Paper Peddles Bogus Foxconn Report
Puffed-up report by Walker crony swallowed whole by Journal Sentinel.
Yesterday was a low moment for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The newspaper’s front page story touted a new report concluding the state could get “a return of $3.90 for every $1 in state subsidy costs spent to lure Foxconn” to Wisconsin. The problems with the report are many, but let’s begin with the elephant in the room. The author of the “evaluation,” as he describes it, is UW-Madison economist Noah Williams, a fan of Gov. Scott Walker who sought a job with the governor as a campaign advisor and who previously issued a study of the impact of the Agriculture and Manufacturing Tax Credit that was quickly discredited.
Yet the Journal Sentinel story, whose headline announces that “Foxconn could return nearly $4 for every $1 in state subsidy,” never mentioned any of this baggage. It’s an incredible omission, and behind that is a story of how the media works (or doesn’t) and the unseemly haste to pass the multi-billion Foxconn deal before the problems with it are understood by the public.
So when the Technology Council looked for an economist to do a quick report on the Foxconn deal, it’s safe to assume they wanted someone who would be sympathetic to the deal. Even by that standard, however, the group’s choice is egregious.
Noah Williams served as an advisor to Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, as an Associated Press story by Scott Bauer and a Forbes magazine story have noted. Williams connected to Walker after aggressively selling himself to the governor, as university emails reviewed by One Wisconsin Now documented in a press release published by Urban Milwaukee. The Journal Sentinel never reported any of this.
Williams went on to write a glowing study of Walker’s Agriculture and Manufacturing Credit, which claimed it resulted in 20,000 new jobs. The study was dismissed in an analysis by our Data Wonk columnist Bruce Thompson, who noted, among other problems, that Williams study of contiguous counties in Wisconsin and four other Midwest states paired counties that are completely unlike in gross domestic product per capita without ever accounting for the difference.
Williams, in short, is an unabashed supporter of Walker, as suggested by the title of his Op Ed for Forbes, “Under Scott Walker, Wisconsin Has Prospered–Keep That In Mind For 2016.” Still, however, says he wasn’t aware of Williams background. He adds that Williams did the report for no pay because Williams and his Center for Research On the Wisconsin Economy are members of the Wisconsin Technology Council and Williams was “was following the issue, anyway, and produced the evaluation.” None of which lends confidence that this would be an objective assessment.
As for the Journal Sentinel, all a reporter would have to do is google “Noah Williams and Scott Walker” and the Associated Press story and Urban Milwaukee press release pop up on the first page. But the Journal Sentinel reporters apparently didn’t bother (the ever-shrinking newspaper still seems to operate as though it’s the only media in the state), nor did they report that the WTC is a cheerleader for the Foxconn deal.
As for Williams’ report, it offers about seven pages of analysis and immediately tips us off that this is hardly a significant study, calling itself an “evaluation” and noting its conclusions “are limited by time.”
Williams at first inflated the number of jobs spun off by the deal by 13,000, as he admitted to the Journal Sentinel. Even after the figure was corrected, Williams comes up with an even bigger economic impact from the Foxconn deal than the company, EY, hired by Foxconn to provide the best-case analysis. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau has cautioned that the EY data on the spin-off jobs is “speculative,” but Williams ups the estimate even further.
Finally, Williams disputes the Fiscal Bureau prediction that 10 percent of jobs could be filled by Illinois residents because, he notes, there is currently a net outflow of Wisconsin workers to Illinois jobs. But this gross data tells us nothing about the specific skill sets required for the Foxconn jobs and whether enough of those workers can be found in Wisconsin.
All told the evaluation is weak at best, and hardly worth reporting given Williams’ massive conflict of interest, much less being heralded on the front page. The JS story was published at 5:48 p.m. on Monday and ran in print the next morning. Some time on Tuesday afternoon, the story made a change, presumably after hearing from Scot Ross of One Wisconsin Now, and added a graph noting that Williams “had sought to advise Walker on his unsuccessful presidential campaign.” The paper added this fact: “Williams also contributed $500 to Walker’s campaign, federal records show.”
Of course by that time most online readers had read the story without the additional information. As for print readers, the next day’s paper offered none of the information on Williams‘ conflicts. So far as those readers are concerned, a UW-Madison economist had concluded the Foxconn deal was the greatest thing since sliced bread.
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- Murphy’s Law: Local Costs for Foxconn Cut By 2% - Bruce Murphy - Feb 8th, 2021
- Foxconn Sued for Breach of Contract - Corri Hess - Feb 4th, 2021
- Vos and Wanggaard Continue to Gaslight Public on Foxconn Development - A Better Mt. Pleasant - Feb 3rd, 2021
- Murphy’s Law: Robin Vos Will Solve Foxconn Fiasco - Bruce Murphy - Feb 2nd, 2021
- Murphy’s Law: 9 Reasons a New Foxconn Contract Is Unlikely - Bruce Murphy - Dec 21st, 2020
- Audit Says Foxconn Loophole Needs a Fix - Corri Hess - Dec 9th, 2020
- Back in the News: Residents Outraged by Foxconn Fiasco - Bruce Murphy - Dec 8th, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn Landing Google Contract? - Bruce Murphy - Nov 23rd, 2020
- Op Ed: Mistake? Foxconn Was a Whopper - John Torinus - Oct 30th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: What Foxconn Will Cost Taxpayers - Bruce Murphy - Oct 28th, 2020
Read more about Foxconn Facility here