Memo to journalists at Fortune: If you want to run an “Aha!”-type item based on a new report or study, at least read the whole document – and report all its main findings. Because apparently no one involved in its coverage of the latest Cars.com index of American-made cars and light trucks followed this rule, its readers were denied crucial facts and context.
Here’s how Fortune led off the post in question: “The phrase ‘made in America’ has always pulled at the hearts and wallets of loyal, red-blooded consumers, and never more so than in the automotive space. But according to research released Monday, the car company that qualifies as most American is….the Toyota Camry.”
And in case you have any doubts about the main point Fortune wanted to make, here’s what the magazine concluded after spotlighting two more “surprises” about declining domestic content in vehicles sold in the U.S. market: “Globalization is here.” If you think this it’s coincidental that this observation came on the heels of a knock-down drag-out fight in Congress on trade policy, I’ve got some turnip truck tickets to sell you.
More damning evidence that Fortune was looking for a chance to score some cheap rhetorical free trade points comes from what the magazine ignored in the Cars.com study: its observation – based on official U.S. Transportation Department data – that “Detroit has the bulk of cars with high domestic content. GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles build 37 of the 57 U.S.-assembled cars with 60 percent or higher domestic content. Foreign-based automakers are responsible for dozens of imported cars with zero percent domestic content, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]. Detroit automakers have just two cars below 5 percent….”
Moreover, had Fortune bothered to look at the latest set of government statistics and Cars.com’s observations, it would have spotted some important differences. For example, Cars.com found that “The Toyota Camry took the top spot this year, as 2014’s top vehicle,” with 75 percent of its content coming from either the United States or Canada. (NHTSA weirdly has never distinguished between the two.) But in April, Washington reported that nine models were at the 75 percent mark, and six came from the Detroit automakers.
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And had Fortune gone to the source, it also might not have written that “A Chrysler hasn’t shown up [on the 75 percent list] since 2012.” The NHTSA data place the Dodge Grand Caravan in that select company.
Fortune is of course free to like free trade as much as it wishes – though an intellectually honest publication would at least mention that government decisions like the pursuit of the North American Free Trade Agreement have shaped automotive (and other manufacturing) production patterns at least as much as “globalization” – a term whose combination of sweep and vagueness inevitably implies… inevitability. But it shouldn’t be free to cherry pick findings it likes and present the slanted results as straight news.