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Bullied: Under White House Pressure, Ford Pulls Anti-Bailout TV Ad -- UPDATE: Maybe Not?

Remember the provocative Ford commercial we highlighted a few weeks back?  I hope you have a sharp memory because it's gone.  Yanked off of YouTube, and pulled from the air. (*See updates below*)  Here's a written description of the spot, since video is no longer available:


In its most political ad in the so-called “Drive One” ads where real drivers are thrust before cameras to explain why they picked Ford, a real Ford F-150 pick-up driver is featured.  His name is Chris. After he sits down the “reporters” bark “Chris, Chris.” One asks him to explain why “was buying American important to you.”

Sitting and looking sincere and serious, Chris says: “I wasn’t going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that’s standing on their own: win, lose, or draw. That’s what America is about is taking the chance to succeed and understanding when you fail that you gotta’ pick yourself up and go back to work. Ford is that company for me.”

What happened?  The White House started asking "questions," that's what:

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. And more.  With President Barack Obama tuning his re-election campaign amid dismal economic conditions and simmering antipathy toward his stimulus spending and associated bailouts, the Ford ad carried the makings of a political liability when Team Obama can least afford yet another one. Can't have that.

The ad, pulled in response to White House questions (and, presumably, carping from rival GM), threatened to rekindle the negative (if accurate) association just when the president wants credit for their positive results (GM and Chrysler are moving forward, making money and selling vehicles) and to distance himself from any public downside of his decision.  In other words, where presidential politics and automotive marketing collide — clean, green, politically correct vehicles not included — the president wins and the automaker loses because the benefit of the battle isn't worth the cost of waging it.


This Detroit News piece goes on to quote a source familiar with the situation who asserts that no direct pressure was brought to bear on Ford.  That may technically be true, but when your corporate headquarters starts receiving less-than-pleasant phone calls from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "inquiring" about a controversial ad campaign, an explicit threat is hardly necessary.  Which isn't to say this adminsitration is above leveling explicit bailout-related threats.  And yes, it is somewhat hypocritical of Ford to beat the populist, anti-bailout drum when its top executives lobbied heavily in favor of said bailouts, even though the company didn't end up taking any of the money. 
But at the end of the day, here's what we know:  The Bush and Obama administrations bailed out the auto industry during the economic collapse of 2008-2009.  GM and Chrysler took the cash.  Ford did not.  Taxpayers have taken a multibillion dollar bath on this program of government largesse.  Perhaps as a result of its rivals' convalescence, Ford decided to tap into some of the residual anger over Washington's "too big to fail" mentality by positioning itself as an all-American, "standing on our own two feet" company.  They sought to refresh the public's memory that they resisted the temptation of government dependency when its rivals raced to the trough.  In response, the Obama White House started asking questions, and now the controversial ad has vanished.
Well done, Attack Watch.  You've inspired me to resurrect Michael Barone's "Gangster Government" columns.  Sue me.

UPDATEHmmm...Ford PR posts on Facebook that the ad wasn't pulled due to coersion, but because its (fairly typical) four-week run cycle had expired.  Though some videos were removed, the clip is still available on Ford's official YouTube channel:

Did the Detroit News blow this story?

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