Readers who are keeping count will know that this is the seventh time Claim Check has considered Tom Foley’s tenure with the Bibb Co. They may also recall that we have typically deemed ads from both sides to be generally accurate, even when they lack context or rely heavily on opinion — which doesn’t lend itself to fact-checking.
Instead, what has gotten the political spinmeisters in real trouble are statements in ads that are demonstrably and unequivocally erroneous — incorrect statements that leave little or no room for interpretation or truth-shading. And that is the fate that befalls Foley in his latest ad in the tug-of-war over Bibb.
The TV spot, titled “Right Experience,” opens with complimentary descriptions of Foley (“An American success story,” “a responsible businessman”) that are beyond the scope of fact-checking. But the ad quickly moves to the Georgia textile plant that Foley took over in 1985.
“Bought the Bibb Co. when it was failing,” the narrator states. “Added 3,000 jobs. Never took a salary. Protected workers’ jobs and benefits.”
As we’ve written before, whether the Bibb Co. was “failing” is partly a matter of opinion, but its sales were declining in the years before Foley’s takeover, and it is not unfair for the campaign to use that term.
The extent to which Foley can take credit for having “protected workers’ jobs and benefits” after ceding control of the company is also difficult to fact-check. SEC documents show that worker benefits were indeed unchanged after Foley gave up control of the Bibb Co. in a prepackaged bankruptcy, and Foley says he repelled efforts by the new owners to have employees bear some of the cost of the restructuring. While workers certainly lost their jobs years later when plants were closed, establishing the minimum time frame required to declare that jobs were “protected” is a subjective exercise.
But the remaining claims about Bibb are considerably more troublesome — particularly the salary claim. As the principal equity stakeholder in the Bibb Co., it would not be unusual for Foley to forgo a salary, but Securities and Exchange Commission documents do in fact show a salary for Foley in 1992 and 1993. He did not receive a salary in later years (and earlier records are difficult to come by). But SEC documents filed by the company show compensation paid to senior executives, including $646,973 in 1992 and $200,937 in 1993 for Foley listed under the heading “salary.” (A notation for the much-larger 1992 figure notes that Foley served as president and chief operating officer of the company for six months in 1992 after the prior president resigned.)
The Courant provided the Foley campaign with the SEC documents and Foley, through a spokesman, acknowledged that the record showed he received a salary those years. But he said he did not recall receiving compensation in that fashion, and is sure he did not draw a salary for the remaining nine of the 11 years he owned the company.
As for those 3,000 added jobs, the Foley campaign says that’s the difference between the number of Bibb employees when Foley acquired the company and the number when he gave up control. Bibb Co.’s employment numbers did indeed grow by 3,000 — but it was not, as viewers might conclude, the result of mass hiring. Instead, most of that growth is tied to Foley’s acquisition of several manufacturing plants that went on the market after the collapse of the J.P. Stevens Co. When the deal was signed, about 3,000 workers in those plants became Bibb employees.
While it is perhaps a liberal use of the language to say that Foley “added 3,000 jobs,” it might still be within acceptable tolerances — but for a key word inserted in an on-screen graphic. As the narrator states that Foley “added 3,000 jobs,” a graphic declares: “Added 3,000 New Jobs.” Describing those positions as “new jobs” stretches the language too far and gives the clear — and incorrect — impression that these were newly created positions.
The ad also focuses on Foley’s seven-month tenure in 2003 and 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, where he was asked by President George W. Bush to oversee privatizing government-owned businesses. “Served America in war-torn Iraq,” the narrator states, as the screen displays an image of Foley standing outside a C130 military cargo plane. “Fixing the economy. Restoring jobs. Awarded a medal for his service.”
Americans are sensitive about how politicians describe their military-related service. But while the ad uses the words “served” and “service,” and is unspecific about the medal Foley received (his biography indicates it was a civilian award), this spot does not leave an impression that Foley served in a combat role. The photos of Foley in Iraq show him in short-sleeve civilian clothing and the ad is specific about his role: “Fixing the economy. Restoring jobs.” Certainly without those details — had the ad merely indicated he served in Iraq and won a medal — that language would be more problematic. But as written, the spot is a reasonable summary of Foley’s role in Iraq. The extent to which he was successful at fixing the economy or restoring jobs is a subjective matter beyond the scope of fact-checking, but records do show that he was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service.
Foley’s “Right Experience” ad covers a lot of ground, and substantial parts of it have a solid basis in fact. But in revisiting the well-worn battle over the legacy of the Bibb Co., the ad misleads on the company’s job creation and is flat-out wrong in its definitive declaration that Foley never took a salary. While those missteps are not the only claims made in the ad, they are significant elements. As such, we rate this ad Significantly Misleading.