out, and peaked with egregiously inaccurate reports of Volt "fires." Has Fox ever brought on a knowledgeable expert to explain, refute falsehoods and provide facts and counterpoints, as it typically does with other issues? Not to my knowledge.

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How many Volt fires have occurred? Exactly one. An NHTSA crash-test car caught fire three weeks after a severe side impact test that punctured its battery coolant case, allowing the coolant to eventually leak out, and the car was left outside with its battery fully charged. Both NHTSA and GM duplicated the test (side-impacted two more Volts) to see whether they would catch fire, and neither did. Then two battery packs (outside of cars) were punctured, drained and left fully charged. One did eventually burn, and the other smoked, after several days. But no fires or smoke have occurred in customer usage, and GM has further fortified the battery cases and installed coolant level sensors in all Volts to ensure that they won't.

An unprecedented 97 percent of Volt owners said they were "completely" or "very" satisfied, and the other three percent were merely "satisfied."

Meanwhile, the Volt earned no fewer than six major 2011 "Car of the Year" awards, plus (in European Opel Ampera guise) 2012 European Car of the Year, the first American car ever to take that prize. Do the Volt's 12,000-plus owners (so far) like them? GM customer surveys have returned results better that any other GM car ever. An unprecedented 97 percent of Volt owners said they were "completely" or "very" satisfied, and the other three percent were merely "satisfied." And they reported driving more than 1,000 miles (about 30 days), on average, before refilling their gas tanks, and that two-thirds of those miles were on electric "grid" power.

chevy voltswagenBut that didn't stop Fox commentator Bill "No Spin" O'Reilly – who touts himself as the epitome of "fair and balanced" (and at times tries too hard to prove it) – from conducting an incredibly dishonest Volt trash-fest with Fox Business News (and former CNN) anchor Lou Dobbs a few weeks ago. They misreported the Volt as having been subsidized by taxpayer dollars (not true), then stated that it "doesn't go fast or far on electricity," that it "catches fire" (they repeated that twice, and laughed about it) and that it "has been "plagued with problems."

"The whole thing is a boondoggle," O'Reilly concluded, "an unmitigated disaster," and "another global warming environmental play that doesn't work."

Never mind that none of that is remotely close to being true. In fact, this revolutionary, game-changing, fine-driving, extended-range, electrically-driven car, which can travel 25-40 miles fuel-free after charging, then as far as you want it to as a small, fuel efficient engine generates electricity to keep it going, has been remarkably problem-free so far. It is expensive at $40K-plus, but it can be leased for a very reasonable $349 per month. And it sold a record 2,289 units (vs. 579 Nissan Leafs) in March despite that dishonestly overblown fire scare and despite being unfairly trashed almost daily by Fox News and conservative commentators.

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Fox News is as polarizing as it is successful. Since its 1996 creation, it has become the dominant cable news outlet, its audience dwarfing those of CNN and all other competitors. Those competitors (and other "mainstream" outlets) hate it because it has broken their long-lived, liberal-leaning monopoly on thought and regularly kills them in ratings. Democrat operatives and politicians hate it because, unlike the others, it is unafraid to take them on and fairly air conservative ideas and policies. Closed-minded liberals hate it because they don't want to hear the other sides of issues, and don't want others to hear them. But conservatives and centrists love it because it does fairly air both sides and is the only major news outlet that does not relentlessly paint conservative people, politics and positions as dumb, evil, or both.

But if Fox News continues to lie, spin, distort and misreport everything it can about the Volt trying to damage its reputation and sales, with never a correction or apology, why should viewers believe it about anything else?

The fact is that huge numbers of Americans watch Fox News because they no longer trust any other cable or network news outlet to provide the truth on both sides of most issues. Their news reporting (as opposed to opinion commentary) normally seems fair and balanced, as advertised, and they typically provide articulate liberal/Democrat representatives to counter right-leaning opinion. And they did bring in a Texas businessman advocate very early one Monday morning to tout the Volt's wonderfulness, and the Fox anchor (stunningly) agreed.

But if Fox News continues to lie, spin, distort and misreport everything it can about the Volt trying to damage its reputation and sales, with never a correction or apology, why should viewers believe it about anything else? I'm knowledgeable enough on Volt, GM and the U.S. auto industry to recognize immediately when they are demonstrating their near-total ignorance of, and prejudice against, all three. But how can I tell when I'm being lied to on other subjects about which I'm not so knowledgeable? Don't their leaders see that they are seriously risking their hard-earned credibility and reputation by carrying out this agenda-driven Volt vendetta?

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