Commentary

Ford Gets Extra Mileage Out Of Its 'Bailout' Ad

There has been a lot of football lately -- including of the political variety -- and Ford has been in the middle of it, as usual. In case you missed the kick-off last week, Detroit News columnist Daniel Howes ran a piece that carried the provocative headline "Ford pulls its ad on bailouts; 'Didn't take the money' boast ruffles feathers."

The 30-second spot is part of the mock news-conference series we've been seeing for a while. In this execution, a customer named Chris McDaniel says he bought a Ford because he liked the fact that the company didn't take any bailout money from the government.

"I was going to buy from a manufacturer that is standing on its own. Win, lose or draw," he says. That's what America is about."

You can view the spot here.

"Ford pulled the ad after individuals inside the White House questioned whether the copy was publicly denigrating the controversial bailout policy CEO Alan Mulally repeatedly supported in the dark days of late 2008, in early '09 and again when the ad flap arose," Howes wrote.

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Ford denied the political pressure was behind the ad disappearing. On Facebook, it said it has just run its course.

Fox's Sean Hannity was among the commentators from the anti-Obama team who seized on the report. He asked McDaniel if he thought the administration "which wants to tout their bailout as some success -- got angry and got in touch with Ford?"

McDaniel responds that Ford told him it had simply run its cycle but that "it just seems fishy that these other stories are circling around at the same time. You know the old saying: 'Where there's smoke, there's fire.'"

But, Alex Alvarez points out in Mediaite, McDaniel adds that he applauds Ford for having put the ad on air in the first place. Then, on Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House committee on oversight and government reform, wrote a letter to Mulally asking about the developments, MSNBC reports.

"Given the close relationship between American automobile manufacturers, workers unions and the U.S. government in the wake of a series of loans, grants and stimulus programs, accusations of White House interference in private business matters to support its own political and policy agendas are very serious issues and warrant a full airing of facts," Issa says.

Ford again denied any undue pressure, and pledged full cooperation with Issa. The administration also denied the charges. But the spot had already gotten way more mileage than anyone could have expected.

"That guy sweats red, white and blue. Good stuff, with huge viral potential," writes Time "Swampland" blogger Michael Scherer. "Predictably, it has set off a political firestorm, with supportive YouTube videos, 'scandal' segments on Fox News and, now, a Congressional investigation."

The thing is, he writes, the charges that Ford put pressure on the administration are really unsubstantiated. And Ford supported the bailout. And it's really not standing on its own, either.

"In September of 2009, the Obama Administration awarded Ford Motors a separate $5.9 billion loan to upgrade manufacturing facilities ... to improve fuel efficiency, as part of something called the Advanced Technology Manufacturing (AVTM) program. Since the money was given as a loan, the only cost to taxpayers was the 'credit subsidy' cost, or the net long-term cost of the loan for the government."

While the cost of the Ford loan is substantially less than that of the bailout of Chrysler and GM, Scherer figures it still comes out to "$7.50 for every man, woman and child in the U.S., the price of a good sandwich."

The Week, meanwhile, sums it all up with its concise flair by suggesting that there are three possible lessons to be drawn from the flap. They are, even more concisely:

1. It's a bad idea to let government meddle in business;

2. Conservatives will distort any meaningless event to bash Obama;

3. Bailout bitterness lives on.

Whether you lean towards #1, #2, #3 or "all of the above," it's hard to dispute that Ford comes out a winner in the controversy. No one, as far as I can tell, is launching a "don't buy Ford for not taking the bailout even though they supported it and probably would have if they didn't have to" campaign.

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