Friday, April 23, 2010

Sure can make you lose your ... wait, what?

Well, we certainly don't want people thinking the wrong thing about how quickly the Kenyans are nationalizing the auto industry, do we?

To keep the fires burning, then, we're going to take the same facts that went into yesterday's lead story (that'll be the Grassley and Barofsky comments), seasoned with the somewhat more tentative opinion piece Grassley wrote yesterday, and spin it all forward with -- hey, there's an idea! "Could be in trouble with FTC" because of the venue in which the claims were repeated! (That'll be "advertising," which pays the bills for the vast majority of American journalism.) Let's see:

General Motors is running ads on all the major networks this week claiming it has repaid its bailout from the taxpayers "in full." But the claim isn't standing up to scrutiny from lawmakers and government watchdogs who have found that the automaker was able to repay the bailout money only by dipping into a separate pot of bailout funds. (That's one "lawmaker" and one "government watchdog," if you're scoring along at home. Same as yesterday.)

The TV spot may land GM in hot water with the Federal Trade Commission over its truth-in-advertising laws, which prohibit ads that are "likely to mislead consumers."

Technically true. That's one of the things the FTC does. (If GM had claimed that the Chevy Volt will produce a statistically significant reduction in bad cholesterol in four weeks, that'd be the sort of health claim that falls to the FDA, not the FTC, and Fox would be on the side of the people making the claim. But we digress.) But how good of a forecast would this be? I wonder how we could tell.

The FTC said it could not provide any comment on the ad or whether it had received any complaints or inquiries about GM's claims from the public or from government officials. (That's a shock.)

The FTC has a division of advertising practices that investigates possible false claims, but specific investigations are not made public. If the FTC determines that truth-in-advertising laws have been violated, the agency files complaints against the organizations in violation.

Yes, that's how the rules work. It's worth noting that the peasants haven't exactly been at GM's gates either: "Martin (GM spokesman Greg Martin) said GM has not received any communications from the FTC or complaints from federal officials." But back to our story.

... "A lot of Americans didn't agree with giving GM a second chance," Whitacre said in the 60-second ad. "We invite you to take a look at the new GM."

Well, meet the new GM. Same as the old GM. The company is still majority-owned by the federal government, which has a 60 percent stake in the Detroit titan; the Canadian government owns another 12 percent.

No, in no sense is it "same as the old GM." It's the GM that's majority-owned by the government (61%); the "old GM" is the one that was bailed out in 2009. As ane fule kno.

Anyway. The crux of Fox's false-ad assertion seems to be that GM's chairman asserted in an ad that GM was able to repay the loans "because more customers are buying vehicles." At least, that's what apparently had Sen. Grassley's panties in a wad when he wrote that "GM did not repay the loans with money it made selling cars." Which, of course, isn't what GM claimed to have done, notwithstanding whether such a claim would have been materially false in a way that would be "likely to mislead consumers." Like, say, calling an Escalade a subcompact, or a Fox broadcast "fair and balanced."


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