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A Sham News Story on Foxconn

About a month ago, a local business lobbying group in Whitewater invited an operative of the Walker Administration to the city to talk about Foxconn. The nearby Jefferson County Daily Union sent a stringer to cover the presentation. See Foxconn impact outlined in Whitewater.

In the 38-paragraph story, the paper simply reproduces – without the slightest inquiry – whatever the state official, Matt Moroney, claims. It’s as though the reporter (generously described) simply swallowed whatever he heard and then reflexively vomited those words back on the page.

The Daily Union cares so little about Whitewater and her readers that for about a decade the paper has sent a stenographer to do the work that should have been assigned – all these years, in all these stories – to a real reporter.

Stories like this are a ‘you’re not worth it’ message to Whitewater.

A few remarks:

1. ‘Potential.’ The headline says ‘Foxconn impact outlined in Whitewater,’ but the first paragraph slyly inserts potential impact. One might have the potential to be a jet pilot, pop singer, or rugby champion, but one can guess that the potential number is vastly greater than those who truly become jet pilots, pop singers, or rugby champions.

2. Matt Moroney. The story describes state official Matt Moroney as the ‘strategic economic initiative director for the state Department of Administration.’

Omitted is that he’s a former political operative (Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy chief of staff) and that his position is paid from the very Foxconn project he’s touting (“the position was created as part of the special session bill setting up $3 billion in state incentives for Foxconn Technology Group“).

3. ‘Up to.’ One reads that Foxconn might “create up to 13,000 new jobs.” They’ve guaranteed nowhere near so many. Someone might run up to 26 miles today, but then, strictly speaking, walking two blocks to the nearest Dairy Queen is within that ‘up to’ 26-mile goal.

Did the Daily Union’s stringer even bother to ask the likelihood of that asserted potential? (If he did, the answer’s not published.)

4. ‘Fourth-Largest Technology Company in the World.’ Moroney contends that Foxconn is the fourth-largest technology company in the world. The story gives no source for that claim. Moroney’s quoted as saying “[i]t has manufacturing facilities in Asia, Europe, Brazil and Mexico, and in 2016, it generated $135 billion in revenue.”

One has a quick question, however:

If Taiwan’s Foxconn is the fourth-biggest technology company in the world, with $135 billion in a single year’s revenue, why does it need billions more in taxpayer money from Wisconsinites?

5. ‘Rivaling Silicon Valley.’ Moroney contends that “[t]hey are trying to create an ecosystem that is going to try to rival Silicon Valley. That is their goal.” The relevant and material question is whether Racine County will ever actually rival Silicon Valley.

6. Now It’s Definite. When the story starts, claims are couched as potential, but by paragraph 12, the language deceptively changes to the definitive: “jobs would be created to build the facility in the first phase, along with 13,000 employees.”

What was possible before is now alleged as certain.

7. The Magic Multiplier. Moroney claims a multiplier of 11-1 (and now other project supporters are claiming a multiplier of 18-1). Neither number is credible, but how is it that the strategic economic initiative director for the state Department of Administration can’t keep his story straight with other boosters? Is it 11-1, 18-1, etc.?

For a discussion of how nutty the claim about a large multiplier is, see Foxconn as Alchemy: Magic Multipliers.

Those must be some magic beans Moroney’s planting in the ground. If he climbs high enough, perhaps, alongside a giant and a goose that lays golden eggs, he’ll find all those jobs he’s touting.

8. Relax: Foxconn’s Going to Hire an “Independent” CPA. Wait for it: “Foxconn has agreed to a “reporting process” that allows the state to monitor its targets. The company will hire an independent CPA to conduct the reports” (emphasis added).

No, and no again: the state – after committing billions of taxpayer money to this project – needs to hire accountants, auditors, and monitors of its own.

9. What’s Moroney Doing, By the Way? One would think that the “strategic economic initiative director for the state Department of Administration” should be the one monitoring compliance, not traveling the state on a public-relations roadshow.

He’s had several politically-connected jobs: a Walker Administration deputy chief of staff, a senior advisor to Gov. Walker, a deputy secretary of the Wisconsin DNR, and the director of the Metropolitan Builders Association.

10. UW-Whitewater. Toward the end of the talk, someone asks a question about the role of UW-Whitewater in all this. Here’s Moroney’s answer:

“Foxconn is still trying to figure out exactly what type of skill set they need for all, and exact job numbers that they need to have. I would need to get that type of information first to share with the universities.

It’s not just the university. Sometimes we get too focused on university training, but there are a lot of good jobs that you do not have to have a university — there is tech college training, some companies do on the job training. We just need to get more people in the workforce.”

Quick summary: UW-Whitewater will have nothing to do with this; Foxconn’s looking for non-college laborers.

If the Daily Union wants to call itself a newspaper for Whitewater, it’s going to need to commit to conventional reporting; if Whitewater’s business lobby wants to uplift this city, they’re going to have to do better than corporate welfare schemes.

Previously: 10 Key Articles About FoxconnFoxconn as Alchemy: Magic Multipliers,  Foxconn Destroys Single-Family HomesFoxconn Devours Tens of Millions from State’s Road Repair Budget, and The Man Behind the Foxconn Project.

2 comments for “A Sham News Story on Foxconn

  1. Joe
    03/28/2018 at 12:03 PM

    RE: Point 10
    You nailed it. Foxconn needs to train truck drivers, not technologists. UW-W doesn’t do technology all that thoroughly, in any account.

    After a career in the electronic design and manufacturing biz, I can confidently bet my Social Security on Foxconn never getting anywhere 13,000 jobs. They don’t need that many truck drivers. Everything inside the loading dock will be extraordinarily automated.

    You don’t build a shiny-new, state of-the-art, $10B electronics assembly factory with long tables lined with hair-netted ladies with tweezers in their hands anymore. That has not been the case for many years. Every job that it is possible to automate, right down to sweeping the floors, will be done by specialized assembly equipment and industrial robots.

    Walker got seduced by all the glitter. He guppied up to Foxconn like a baby robin in a nest, open beak to the sky, waiting for a worm to be delivered.

    • JOHN ADAMS
      03/28/2018 at 12:43 PM

      Thank you – I appreciate your insights (here and on other topics). Foxconn’s an infuriating and a sad story. It’s both wasteful and a confidence game, duping people into hoping for a result that just won’t happen. The use of increasingly absurd multipliers is worse than dishonest.

      Whitewater – like other rural towns – has heard about far too many ludicrous business development projects, with each proving ineffectual, and each quickly forgotten (so as to forestall questions and accountability) until the supposed Next Big Thing.

      Foxconn, sadly, is just one more.