Friday, May 29, 2009

What DealerGate Says About the Conservative 'Message' Problem

Congratulations to Doug Ross and Joey Smith for aggressive research and reporting -- the kind Matthew Yglesias says conservatives don't have the skills to do -- on the scandal Michelle Malkin calls "DealerGate."

Did the administration purposefully use its bailout-acquired influence to put the squeeze on Republican auto dealerships? It doesn't actually matter what the answer to that question is.

The point is, there was evidence to suggest that the Obama administration may have been wielding its economic power -- gained at future taxpayers' expense -- to punish political enemies. The accusation was serious enough to call for very thorough reporting, but the major media tried to dismiss the accusation before actually doing the reporting. Malkin says:

Some professional journalists, however, have shown obstinate unwillingness to get to the bottom of the decision-making process.
Ask any good reporter. You get a tip that, if true, would be a big story, and so you check it out. I once spent two days in the Library of Congress trying to research such a lead. It didn't pan out, but until you've done the research, you don't know whether it's a story or not.

When auto dealers first claimed they were targeted for political payback by the Obama administration, the claim was a fact in its own right. Think about Valerie Plame's claim that she was "targeted" by the Bush administration, "outed" as a CIA operative. To this day, there is no conclusive evidence that this was the case (Robert Novak says it was not, and no one has contradicted his account). Yet the media made such a stink about the Plame accusation that a grand jury was convened and Scooter Libby was convicted of a "process" crime for making false statements to a federal investigator.

If Barney Frank told a reporter that he and John Cornyn had once had a one-night stand, the accusation itself would be a headline, even if Frank couldn't produce any evidence to support his accusation. If Frank then handed the reporter a Las Vegas hotel bill and suggested that this was the time and place of his rendezvous with Cornyn, don't you think the reporter would at least check Cornyn's schedule to see if he had been in Vegas on that date?

At some point, you see this pattern of the media doing the Jedi mind trick -- "This is not the scandal you were looking for" -- often enough that you can no longer accept the protestations of good faith. When Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post sneers "oh, please" at the DealerGate accusations, he forfeits the good-faith defense against conservative claims of bias.

This is why I grow weary of "conservatives" criticizing Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and other talk radio guys. If those guys weren't out there pounding away every day, it would be much easier for the MSM to ignore stories like this.

And this is also why I don't want to hear any lectures from Michael Goldfarb about a deficit of "online partisan reporting." If there is such a deficit, it's because (a) almost nobody in the GOP knows anything about the news business; and (b) conservative donors are either unwilling to pay for reporting or don't know who to hire to get the job done.

There are aggressive, smart conservative reporters out there -- Josiah Ryan at CNSNews.com, for example, and Matthew Vadum, for another -- and their work is routinely taken for granted by most Republican communications operatives. Instead, Nicolle Wallace shuts out conservative reporters and gives the first one-on-one exclusive interviews with Sarah Palin to Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric.

If I sound bitter about this, that's because I am bitter about it. When I was at The Washington Times, one of my colleagues pointed out how the GOP and conservative organizations expected the newspaper to carry their water, but treated us like an ugly girlfriend they were ashamed to take to the prom.

Once, I wanted to cover a certain seminar hosted by a major conservative organization and one my bosses said, "Hell, no." This kind of shocked me, and when I inquired why, this boss pointed to the line-up of speakers at the panel: A Washington Post columnist, a Weekly Standard editor, a National Review writer, and so on down the line.

"What? They couldn't think to ask Tony Blankley or Don Lambro or Wes Pruden?" said this boss. "They're not going to get jack from us, and if they ask, you tell 'em why."

This is not an isolated incident, it's a pattern that indicates a systemic flaw with the Right's "message" operation. The major Republican Party committees -- RNC, NRSC and NRCC -- spent $792 million in the 2008 campaign cycle, much of it to pay salaries and fees to media/communications operatives. And what did they get for that money? (Crickets chirping.)

Personnel is policy, and the standard GOP policy is to entrust its media operation to party hack types who've never spent a day in a newsroom. And when the Coalition of the Clueless try to reverse-engineer what the Left is doing, you end up with a colossal waste of resources like Culture 11, which imploded like the Hindenburg at Lakehurst because it was entrusted to David Kuo, a Republican hack who couldn't make a profit on the snowcone concession in Hell.

Like my grandma alway said, some people just got more money than they've got sense.

So Doug Ross and Joey Smith and guys like that do what they do, and Josiah Ryan and Matthew Vadum do what they do, and then one day it's announced that the "Huffington Post of the Right" has been entrusted to an arrogant lightweight.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

29 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. @Donald,
    Why settle for miniature mammaries when you can go for the ├╝ber-boobs?

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  3. I think stories like this do get dismissed outright. I like the comparison to the Libby investigation.

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  4. Carlson is hardly a lightweight. He's a keen and knowledgeable fellow, a skillful pugilist with a healthy sense of humor, a strong-willed and driven journalist, a Burkean conservative who is blessedly free of movement blinders.


    Phil

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  5. RS, this may be the best article of yours I've read. Spot on accurate. Well done.

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  6. You people are nuts. There's no "dealergate." Your conspiracy theory was thoroughly debunked at Nate Silver's 538.com site, which called last year's election like a smart bomb down the smokestack.

    Car dealers are overwhelmingly Republican to begin with. The difference in the perecentage of Republican contributors cut loose was statistically insignificant.

    Moreover, none of you crazy nutcases even bothered to present a mechanism by which your (imagined) conspiracy was executed. You don't know how the decision was made on individual dealers, or who made it.

    It's a little like the Sotomayor statistic about her 60% reversal rate. The nutcases paraded that one as evidence of her "incompetence," when in fact the Supreme Court reverses about three-quarters of the cases it takes, and therefore Sotomayor's reversal rate is actually lower than average.

    I forget who it was, a long time ago, who coined the phase "the stupid party" to refer to conseratives. They were right then, and they are right now. Every now and then, the winds blow away your smoke and part the curtains, and we see the shrived old phonies that you really are. This is one of those times.

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  7. You left out another one: Eli Lake. Of course, there are a lot of war reporters who would count as conservative reporters, if only they weren't overseas covering America's fighting heroes.

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  8. Why do I get the feeling that Grinder is the type of person who spent 2 or 3 years waiting for Fitzmas and still goes on about plastic turkeys?

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  9. Interesting. I've spent the last 60 minutes perusing different blogs and came to the same conclusion you did--that it doesn't matter if Dealergate is real or not--but hadn't even thought about your angle on what the real damage is.

    My take was that the mere fact of the accusations--that the Obama White House was directing the closings for politicial reasons--is possible only because of the recent dramatic expansion of government power into corporate America. Politics and cynicism (hope and change!) have pushed their way into a whole new segment of our society and undermined yet another pillar of American life.

    But you're right. Or right also.

    Sorry grinder, but Nate Silver's analysis is far too simplistic to be meaningful. He, like so many others, assumes that the closings should be random and bias is to be found in a significant deviation from chance. Arguments are then conducted over what is to be considered "significant."

    The problem with this approach is that the closings are not random, nobody claims they were and only a fool would think they should be. Different regions are going to be more or less Republican than average. And different regions are going to have dealer distributions that are more or less efficient than average. If the more inefficient regions overlap with the more Republican regions, then perfectly sound business processes will lead to a disproportionate number of closed Republican dealerships.

    So far as I've found, nobody's done that analysis.

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  10. At Grinder, and more, at his detractors: Having just five cases reviewed isn’t statistically significant, either. I guess the same “science” that derides global warming isn’t good at statistics in general.

    As for ppl criticizing Nate Silver, puhleeeze. He got a couple of thousand hits of individual companies or individuals on his search.

    That, contra the math-challenged Washington Times, IS statistically significant.

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  11. Grinder,

    It takes real willing suspension of disbelief to call that "thorough debunking."

    Consider the entire "debunk" rests on the premise "Nobody has bothered to look up data for the control group: the list of dealerships which aren't being closed.

    #1 this is patently false, as demonstated here#2 you can't debunk something by NOT looking into it, which was the principle complaint of RSM's post.
    #3 this is huge logical fallacy... correlation may not prove causality, but it sure as hell doesn't DISprove it. Example: White gunman walks into a 88% black church and shoots 25% of them, all black people... do you REALLY want to argue he COULDN'T possibly have been racially motivated? Merely ASKING if he was a KKK member is CRAZY because he was just statistically LIKELY to hit blacks? This is the "thorough debunking" you expect us to buy?
    Blue administration does something entirely unnecessary to a predominantly Red demographic, and you expect us to just swallow the pure intentions line?

    "You don't know how the decision was made on individual dealers, or who made it" ... but for some reason have a problem with people trying to find out? You're completely incurious as to why profitable dealerships are being shut down, and unprofitable ones are being preserved?
    Wrong again:
    "Lawyer Leonard Bellavia, of Bellavia Gentile & Associates,
    who represents some of the terminated dealers, said he deposed
    Chrysler President Jim Press on Tuesday and came away with the
    impression that Press did not support the plan. "It became clear to us that Chrysler does not see the wisdom
    of terminating 25 percent of its dealers," Bellavia said. "It
    really wasn't Chrysler's decision. They are under enormous
    pressure from the President's automotive task force.
    "

    It takes some real moonbattery to call people crazy who start their inquiry with "Yesterday, I cautioned against making sweeping claims..." You may not be familiar with this, but this is known as a plea for good sense and restraint.

    But by all means, scream at those crazy round-earthers before Columbus even sets sail. Methinks he doth protest too much... no one is making accusations yet, just asking questions so far. Got problems with questions?

    I do agree with you on a couple points points:
    #1 the Sotomayor "percentage" IS meaningless. We need to take a serious look at the actual rulings that were overturned. I'd rather have someone on the supreme court who was overturned 80% of the time because of small technicalities, than someone only overturned 20% of the time due to complete abdication of jurisprudence... like, you know, issuing dismissals which "contain no reference whatsoever to the constitutional claims at the core of this case"
    #2 The GOP IS the "stupid party" when it doesn't fight for the principles of its constituents. But given the choice between the "stupid party" and the "evil party," it's a no-brainer.

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  12. Gadfly

    Million hits, billion hits, doesn't matter... Read this primer on political statistics.

    Once you realize that Dealerships are distributed across America rather than mixed in an urn (as tim maguire pointed out), you can see that Nate Silver is simply trying to play with his balls where none exist.

    Completely agree with the Sotomayor % being statistically insignificant.

    Unfortunately the nonsense in your link is also statistically meaningless

    "Having only five of her cases granted cert by SCOTUS is actually much more significant. And in just the opposite direction of the conservative bloviosphere the Times represents."

    Actually that says nothing in either direction without comparing it against how many cases were denied certiori in which she was a minority opinion, which would be the equivalent of a reversal.

    Doesn't matter anyway... each ruling should be judged on individual jurisprudence... we should be looking at propensity for merit, not ability to go unchallenged. Kim Jong-Il is better at going unchallenged than James Hanson since you want to drag climate sillyness into this... does this mean DPNK inherently makes better decisions than NASA?

    Again, wtf does any of this distraction have to do with Chrysler closures and the general media incuriousity to investigate some fairly basic questions already being asked by bi-partisan senators?

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  13. this was the best thing I read all week on the whole internet

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  14. The MSM would have to think that it is scandalous for a Democrat to use the power of his office to stick it to a bunch of GOP contributors.

    But it does not. To them, it's Exactly What Should Happen.

    Dog bites man, in other words. At least in their world.

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  15. The reason that the MSM isn't interested in this story is there is no evidence for it. More closed dealerships donated Republican than Democratic. That's what you'd expect to find, since dealers in general are more likely to have donated GOP. Nothing is proved by finding GOP donors on the closed list.

    Another claim is that 42 of the 2,392 open dealerships donated Dem. Out of 2,392 dealerships you could find 42 of anything. How many were GOP?

    The media gets more E-mail than they can read from kook fringes on the Internet who think their latest conspiracy theory is a giant revelation. If you want them to pay attention, get some evidence. Get evidence that one would consider valid. Most of the people on the net can't distinguish between good and bad evidence and should really take a few community college courses from lib professors.

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  16. Happy! What's WRONG with you today?

    it was the best thing what you read all week on the internet.

    FIFY . . .

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  17. Wasn't there a time when the appearance of impropriety warranted an investigation by reporters? Now it appears that one cannot get many reporters to do their jobs unless amateurs have already done it for them. In which case, they are happy to swoop in and take the credit.

    And newspapers are dying . . . why?

    Look: the public doesn't even have a clear indication of WHERE these decisions are being made, and BY WHOM, much left whether there is any kind of coherent pattern to them other than the potentially corrupt one, and the helpful explanation that Chrysler is cutting of its nose to spite the public dime's face.

    And the rebuttal to the questions we raise is simply (as Andrew Klaven would put it, on behalf of our "betters") "shut up."

    Well . . . no. No, thanks.

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  18. So...
    we can sum up your argument by saying that--
    You guys come up with accusations, and then it's up to the MSM to follow up on whatever cock-eyed allegations you come up with...
    Right.
    And then you use as an example the Valerie Plame case buy citing the very person who actually OUTED Plame:That would be Robert Novak.

    But this, in the end, really says it all:
    "that it doesn't matter if Dealergate is real or not"
    Right.
    Real or not, your unsubstantiated claims are thoroughly being investigated by Conservative reporters-- yet it is up to news outlets you vilify ( like say The New York Times) to do the real work of getting to the bottom of the story...
    Is that what is called....Strategery?
    Guys, seriously.
    It's getting to that point where you're not far removed from Art Bell and his ilk.
    RSM-- you know I dig your shit.
    But this post is so damn ridiculous, it's beneath you.
    Then again, you might get some tip-jar love from the freaks who are lapping this conspiracy stuff up.
    Wether it's real or not....

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  19. There are actually three different angles on this story which ought to be pursued if the goal is the truth.

    The donation correlation is one, of course, but also the closing of profitable dealerships - including several showing increases year-to-year while retained dealers show losses, including at least one which moved into the top 2% of dealers within the last two years - must be examined.

    Thirdly, from whence comes the concept you can sell more cars by reducing the number of locations where they are sold? The meme about dealers "cannibalizing" each other is nonsense: Chrysler dealers don't compete only with each other, but with every other make out there. To assume Chryslers will sell for more by reducing Chrysler dealerships is fantasy - buyers will go to other makes.

    All of the Big Three suffer from the same problem, and an excess of dealerships is the least of their worries. They have excess production capacity, which leads to excess production, which leads to excess inventory. This indicates they should be closing factories, not dealerships.

    And the real bottom line is they aren't making many models Americans see as the best deal for their dollars. It's hard to see how turning over management to union bosses and federal bureaucrats could possibly improve that situation.

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  20. All you libs on here acting all smug and self righteous because some guy with a domain name I've never heard of wrote something that says conservatives are wrong are hysterical. Need I remind you that Dan Rather plied obviously-forged "memos" a few weeks before an election to push an agenda? It's not like the MSM has a track-record for waiting on diligent and verifiable sources.

    Frankly, if it's negative to Conservatives, it's on MSNBC and CNN and all the rest, even if the evidence is one crack-pot or a forged memo. You could have a highly-researched doctorate that demonstrated Democratic malfeasance and the idiots wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

    Ya'll need a reality check. Failing that, get out of your silly little universities and get into the real world. Nothing cures Liberalism quite so readily as a paycheck, a mortgage and actually having to pay taxes.

    That said, this was a great post, and I enjoyed it a lot! Thanks.

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  21. Captain Obvious, your own link undercuts you.

    First, the math shows that the margin of error with just five cases is HUGE.

    Second, its caveats show that you can't even talk about margin of error, in a sense, with the cases reviewed, whereas Silver's sampling (and, more than 1,000 sampling events has a margin of error of less than 3 percent, per your link,) is more "hermetic."

    And, you never addressed the issue that Sotomayor having only five cases granted cert undercuts the nonsense about reversal rates, anyway.

    Ohh, and per your reply to Grinder, if Michelle Malkin is the conservative bloviosphere's statistics genius, then the Grumpy Old Party is sinking fast.

    As for the specifics of the dealership CHAIN partially owned by McLarty, the idea that chains will have economies of scale (whether that idea is true or not is another story), is why this group of six dealerships made the cut, surely.

    Oh, no Democrat here, either. A registered independent who voted Green the last two elections, I carry no water for Just.Another.Politician.

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  22. Did the administration purposefully use its bailout-acquired influence to put the squeeze on Republican auto dealerships? It doesn't actually matter what the answer to that question is.Um yeah, it does matter what the answer is. Nate Silver did the research and found out most car dealers who contribute to campaigns contribute to Republican campaigns.

    Just making wild accusations hoping something will stick is a great way to run your credibility but no way to correct the message problem.

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  23. Look: the public doesn't even have a clear indication of WHERE these decisions are being made, and BY WHOM, much left whether there is any kind of coherent pattern to themAnd yet having admitted that you're sure there's an appearance of impropriety? Based on what? An attorney representing closed dealers who claims an ex-Chrysler official who failed and was fired from his job says he also doesn't know how these decisions were made and claims he wouldn't have closed dealerships? Yeah there wouldn't be any bias on the part of either of these guys.

    I do hope now that you're all so concerned about Chrysler that you'll be helping candidates challenge Corker and Shelby the next time they run. If these guys and a whole lot of other Republicans got their way last December there wouldn't even be a Chrysler or GM let alone their dealerships left. They were all for shutting them down and liquidating them.

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  24. Look, nutcases, it's up to the people making the allegation to provide the evidence for it. And the fact is that you haven't provided any.

    That's the sort of thing that goes over well with the 21% of Americans who are in the tunnel, but everyone else wants to see the evidence.

    The days where you crazies could you say anything you felt like saying and have it uncritically spread by the MSM are over. You just don't realize it, but after you get squashed in 2010 and again in 2012 it's going to start dawning on you that you'll have to actually do some real work.

    Imagine that! Republicans with a work ethic. I'm not exactly going to hold my breath waiting for it.

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  25. Gadfly,

    You just fail at reading comprehension. The link was in reference to Nate Silver's statistical nonsense on Dealerships, not Sotomayor.
    If you can't keep two topics straight, don't talk about two topics at the same time.

    First, I said "the Sotomayor "percentage" IS meaningless."

    Second, I said "Completely agree with the Sotomayor % being statistically insignificant."

    Why do you argue against something I've agreed with you TWICE on?

    Then you said: "And, you never addressed the issue that Sotomayor having only five cases granted cert undercuts the nonsense about reversal rates, anyway"
    Except, I ALREADY said: "Actually that says nothing in either direction without comparing it against how many cases were denied certiori in which she was a minority opinion, which would be the equivalent of a reversal"

    So I DID address it, you just failed to read it.

    Who said anything about Malkin being a statistics genius? Now you're just making things up that are NOT there. Nate Silver based his entire whinge on the premise that the control group wasn't evaluated. Malkin's link just showed people were already evaluating that very control group.
    I.E. Nate Silver = Ignorant + Wrong about his premise.

    If you KNOW why some dealerships made the cut and others didn't, then send your name in to testify to the senate because they want to know... making up implausible idle speculation out of your butt is not an exculpation... especially when the "economies of scale" reasoning would directly contradict a policy of closing ANY dealers whatsoever.

    Nobody knows what the reasons are, the numbers are suspicious, but prove and disprove NOTHING. Why is it such a big deal to ask for the transparency that had been promised preatedly? A decision has clearly been made that affects a massive taxpayer investment... why is it so wrong to make sure it was a GOOD decision?

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  26. Grinder... 538's analysis is shallow. While the perspective shown by 538 does give an indication as to what may be going on it does not prove anything one way or another. The fact of the matter is we don't know exactly what the Chrysler population looks like and how that compares.

    I'm annoyed that nobody has done the grunt work (as RSM mentioned about 2 days in LOC) to get the data for dealers who aren't losing their franchises. If you want to nail this one down get the data from both groups and analyze it. I'd spring to do it myself but I'm trying to write a dissertation and earn federal employment. In either case its probably worth the effort of the dealers themselves to compiles the data and hire a statistical consultant. (20 hrs work at $50 an hour is cheap when facing losing your business.)

    The fact is there's a lot to work from here for those willing to do the work. I see a lot of words and a lot of easy sniping in regards to some quick and shallow analysis on both ends.

    If any part of the active blogosphere is reading this. Try to get the the list for those dealers retained and get the same info. For now let's just consider $$$$ donated by each individual. Consider each dealer a separate individual. Calculate the ratio of total monies donated to Obama. (If no money donated to anybody take person out of the analysis for now.) Once we've gotten that far then some statistical tools can be applied but not until then. The press ain't going to go ga-ga over a P-value but its a lot more substantive than what we've seen thus far.

    The problem here is that this whole thing is unsexy. Nobody wants data they want the bloody glove that makes the situation obvious. Unless you've got subpoena power that isn't happening.

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  27. Anonymous:

    I took a sample by selecting the fourth dealer of every fourth page of the open dealers list. That gave me 32 owner names with cities where the dealers were located.. I ran them through OpenSecrets.org with a method that cast a wide net .I'm told that 32 is too small of a sample to be significant. However, here is what I found:

    Four dealers donated to the GOP. None donated to Democrats at all. 28 made no donations.

    If somebody decides to do the work I don't think its fair to compare donations that went to any GOP candidate at all against only the Dem ones that went to Obama.

    Though my sample isn't significant, just the hunch I can get from it tells me that there would be few Democrats if you went through the whole pile. I'm further convinced there aren't many Democrats donations from the open dealers list because all these people on the net spent time searching through 2,392 open dealer listings and only came up with 42 dealerships that Dem donations came from.

    Its all moot anyway, since Chrysler, and not Obama, made the selections. Chrysler planned to close dealerships at least a year before Obama took office. They call the plan Project Genesis. Any allegation that its all coming from Obama by the attorney for the closed dealerships is unsupported and contradicted by denials from both Chrysler and the White House.

    So even if you found that all the open dealerships donated to Democrats and all the closed ones donated to the GOP, you still wouldn't have a case that the White House did it.

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  28. Anonymous:

    I took a sample by selecting the fourth dealer of every fourth page of the open dealers list. That gave me 32 owner names with cities where the dealers were located.. I ran them through OpenSecrets.org with a method that cast a wide net .I'm told that 32 is too small of a sample to be significant. However, here is what I found:

    Four dealers donated to the GOP. None donated to Democrats at all. 28 made no donations.

    If somebody decides to do the work I don't think its fair to compare donations that went to any GOP candidate at all against only the Dem ones that went to Obama.

    Though my sample isn't significant, just the hunch I can get from it tells me that there would be few Democrats if you went through the whole pile. I'm further convinced there aren't many Democrats donations from the open dealers list because all these people on the net spent time searching through 2,392 open dealer listings and only came up with 42 dealerships that Dem donations came from.

    Its all moot anyway, since Chrysler, and not Obama, made the selections. Chrysler planned to close dealerships at least a year before Obama took office. They call the plan Project Genesis. Any allegation that its all coming from Obama by the attorney for the closed dealerships is unsupported and contradicted by denials from both Chrysler and the White House.

    So even if you found that all the open dealerships donated to Democrats and all the closed ones donated to the GOP, you still wouldn't have a case that the White House did it.

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  29. The 538.com site has a new analysis that exposes the wingnut pseudo-economics blog, Zero Hedge, as a bunch of shoddy, tendentioius bunko artists.

    Nutcases, before you start flinging your accusations, do some checking. The worm has turned, and from here on out you are going to have to get a work ethic.

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