By on August 16, 2009

I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch, of Chrysler Group LLC, found my article on Chrysler archives interesting. It’s always nice to be read. And I’m sure Rosenbusch agreed with the article when I said “America’s automakers have gone to great lengths and expense to preserve and protect the historical documents which chronicle and define their existence.” I’m also reasonably sure that Mr. Rosenbusch doesn’t dispute the fact of the closing of Chrysler’s engineering library. “One of a series of necessary steps to cut costs,” as he puts it. And I’m glad Mr. Rosenbusch saved all of the important documents resulting from that change of fortune. But I stand by my report that people on site experienced a sudden and chaotic end to a resource someone thought was valuable enough to create and fund. That Chrysler has tuned its back on its history.

By his own admission, the remaining documents were “sent to storage”—hardly an easily accessible location for historians. It should also be noted that Chrysler is in the process of, or may have completed, the divesture of the great Walter P. Chrysler museum. While the museum may survive as its own 501(c)(3) corporation, that’s not a certainty.

To protect my sources for the Chrysler archive story, I don’t want to explore the corporate intrigue that lead to my report. However, I’ll say this: it is entirely true that the person who created the archive and laid the foundation for the above-mentioned Walter P. Chrysler museum was forced out of Chrysler by its new owners.

I am sure Mr. Rosenbusch’s bosses in New Chrysler’s Public Relations department are supportive of his current efforts, in as much as they present a positive public face for the company. But I’m equally sure that when it comes to major policy issues, the PR department doesn’t make the big decisions.

In any case, exploring the current status of archives was not the main focus of the article. My focus is on its future. When you think about the future of the Chrysler Group, and the archives, anyone concerned with the protection of source material must consider these three questions:

1. Who owns Chrysler? The UAW is a majority owner, with the governments of the USA and Canada owning significant parts. Do you really think the UAW, or the U.S. government, care about archives? The UAW cares, as they should, about the interests of their members. In a crunch, will the UAW make the choice to fund history over health care and pensions?

2. Who calls the shots when it comes to major strategic decisions at the Chrysler Group? The Golden Rule applies here: the man with the gold rules. The U.S. government put up almost all the money to keep Chrysler in business. It is headed by a president whose grasp of industrial history led him to claim, “we (Americans) invented the automobile.” I am sure that an equally deep appreciation of industrial history resonates through the rest of the federal bureaucracy.

Paraphrasing Conan Doyle, what of the dog that didn’t bark? A good part of the original article expresses an even greater concern with the future of the historical materials of General Motors. To my knowledge, not a single GM official has responded to my worries. GM isn’t even sure of what they have, much less where it is and how to preserve it. All we know for sure is that GM felt free to sell off a great number of the cars in their collection, with no public explanation of why and how the vehicles are redundant to the collection.

No one can predict the future. That’s why those charged with the responsibility of maintaining our industrial heritage owe it to future generations to make sure that their archives are preserved against the vicissitudes of corporate fortune. Following Ford’s example, transferring the majority of the archives to a permanent organization, is the only responsible course or both Chrysler and GM. There are a number of organizations ready and able to preserve the archives.

All it takes, at this point, is sufficient motivation and a little funding. Since we the taxpayers supposedly call the shots at Chrysler and General Motors, I still maintain that it’s important to let our elected officials know that our heritage is an important issue that has not, as yet, been properly addressed.

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27 Comments on “Bob Elton Responds to Allegations That TTAC’s Article on ChryCo’s Archives Was Crap...”


  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    Mr. Elton-

    Good of you to respond.

    I’m disappointed by your “meta” argument here, backing off from specific assertions and saying that the future of the archives is questionable.

    Perhaps that’s true, but it’s no longer the point.

    Brandt Rosenbusch raised specific claims about your original article, and they weren’t addressed here. Specifically:
    –Elimination (or apparently, not) of the archivist position.

    –The nature of the materials that some employees were able to take home, which Rosenbusch described as trade journals and duplicate documents.

    –Confirmed visits and support from Fiat execs.

    Your argument as written above seems fine. But it’s not the issue. The issue is Rosenbusch alleged specific inaccuracies and you didn’t respond to them in this piece.

  • avatar
    Boff

    The original headline could have been more circumspect. After reading the headline, most readers would be inclined to believe that, indeed, Chrysler had destroyed its archives in their entirety, no matter what the article in fact said.

    Editors often hang headlines on articles that are not supported by the substance of the piece, much to the chagrin of the writer. What is TTAC’s policy in this regard?

  • avatar
    holydonut

    This pissing match somehow ties semantic definitions with an abstract notion of heritage and history. I don’t know what there is to accomplish with these discussions since they blend two ideas that cannot work together.

    Elton’s original editorial made some claims that led readers to imagine certain things that Rosenbusch felt necessary to refute. Most importantly was the notion that Chrysler was discarding its old historical works to anyone holding a cardbox box. I don’t think anyone can declare unequivocally that the idea of “historical archives” was lost to interpretation, but it’s evident that some readers where imagining a complete erasure of history. Read the comments to Elton’s original editorial. People obviously believed the historical items were being systematically destroyed and scattered.

    So the person that is actually charged with preserving Chrysler’s history has to take some initiative. Yes, the engineering library was shuttered, but it’s obvious people fail to see a correlation between shuttering a library and Chrysler “decided history is bunk.” Just as how people would fail to correlate shuttering the executive dining room and Chrysler “decided lunch is bunk.” For shame, the tasty pile of Andes mints that used to be by the glass doors was left to be preyed by anyone who wanted to take a fist-full of mints.

    And now we’re immersed in some ideological dialogue about “future,” “Obama,” and “the UAW.” I don’t see how discussing these topics addresses the semantic understanding of the the phrases “destroyed its historical archives” and “offered to anyone who could carry them away.”

    I’d actually buy the argument that the archives could be difficult to access; except Rosenbusch gave us the contact information to access the data. If it turns out the CIMS address and phone number go to the landscaping crew, then
    please let us know.

    To Boff: TTAC’s MO apparently is that if there is a rampant rumor or speculative musing, then the author will add a “?” to the headline. I think you should take any article with a “?” in it as pure gossip. But make an exception for the occasional instances that a reader question is actually being asked in the title (some of the Piston Slap entries do this).

  • avatar
    Droid800

    So Elton’s response to Rosenbusch’s specific rebuttal of near every point of his article is full of vagueness and not a single provable refutation of anything Rosenbusch said.

    To be perfectly frank, Mr. Elton, I’d take Rosenbusch’s word against yours any day of the week, seeing as how he actually knows what he’s talking about.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    This discussion is odd to me. I thought Chrysler was supposed to be near bankruptcy; isn’t it natural for them to focus on things other than their archive?

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Piling on – Mr. Elton you have not addressed the specifics of Mr. Rosenbusch’s response.

    In addition, we get “analysis” such as this –

    … The U.S. government put up almost all the money to keep Chrysler in business. It is headed by a president whose grasp of industrial history led him to claim, “we (Americans) invented the automobile.” I am sure that an equally deep appreciation of industrial history resonates through the rest of the federal bureaucracy.

    I seriously doubt that FDR, JFK, LBJ, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, or Bush II, knew much about industrial history either. Yet, we know the federal govt. supports libraries and museums (Ever looked at the auto section of the Smithsonian?) which preserve industrial history.

    GIGO.

    The next time I see your byline, I’ll give the article a pass.

  • avatar
    Campisi

    Do you really think the UAW, or the U.S. government, care about archives?

    The National Archives seem pretty well taken care of.

  • avatar
    joe

    You wrote an article about the Chrysler archive. Chrysler’s chief archivist wrote back that your article was incorrect about several facts. Your response seems to be
    1. The facts don’t really matter in the ‘meta-narative’.
    2. The person who questioned you is a stooge for Chrysler’s PR department and we shouldn’t really listen to him.

    I don’t see any correction to the original article. can I assume this means TTAC is standing by it’s story?

  • avatar
    Detroit-X

    Based on what I’ve read so far, I too feel Mr. Rosenbusch, of Chrysler Group LLC, has the high road here.

    (And that’s after I made fun of them in the comments section of Rosenbusch’s reply. See everyone, TTAC readers can be fair and open-minded.)

  • avatar
    tigeraid

    Is it perhaps telling that none of us are surprised this isn’t a simple “sorry, we goofed?” This fiasco says a lot about the immediate, post-everything-and-sort-it-out-later mentality of Internet journalism.

  • avatar
    baldheadeddork

    It is normal journalism practice for the publisher or the editor in chief to investigate claims of incorrect reporting and make a report to the readers, either correcting the piece or standing by the story. This is the first time I’ve seen anything like this, and it is very disappointing.

    Since the writer of the piece isn’t coming clean on the accuracy of the original story, will the editors at TTAC? What are your standards for accuracy and accountability? Your readers deserve to know.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    1. Who owns Chrysler? The UAW is a majority owner, with the governments of the USA and Canada owning significant parts. Do you really think the UAW, or the U.S. government, care about archives? The UAW cares, as they should, about the interests of their members. In a crunch, will the UAW make the choice to fund history over health care and pensions?

    2. Who calls the shots when it comes to major strategic decisions at the Chrysler Group? The Golden Rule applies here: the man with the gold rules. The U.S. government put up almost all the money to keep Chrysler in business. It is headed by a president whose grasp of industrial history led him to claim, “we (Americans) invented the automobile.” I am sure that an equally deep appreciation of industrial history resonates through the rest of the federal bureaucracy.

    It sure sounds like you have an anti-UAW, anti-Obama axe to grind here, eh?

    What attempt was made to confirm the key factual elements of the original editorial with the responsible parties at Chrysler prior to publication?

  • avatar
    IOtheworldaliving

    I, too, am unsatisfied with the rebuttal, and will believe Mr. Rosenbusch until I see some contrary evidence.

    All Elton seems to have is a source who may have an axe to grind.

    The librarians were among my favorite GM employees when I was working there. They nothing but helpful in getting me access to the information I needed to do my job. We had an extensive on-line library as well as the brick-and-mortar one on the Warren campus.

    It’s too bad the CTC library is closed, but it appears that someone is making an effort to preserve the data and make it available. Fiatsler management may be making boneheaded decisions from time to time, but the archives management does not appear to be among them.

    I’d like to hear from Elton’s source directly on what really happened. TTAC can preserve anonymity, of course.

  • avatar
    TZ

    To Boff: TTAC’s MO apparently is that if there is a rampant rumor or speculative musing, then the author will add a “?” to the headline. I think you should take any article with a “?” in it as pure gossip.

    The original headline was “Editorial: Chrysler Destroys Its Historical Archives; GM to Follow?”

    The Chrysler portion was stated as fact. Hence, the semi-colon. The GM part of the statement was the portion intended as a question.

  • avatar

    Close the engineering library? I would think Chrysler would need all the help it can get in that area.

    John

  • avatar

    If I may step in here…

    I’ve spoken with Mr Elton again. I’ve got a call in to Mr. Rosenbusch. Meanwhile, the main allegations made:

    1. “The archivist position was eliminated.” It’s important to note that Mr. Brandt Rosenbusch is a Chrysler curator and collection coordinator, not an archivist. Mr. Elton assures me that the person holding the actual position in question was fired from Chrysler.

    I’m a little confused as to whether Chrysler had “an” archivist or more than one. I will attempt to clarify this matter.

    2. Materials from the Chrysler Engineering library were dispersed in an irresponsible manner

    I’m sympathetic with Bob’s meta-point here. Why was the engineering library dismantled in the first place? If New Chrysler/Fiat respected the company’s history, they would not have closed the facility. Or at least transferred it to a single, responsible entity.

    That said, we now have two different versions of events.

    In Mr. Rosenbusch version, he and his team of “Corporate Records Retention” staff vetted and removed all important material from the library before allowing “duplicate” material to be carted-off by Chrysler employees.

    In Mr. Elton’s version, Chrysler simple opened the doors and let the material walk. I’ve asked to speak to Mr. Elton’s source to clarify this matter. I’ve also asked for secondary sources. Again, I’m seeking clarification.

    Meanwhile, the discrepancy between the two accounts raises an important question: if TTAC didn’t know the full truth, why did we publish the story?

    In general, I apply the standard journalistic formula to new material: confirmation from two sources. If it fails that test, I either drop the item or whack it into Wild Ass Rumor of the Day.

    In specific, there are times when TTAC receives material from trusted journalists and members of our readership where I make a judgement call as to its veracity.

    If you consider that corner cutting, sensationalism or gutter press, we’re guilty as charged. In my own defense, I do the best I can with one full-time employee. And I also follow the dictate to “publish and be damned.”

    In any case, I am still not convinced that Mr. Elton has misrepresented the facts. Rest assured I will pursue this story until I am satisfied on the salient points.

    Meanwhile, it’s no secret that I depend on our readers and the wider community to keep us honest. I believe this exchange shows the value and effectiveness of the current system, flawed as it is.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Did Chrysler dispose of important historical records? The central question is still unanswered.

  • avatar

    Gardiner Westbound

    And it will be asked, again, and until we’re both satisfied.

  • avatar
    Porsche986

    Around and around we go… there are no answers here, just more opinions and speculation.

  • avatar
    BrianF

    Robbie :
    August 17th, 2009 at 1:23 am

    This discussion is odd to me. I thought Chrysler was supposed to be near bankruptcy; isn’t it natural for them to focus on things other than their archive?

    Agreed! While the historical engineering records may be important to a select group of people, the company is fighting for survival and financial resources are better spent elswhere.

  • avatar
    TZ

    @RF:

    The original article was titled “Chrysler destroys its historical archives.”

    This has since proven to be either entirely false or a significant exaggeration.

    That would seem to be the very definition of “misrepresented the facts.”

  • avatar
    iNeon

    If you’re exposing a great evil that will eventually rob us of our history– please do actually expose it.

    A question to anyone that will answer: Why would a few people act as if they’re busting a story wide open– and then protect one wo/man, making the entire story(and their reputations as journalists) bunk? Is this how this works?

    Really, I don’t know.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    The crux of the problem here is that not many folks understand what differentiates historic materials from the vast flood of documents that all corporations generate, and the role of the archivist in managing and segregating them.

    No corporation can survive without an archivist who enforces a carefully-developed records retention schedule. Certain records MUST be retained for a specified period of time; later, those documents must be either preserved or destroyed. You can’t save everything “just in case” you might need it later, and an archives is not simply a dumping ground for old documents.

    The archivist has to be a combination of lawyer, historian, and clairvoyant. Once a document has reached the expiration of its retention schedule, it must meet the terms of the collection policy if it is to accessioned into the historical record. Otherwise, it’s deaccessioned. That can mean anything from destroyed to given away or sold, depending on intrinsic value. You will never get anything approaching unanimous agreement on just what constitutes an historic document or object, even among professional historians. The archivist has to be able to point to established procedure in the records retention schedule, the collection policy, and/or the deaccessioning policy. Even then, he has to make judgment calls that are unlikely to please everyone. And it’s the rare archives that is sufficiently funded to be on top of its schedule, so when a backlog has to be dealt with quickly, as no doubt happened in Auburn Hills recently, the resulting protests are predictable. In my opinion, that’s what we saw here.

    As a professional historian who works with (indeed, is indebted to and depends upon) archivists for access to the raw materials of his trade, I have no doubt that Chrysler’s historical record is in good hands. I see the results of a collection and retention policy that functions properly even in difficult times. Mr. Rosenbusch’s rebuttal assures me, at least, that the allegations originally published here are unfounded.

  • avatar
    derm81

    I am very familiar with these types of issues since I work as a corporate librarian/archivist in Detroit and I am familiar with the community and its history as well as both “Information” programs (MIS/MLIS) at Wayne State and the University of Michigan. It isn’t a foreign territory for me.

    You have to realize that maintaining any type of collection takes time and money. You can’t just pile a bunch of “stuff” up in a warehouse and leave it…..well, ok, you can, but it is irresponsible from an historical as well as a legal perspective. Providing proper access to data, whether it is technical or historical, is the right thing to do and shouldn’t be overlooked.

    A LOT of people have mentioned that certain collections should just be donated to libraries and museums. That is easier said than done. An archival collection from a company the size of Chrysler would take up untold amounts of space. It remains in the company’s best interest to preserve at least one full set of blueprints/drawings from each part as well as each unit created. I am unaware if they preserved these items on microfilm or simply left them in paper form. I do, however, highly doubt that much of Chrysler’s archive has been digitized. Sure you might see a few hundred press photos scanned, but I doubt much more because it costs too much money to incorporate.

    I have heard from at least 5 former Chrysler employees about people taking or being given things from the library at different points in time. This could be seen as the weeding or deaccessioning of the collection. It could be said that the library didn’t have enough space, and library space is at a premium. I know that GM digitized all their UAW documents and grievances into an electronic format. It was a brilliant idea, but also took a lot of manpower. That is the future of archives and libraries…virtual.

    Some TTAC readers fail to realize that an historical archive and a library are NOT the same thing. Chrysler’s engineering librarian was just that….an engineering library. They might be joined at the hip, BUT, for the longest time, large corporations kept their archives separate from their libraries. Today, libraries are morphing into virtual data centers rather than brick and mortar entities. It is MUCH easier to transform a library into the virtual realm than it is to take an historical collection virtual.

    Ford consolidated their libraries into one “center” from what I understand. In the end, your idea of a library is going to be a hell of a lot different than my idea of a library.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Perhaps, Mssrs. Elton and Rosenbusch are both telling the truth from two different perspectives.

    Give RF time to fill in the blanks, then opine.

    Or he just got suckered by Elton’s blatant perspective on things:

    1. Who owns Chrysler? The UAW is a majority owner, with the governments of the USA and Canada owning significant parts. Do you really think the UAW, or the U.S. government, care about archives? The UAW cares, as they should, about the interests of their members. In a crunch, will the UAW make the choice to fund history over health care and pensions?

    2. Who calls the shots when it comes to major strategic decisions at the Chrysler Group? The Golden Rule applies here: the man with the gold rules. The U.S. government put up almost all the money to keep Chrysler in business. It is headed by a president whose grasp of industrial history led him to claim, “we (Americans) invented the automobile.” I am sure that an equally deep appreciation of industrial history resonates through the rest of the federal bureaucracy.

    Surely Chrysler can only do wrong now that they’re owned by socialists.

  • avatar

    I am still investigating. I’ve got calls in to various sources. Rest assured, I’m attempting to establish/clarify they facts.

    There are two sides to this story. I am not prepared to declare the truth of the matter until I have more information. However long it takes, I will get to the bottom of it.

    I admit, again, that I took Mr. Elton’s story at face value, without adequate fact checking. I regret doing so. HOWEVER, I will not compound the error by taking Mr. Rosenbusch’s statement as the definitive word on the subject (FYI He’s not returning our calls.)

    I will issue a full retraction if necessary. Again, your patience is most appreciated.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    In love and kindness, Mr. Farago–

    Why would Chrysler attend round 3? They responded in an even, academic tone and you publish this venomous response? I wouldn’t return the calls either.


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