Matt Taibbi, a leader calling out journalism wrongdoing and an independent reporter most deserving of public support, provided me with much needed solace yesterday morning. Taibbi understands the significance of the disclosure at a criminal trial that Hillary Clinton was aware and complicit in one of the most ambitious disinformation campaigns ever executed in American politics. Taibbi argued there are reasonable grounds to ban Clinton from Twitter.

That Hillary Clinton would engage in such egregious dishonesty isn’t news to readers of the New York Times, circa 1996. That’s when legendary columnist William Safire declared Clinton “a congenital liar” for her myriad deceptions. “Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that (Clinton) is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit,” Safire wrote in a January 8, 1996, column.

Clinton’s perennial lying isn’t an issue to the current generation of journalists writing for the New York Times or for the rest of the legacy media, arguably because they are congenital liars and deceivers themselves. In its story celebrating the acquittal of Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, the Times minimized the case as being brought by a “Trump era prosecutor” and glosses over the media’s role in Clinton’s misinformation campaign. The Washington jury, which included Clinton campaign contributors, was widely expected to acquit Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI because Beltway swamp creatures take care of their own.

“There are bigger things that affect the nation than a possible lie to the FBI,” one Sussmann juror was quoted as saying after the trial.

Ford’s $19.2 million settlement

Politicians were long infamous for lying and deceit, but dishonesty has taken hold in corporate America. Telling bald faced lies is no longer viewed as reputationally damaging which is why Ford Motor Company’s $19.2 million multistate settlement for exaggerating the real-world economy of its hybrids and the payload capacity of its Super Duty trucks has received scant media attention.

“Consumers place a premium on fuel-efficiency when shopping for new vehicles,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller who negotiated the settlement on behalf of 40 states and the District of Columbia. “For years, Ford advertised impressive fuel economy and payload capacity for its cars and trucks. Unfortunately, these figures were not based in reality, leaving customers with vehicles that did not meet their standards.”    

Iowa AG Tom Miller

The monetary settlement is piddly – Ford CEO Jim Farley in 2021 received $23 million in compensation, so he could pay it out of his own pocket and still be left with $4 million, more than adequate pay. The paltry settlement represents the limited legal prowess of Miller’s office, whose civil servant attorneys obviously were no match for Ford’s crack team of lawyers who play a critical role shielding the business practices that drive the company’s profits. David Friedman, a former regulator with the NHTSA, was recently quoted as saying that legal threats and lawsuits from Ford and other automakers prevent the regulatory agency from recalling vehicles it deems unsafe.

The rules Ford pledged to live by

Deceptive ads aren’t what one would expect from a company that in March was named among the “ten most ethical companies in the world.” It’s also not what one should reasonably expect from Ford, given its supposedly longstanding code of conduct rules.

Ford in 1977 pledged to “make accurate claims to our customers, use only competent testimonials, and strive to be open about all aspects of the products and services we offer.” The company promised to be “vigilant against conduct which has the intent, capability, or effect of being deceptive towards our customers.” Ford also committed to “not merely abide by the law in a technical way” but to “strive to serve our customers with honest values, avoiding all devices and schemes which prey on human ignorance or gullibility.”

My sense is that when Ford drafted its code of conduct rules decades ago, there really was an institutional desire and commitment to adhere to them. I’m an avid reader of corporate code of conduct statements and most of them these days are written in HR and PRspeak, not the plain-speaking language Ford used to articulate its values and rules. I’ve noticed there is a disproportionate correlation between the declared piousness of corporate conduct statements and actual adherence to them. American Express and Centene are but two examples.

What’s notable about Ford’s advertising deception is that it was deliberately orchestrated.

From AG Miller’s news release:

In the world of truck advertising, the claim of “Best-in-Class” payload is a coveted title. The attorneys general allege that Ford devised a deceptive methodology to calculate maximum payload capacity based on a hypothetical truck configuration that omitted standard items such as the spare wheel, tire and jack, center flow console (replacing it with a mini console), and radio. The trucks’ hypothetical payload capacity increased by approximately 154 to 194 pounds, just enough for Ford to advertise a misleading Best-in-Class payload. 

Ford used this deceptive strategy only for calculating payload for advertising purposes; it did not use that strategy for calculating actual payload capacity of individual Super Duty pick-up trucks. Although Ford advertised the Best-in-Class payload as available to all consumers, only fleet purchasers (a limited category of businesses that purchase multiple new vehicles each year for commercial purposes) could order trucks equipped so that they could achieve the advertised payload capacity. Individual purchasers could not purchase a Super Duty pickup truck that realized Ford’s Best-in-Class payload claims.  

Think about this for a moment: Some Ford employees concocted measurements that were intended to deceive consumers, contrary to the company’s own rules. And Ford’s deceptions weren’t limited to the 2011-2014 period for which it settled with Iowa’s AG.

Ford’s lies keep on coming

According to the independent trade publication Ford Authority, Ford last year issued a recall for select 2020 Ford Super Duty vehicles equipped with the automaker’s 6.7L Power Stroke diesel due to overstated payload capacity values on the tire and loading information label, overstated accessory reserve capacity values on the safety certification label, and overstated weight values on the truck camper loading documentation. That sparked a class action suit, which according to AG Miller is still pending.

Ford’s multistate settlement prohibits the company from “making false or misleading advertising claims concerning the estimated fuel economy or payload capacity of a new motor vehicle.” It subjects Ford to penalties under the Iowa Consumer Fraud Act if a court determines that Ford violated the settlement agreement.  I’m possibly mistaken in assuming this, but I’d expect Iowa’s Consumer Fraud Act already prohibits Ford and any other company from making false or misleading claims.

I wonder, too, if Ford might again be in violation of misleading disclosures. The company’s much ballyhooed Ford Lightning electric trucks have just been released, and trade publications have reported the vehicle loses half its range when towing a 23-foot Airstream trailer. That multiple trade publications consider the revelation news suggests they weren’t aware of the considerable range loss.

Published in electrek

A 50 percent loss in range is significant and worthy of prominent upfront disclosure, particularly since CEO Farley admits that the company’s charging network needs “major work.” Airstream trailers are enjoying a surge in popularity, and being able to only go 100 or so miles before recharging Ford’s electric truck in the real world means Ford Lightning owners shouldn’t consider venturing too far from their driveways.

Ford’s faux love for Michigan

Ford’s Farley is prone to making statements I perceive as insincere, particularly his claim that Ford’s “love of Michigan” influences its decision making.

Love for Michigan?

Under Farley’s watch, Ford has announced plans to invest more than $11 billion in Kentucky and Tennessee, expand its manufacturing operations in Mexico where the popular electric Mustang is assembled, and move more white-collar jobs to India where Ford already has more than 11,000 employees. There have been reports that Ford is mulling building EVs in India for export. I wrote a column for Deadline Detroit about how Farley played Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other state officials for fools.

Jim Farley

Whitmer and Detroit’s fawning media like to tout Ford’s revitalization of the city’s former train station which is being refurbished with about $500 million in taxpayer funds. Notably, Ford doesn’t want its name on the structure, supposedly to keep the edifice corporate “agnostic” My skeptical view is the facility will become yet another taxpayer boondoggle, and Ford doesn’t want its logo prominently appearing on a failed project that will remind Detroiters of the company’s abandonment of their city.

Perhaps Farley is deserving of all his media hype and praise, but history shows that when the media universally goes gaga over a CEO and writes over-the-top puff pieces declaring they walk on water, they rarely live up to their billing.

Remember this guy?

And this wunderkind?

Or this lady?

The media would be wise to learn from their mistakes and show some healthy skepticism about Farley, particularly given his company’s longstanding troubled relationship with advertising truth.

Display art credit: ©parrysuwanitch/123RF.COM

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.