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Jobs report: Media cranks hate improved numbers, attack the messenger

October 05, 2012|By James Rainey

  Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan famously said that people were entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts.

With the news that unemployment slipped under 8% for the first time in about four years, some right-wing ideologues are flailing about for their own facts. In the process, they don’t mind slandering the people who produce the nation’s jobs numbers.

The 7.8% unemployment number doesn’t exactly signal a bonanza for Americans, but it’s enough of an improvement that supporters of Mitt Romney obviously worry some voters may think that President Obama’s stewardship of the economy is finally paying small dividends.

Among many right-leaning news outlets, Fox News led the charge to counter the good-news perception. Morning host Steve Doocy claimed there was “something fishy” about numbers that showed fewer Americans in the job market. Late night host Greta Van Susteren raised the question of whether the government might be “cooking the books.”

Those are ostensibly news figures at Fox, but the network puts no restraint on the flinging of opinions, much like MSNBC on the left. Those comments were mild compared with Fox’s full-time fulminators, like the blustery Sean Hannity, who claimed the numbers were “phony, fraudulent and deceptive.”

And the evidence offered of this grand conspiracy by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics? Zilch. Nada. None.

The Bureau of Labor statistics revised the July employment figure from a gain of 141,000 jobs to a gain of 181,000, and said 142,000 jobs had been added in August, also an upward recalculation, from the previous reported August gain of 96,000.

So the agency added a net 40,000 jobs for July and 46,000 for August — thousandths of one percentage point when calculated against total non-farm civilian employment in the United States of about 115 million.

Many reputable news organizations have reported that the federal agency routinely recalculates the jobs figures.

Nate Silver, the statistician and political blogger for the New York Times, noted that the revamping of jobs’ numbers often results in significant changes. Over 40 years, the monthly recalculation has averaged 54,000 jobs a month, Silver noted.

That makes this week’s recalculations well within the norm.

But those are facts. And facts don’t always have a long shelf life in a fact-averse, ideologically charged atmosphere.

The conspiracy theorists also pointed to reductions in the overall job force as implausible but demographic changes, including an aging population, have put fewer Americans in the working ranks since 2000.

The people out to demonize labor statisticians this week merely add them to their gallery of America’s villains, right alongside mainstream journalists, climate scientists, and, well, anyone who gets in the way of the political message of the moment.

Staff writer David Lauter in Washington contributed to this report.

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james.rainey@latimes.com
Twitter: @latimesrainey

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