It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeeps parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.
And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.
People often say that politicians dont pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.
PolitiFact has selected Romneys claim that Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 Lie of the Year.
It is the fourth year PolitiFact has looked back over a years worth of political mendacity and selected the most significant falsehood. Last year, it was the claim that Republicans voted to end Medicare. In 2010, it was the claim that the federal health care law was a government takeover of health care. In 2009, it was the claim that the same health law included "death panels."
This marks the first year that the Lie of the Year is not about health care a reflection of the importance of the economy in the 2012 election.
Its not that President Obama and his campaign team were above falsehoods, either. Their TV ads distorted Romneys positions on abortion and immigration to make them seem more extreme than they actually were. A pro-Obama super PAC even created an ad suggesting Romney was responsible for a womans death when her husband lost his job at a Bain-controlled company.
But the Jeep ad was brazenly false.
It started as a line in a speech about where an American brand of car would be made. It blew up into a lie heard by voters well beyond Ohio.
A campaign rally in Defiance
Like many political distortions, Romneys claim contained a grain of truth.
Chrysler was one of the companies that received billions in loans from the federal government. The government ended up forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy in 2009 when its debtholders couldnt reach an agreement. Since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the Italian car company Fiat has held a controlling interest.
By 2012, Chrysler and other automakers were doing much better a fact that confounded Romney. In Ohio, a major expansion of its Toledo plant was in the works for the Jeep Liberty. In Detroit, the company was hiring workers to build the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
But Chrysler was thinking of reviving the Jeep brand in key foreign markets, and like other American automakers, Chrysler preferred to build cars in the countries where it intended to sell them a common strategy to reduce tariffs and transport costs.
Bloomberg reported on Oct. 22 that the company was planning to restart production of Jeeps in China. The entirety of the Bloomberg report made it clear that Chrysler was considering expansion in China, not shuttering American production.
But one conservative news outlet seized on the reports opening lines. The Washington Examiners Paul Bedard blogged on Oct. 25 about the Bloomberg story and incorrectly wrote that Jeep was "considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China," a move that would "crash the economy in towns like Toledo, Ohio ." The conservative Drudge Report then linked to Bedards post under the headline, "Jeep eyes shifting production to China."