A story touted as "an ABC News exclusive" actually rehashes a flawed narrative pushed by Fox News more than two years ago.
In collaboration with iWatch News, Brian Ross and ABC's "investigative unit" reported late last week that Fisker Automotive, a hybrid car maker that received a federal loan, "is assembling its first line of cars in Finland." The loan itself, however, can only be used to support operations based in the U.S.
ABC published the story, titled "Car Company Gets U.S. Loan, Builds Cars In Finland," on Thursday night and Ross reported the "ABC News exclusive" on Friday's edition of Good Morning America. Ross said that World News and Nightline would also feature the story on Friday, but ABC did not run those segments.
Instead, Ross appeared on the Fox Business Network Friday night, where he told host David Asman that those in the administration criticizing his reporting "just don't like the takeaway, which is that they got the loan and they're building the car in Finland."
But this news isn't new. In fact, it was explained by the Department of Energy (DOE) in a September 2009 press release announcing the conditional loan. According to the release, "final assembly" of the high-end Fisker Karma "will be done overseas." Indeed, Fisker had a contract to assemble the Karma in Finland before the company ever received funds from DOE. ABC failed to note this fact and the misunderstanding was compounded by other news outlets covering ABC's report.
The loan supports design work carried out in Michigan and California for the Karma, as well as the assembly of Fisker's lower-cost hybrid, Project Nina, which will take place at a former GM factory in Wilmington, Deleware. Fisker began hiring for the Delaware plant in June.
Following the DOE announcement in September 2009, Fox ran a series of segments and an online article exclaiming that the government "gave a half a billion dollars" to "a car company that is creating jobs in Finland," in the words of America's Newsroom anchor Martha MacCallum. Fox characteristically botched some important details, spurring a response from Henrik Fisker, who criticized news reports that "ignored or marginalized the truth, or sensationalized irrelevant aspects of the loan and our company." "It is unfortunate how false information can be disseminated and it is our intention to correct as much of it as possible," Fisker said in a press release at the time.
Fox is now using the ABC report to launch another round of outrage. Fox News and Fox Business have already devoted at least 18 segments to the story since Friday.
It's worth noting that Ford Motors, which received by far the largest of DOE's loans, has numerous overseas manufacturing plants. Oil and gas companies that benefit from taxpayer subsidies also conduct business all over the world. So the notion that federal incentives should not be available to companies with multinational operations has implications far beyond Fisker.
The recent media storm surrounding ABC's report has some at Fox scratching their heads. "I've been talking about it for literally two years," Eric Bolling said Friday night on his Fox Business show. "What happened yesterday that all of a sudden this story is on every single show that I watch?"
ABC's framing might provide a clue. The network's October 20 article referred to "intense scrutiny" of DOE's clean energy investments "in the wake of the administration's failed $535 million investment in solar panel maker Solyndra" and asked if "another Solyndra is in the offing."
On Thursday night, the Drudge Report hyped the ABC report as a "SOLYDRA-like story" before it was even published, citing unnamed "sources":
And on Good Morning America, Ross mentioned "questions about whether [Fisker] could end up as another taxpayer boondoggle." ABC followed up Monday with an article titled, "Obama Admin. Defends Fisker Cars From Solyndra Comparison."
CNN also adopted the Solyndra association, despite the lack of any indication at this point that Fisker -- which included in the Wall Street Journal's 2010 list of "Top 10 Cleantech Companies" -- will default on the federal loan. Introducing the story, CNN's Wolf Blitzer said on Friday: "It might, repeat, might just be another Solyndra in the making. That's what some of the critics are charging."
ABC News was among the media outlets that most persistently pursued the Solyndra story. As we showed last month, ABC dedicated more airtime to Solyndra than did CBS and NBC during the month after the solar panel maker announced its bankruptcy filing. In the same month, ABC virtually ignored a report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting which concluded that $31-60 billion has been lost to waste and fraud through contracts related to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, costing taxpayers 56 times more than Solyndra's failure.
ABC's Solyndra reporting was at times misleading and littered with unsupported insinuations that political favoritism played a role in the company's loan guarantee. ABC also reported excerpts from emails leaked by Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee which were later shown to be taken out of context.
After the Obama administration pointed out that the Bush administration intended to give Solyndra the loan guarantee, a claim backed up by internal documents, ABC posted the headline: "Blame It On Bush, Say Obama Officials."
As in Fisker's case, Fox News embraced ABC's Solyndra reporting and Bill O'Reilly hosted Brian Ross on September 14. During his appearance, Ross said "there are serious questions about whether influence was involved" in the loan guarantee. Asked by O'Reilly if Solyndra "is Enron 2," Ross replied: "It has that aspect. And you know, there are lots of big names that could be drawn in. I think we will be hearing about this all the way through next November."
Like the loan guarantee program that provided financing to Solyndra and other solar companies, the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program was designed to fund innovative projects that inherently carry some risk.
The program was signed into law by President Bush in 2007 and Congress allocated $7.5 billion to cover the costs of any defaults. The $529 million Fisker loan is 7 percent of that amount. The Department of Energy told ABC that Fisker has not missed a loan payment or asked to restructure the agreement.
ABC posted another report last night titled, "Republicans Call for Probe of Obama's Green Car Program." Brian Ross also appeared on Nightline and World News with Diane Sawyer to discuss the loans to Fisker and Tesla Motors. ABC is promoting the World News segment with the title, "Another Green Company Going Bankrupt?"
On Nightline, Ross said Fisker promised to create jobs in Delaware, "but so far the only cars being made have come off the line at this plant in Finland." Of course Ross didn't explain that when Fisker got the loan in 2009, the company said it would produce the cars in Delaware starting in late 2012.