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Originally published October 1, 2010 at 9:21 PM | Page modified October 7, 2010 at 10:20 AM

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The Truth Needle | The Seattle Times has launched a new feature to help voters discern fact from fiction between now and the November election. The Truth Needle will examine the claims of candidates and campaigns in the top races and decide whether they are true or false.

The Truth Needle | False: Murray ad wrongly depicts Rossi's answer on Boeing, Airbus

False: An ad for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray accuses Republican challenger Dino Rossi of saying Boeing workers should not have a level playing field to compete for an Air Force tanker contract.

"Airbus" ad from Sen. Patty Murray | YouTube
Editorial board meeting at the Tacoma News Tribune | Rossi statement ad reference takes place 21:13

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The claim: In a television ad titled "Airbus," U.S. Sen. Patty Murray accuses Republican challenger Dino Rossi of saying "no" when asked whether Boeing workers should have a level playing field to compete against a European rival for a $35 billion Air Force contract.

What we found: The ad is based on an exchange last week between Rossi and a News Tribune of Tacoma staff member during an endorsement interview with both Senate candidates.

The ad shows Rossi at the interview and says he was asked, "Should Boeing workers have a level playing field?" The ad then shows him replying, "No, not as far as I'm concerned. No."

But Rossi was never asked the words shown in the ad. A videotape of the interview shows his answer actually was in response to a convoluted exchange about whether government subsidies to Boeing and its chief competitor should be considered when awarding the contract.

Whether Rossi misunderstood the questions as he later claimed, or was ill-informed on the topic is a subject of debate. (After the interview, Rossi argued that he meant subsidies to Boeing shouldn't be considered in the contract decision.)

But because the ad substitutes a different question for the one he was asked, we find the ad's assertion is false.

Some background on the Air Force contract: In 2001, Boeing won a Pentagon contract to build the next generation of airborne refueling tankers. The contract was awarded without competition, but Boeing later forfeited it because of a procurement scandal.

In 2008, the Pentagon awarded the contract to a partnership of U.S.-based Northrop Grumman and EADS, the French company that owns Airbus, Boeing's chief rival. Boeing protested, and asked the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review how the bids were evaluated.

The GAO agreed there were serious flaws in the process, and the contract was put out for bid again.

In June, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that Airbus has benefited from more than $24 billion in illegal loans and other support from European governments. The subsidies gave Airbus an unfair advantage in the commercial-jet market, costing Boeing sales from 2001-2006, the WTO found.

The world's top trade court recently found Boeing also benefited from illegal subsidies. The report has not been made public, but Murray said the subsidies were far less than what Airbus got. Murray has said the subsidies for both companies should be considered, and that, on balance, it will show that Airbus had an unfair advantage.

Here's the exchange between Rossi and the News Tribune staff member.

News Tribune: "On the issue of trade, I wanted to ask Mr. Rossi about WTO rulings that have come out both against EU (European Union) and U.S. — and I realize we're still sorting out the U.S. and how bad that may be, but if it does come out as it appears, at least from the U.S. side that Airbus got hit harder than Boeing did, do you believe that that should be a factor in the awarding of the tanker contract?"

Rossi: "We need to fight for the tanker contract, no matter what. And the ruling, however it ever comes out, the reality is, in Washington state, the Boeing Company since 1997 has lost 30,000 jobs in our state, and we have to make sure that we fight, fight hard for that. ...

"And, unfortunately, there — and this is where I think I differ from Senator Murray on a number of different things. The Boeing Company, they don't want things like Senator Murray is sponsoring, such as Card Check, which is eliminating the secret ballot for unions, they don't want the $150 million tax increase that they calculate is going to be coming from the health-care bill. These are sorts of things that are going to hurt the Boeing Company.

"Uh, I will be there. I will fight for the, obviously fight for jobs. The reality is, is that we have to make sure that we have the right playing field to do that, and I will lead strong on those issues."

News Tribune: "When you say fight for it, and you want a level playing field, I'm not still understanding if you're saying that that WTO ruling should have a factor in the tanker bid."

Rossi: "No, not as far as I'm concerned. No."

Murray's campaign jumped on the answer and issued news releases with the headline: "Rossi says France Should Have Unfair Advantage in Building Tanker for America's Military."

Rossi's spokeswoman later said that Rossi meant that Boeing should not be penalized for the subsidies it has received. Rossi weighed in later saying that Airbus' subsidies should be considered.

Murray's spokeswoman, Julie Edwards, defended the ad, saying, "When people are talking about a level playing field, they're talking about the WTO ruling. That was the implication of the question he was asked."

Reported and written by Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com


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