Editorial: Between the Lines – Throwing Chrysler to the Wolves
The mainstream media suffers from “opinion inertia.’ Once the press corps adopts a certain angle on a story, its superglue city, facts be damned. To wit: TTAC’s been slamming Chrysler for horrendous product quality, bizarre model choices, asinine marketing and a bloated, piss-poor dealer network since… ever. Meanwhile, our colleagues have been playing the underdog American automaker meme. Post Cerberus purchase, they’ve been ignoring Chrysler’s failed products and telltale gaffes, such as CEO Bob Nardelli’s infamous “operationally bankrupt” admission. But now that rumors of a GM – Chrysler merger have surfaced, the media’s woken up. And the fangs are out.
Detroit News contributing author Alisa Priddle normally puts her keyboard to use for Car and Driver’s blog, where she’s more PR repeater than news reporter. In September, she parroted “Chrysler shows it has a slew of electric vehicles in the pipeline, including a Chevy Volt competitor, and they’re coming to a road near you soon.” Not only was this blatant press release regurgitation, it was also patently false. “They” weren’t going into production; a fact that Priddle acknowledges later in the article (only one, at best, would be produced).
And now, Priddle pens “Chrysler, GM deal confronts obstacles,” which would better be titled, “WTF are these asshats thinking?” “Statements that Cerberus bought Chrysler for the long haul are falling on deaf ears,” Priddle writes. “Especially with the financial tiff that has broken out between GMAC (which is 51 percent owned by Cerberus) and GM, which is now paying dealers an incentive for sales financed outside GMAC.” Well, someone’s ears are open, now.
Co-writer David Shepardson is also a recent convert to the growing “Chrysler’s up excrement creek” camp.
In an August 6, 2007 column called “Controversial CEO,” Shep responded to CEO Nardelli’s critics. “But Nardelli improved the company [Home Depot] by several measures. Sales jumped from $46 billion to $91 billion in 2006, while profits doubled to $5.8 billion.” Shep quoted the usual (anonymous) sources, happily reporting that “A person close to the situation said Cerberus was deeply impressed with his financial performance. ‘If we get anywhere near what he has accomplished previously, we’ll be delighted,’ the person said.”
Now Shep’s taken off his rose-colored glasses and begun chronicling the folly of the mix ‘n match “too big too fail” theme. “Among the hurdles to any deal is whether Congress would agree to provide financing to help a merger. Congressional aides said any kind of money would likely include strings.”
Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes is also showing his ability to eviscerate a hometown hero. His October 2007 column “As Toyota falls, Detroit Big 3 rise” gives way to today’s “GM hasn’t learned bigger isn’t better.” “Forget the back-channel spin from those with self-interested agendas rationalizing the boss’s current negotiating position. Would this mega-deal, another stunning blow to Michigan’s wobbly economy, make sense to Joe the Autoworker and others not drinking the Kool-Aid of the moment?
In yesterday’s post on the Wall Street Journal blog, Heidi N. Moore asked “What If the U.S. Auto Makers Don’t Survive?” That’s a sharp turn from her June 10, 2007 post on Chrysler’s rosy prospects: “The honeymoon at Chrysler clearly isn’t over: Chrysler CEO Robert Nardelli couldn’t be happier about Chrysler getting rid of Daimler and public shareholders in one fell swoop.”
Clearly, the press has “reassessed the Chrysler situation,” working their way towards acknowledging Former CEO of American Motors Corp and current professor at University of Michigan Gerald Meyers’ assertion that “there is no economic justification for the existence of the Chrysler Corp.”
And now that press is beginning to face that uncomfortable reality, they’re showing remarkable insensitivity towards their former champion, newfound object of ire.
The current media group-think is, simply put, Chrysler’s going away. Get used to it. Whether through a merger or a sell-off, tens of thousands of jobs, hundreds of suppliers, thousands of dealers and tens of thousands of customers will soon be S.O.L. Chrysler’s presumed recovery has become Chrysler’s presumed oblivion. But is that necessarily true?
Even before day one, TTAC warned that Cerberus bought Chrysler to strip and flip the company. But before Chrysler is laid waste, someone in the media should stop for a moment to consider an alternative. Assuming the U.S. government is going to bailout GM, perhaps they should start by practicing on Chrysler. Where’s the talk of a Chrysler “intervention?”
The fact that a Chapter 11 reorganization isn’t part of the mainstream media discussion about Chrysler’s fate shows that the wolf pack press shares the same ADD and lack of imagination as Chrysler’s protagonists. In that sense, just like voters and their politicians, a story gets the coverage it deserves. We here at TTAC will continue to think independently, even as Chrysler is dismembered by greed, arrogance and indifference, on all sides of the story.
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