“Mitt Romney’s companies sent jobs overseas.”

Is that statement true or false?

It passed mostly unnoticed, but on Friday, a well-respected fact-checking organization — one cited by the Romney campaign itself on occasion — essentially agreed that this is a defensible assertion.

In its Friday piece, Politifact gave a “half true” rating to the following Obama campaign claim: “Mitt Romney’s companies were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low-wage countries.” But if you dig deep into the piece, you find that the main reason for the “half” true rating was the Obama camp’s claim that Romney’s companies “pioneered” this practice. Politifact disagreed with that.

But Politifact agreed that it’s fair game to describe these as “Romney’s companies.”

For example, in 2000, a Bain-controlled firm, Modus Media, closed a plant in California and opened one in Mexico. The Romney camp, of course, has argued that jobs were moved overseas after Romney left the firm. The Obama campaign has argued that documents show Romney was still CEO and chairman, and should be held responsible for the company’s activities at the time.

But Politifact notes that the distinction is beside the point:

[t]he exact month that Romney stepped away from Bain makes little difference. When Modus Media closed that plant in California in 2000, it was making the kind of move Romney and Bain expected when they first got behind it. The particular decision was not known, but the general nature of the decision was, the experts we spoke with said.
Matthew Rice, Chief Investment Officer for DiMeo Schneider and Associates, a Chicago-based investment consulting firm, says he doesn’t see how Romney can divorce himself from the strategies that made Bain profitable.

“Technically, I guess he can,” Rice said. “But they would have done it anyway, whether he was there or not. If you can offshore and cut costs, you do it.”...

We find reasonable grounds for labeling the companies as “Romney’s.” He was the founder of Bain and assembled a team that looked to make high returns. One strategy was to invest in companies that played off the trend in outsourcing.
If picking a company makes it yours, then these were Romney’s companies and in a general sense, they did what he expected them to do. The one caveat is there is a gray area of direct accountability, because no one has reported that he was personally involved in managing those firms.

Politifact is acknowledging that “direct accountability” is hard to confirm, but that to some degree it’s meaningless, given the larger context. Relatedly, on MSNBC this morning, HuffPo’s Sam Stein made a good point, noting that Romney has not said whether he personally views the controversial deals as representing a problematic business practice. “Does the Governor think that those were good deals for Bain?” Stein asked.

It’s a good question. This is what I was getting at on Friday, when I wrote that the question of whether Romney himself personally approved the deals in question is an overly narrow way of framing the debate. In a way this gets at one of the ways that fact checking is an inexact science that depends heavily on what statement is actually being fact checked. The argument needn’t be only focused on whether Romney personally signed off on each controversial deal. The larger point here is that Romney’s business background was about creating wealth — regardless of the impact it had on American jobs — and that in so doing, his company invested in firms that outsourced and ultimately moved jobs overseas, even as Romney remained listed as CEO and sole shareholder.

I rate that last statement to be “true.”