Fox personalities are attempting to discredit the October jobs report before its release on November 2 by suggesting that if the unemployment rate drops as it did in September, the numbers may have been manipulated by the Obama administration. In fact, there is no evidence to suggest the government's numbers are manipulated.
Fox Suggests Government May Manipulate October Jobs Report
Martha MacCallum Casts Doubt On Jobs Report By Questioning Whether Jobs Numbers “Have Been Massaged A Bit Ahead Of The Election.” During a discussion on a number of economic indicators released this week, including the monthly jobs report, Martha MacCallum, co-host of Fox News' America's Newsroom, said that "[t]here has been so much talk in the recent month of, you know, whether or not" the jobs numbers “have been massaged a bit ahead of the election and a lot of folks who think there may be something to that.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 11/1/12]
Megyn Kelly Asks If “We Can Trust” The Labor Department. During a discussion on the October jobs report on Fox News' America Live, host Megyn Kelly questioned whether the government employees who compile the data for the jobs report were non-partisan and could be trusted, because “the numbers seem to change” :
MELISSA FRANCIS [Fox Business host]: The folks at the Labor Department, they're non-partisan folks. They're all government employees. They're out there collecting the data.
KELLY: They are? So we can trust them? Because here's the only reason I ask you, 'cause the numbers seem to change, anecdotally, just as a news anchor who doesn't know a lot about math, they release these things and then a month later it changes. [Fox News, America Live, 10/31/12]
For the truth about jobs data revisions, click here.
Ed Butowsky: If Unemployment Drops, “Let's Investigate It, Because There's A Lot Of Weird Stuff Going On In The Fog Of Government Numbers.” On Fox Business' Varney & Co., frequent Fox guest Ed Butowksy claimed the unemployment data should be investigated only if it improves, “because there's a lot of weird stuff going on in the fog of government numbers” :
BUTOWSKY: We've had, you know, so much rhetoric and so much politicking going on, over the last, what, year really, so I don't know who's undecided. But if that number ticks up what you're going to see is the headline is going to say we have unemployment rising, that's going to be a negative. If you see unemployment remaining the same, I don't think that really sways anybody. But if that number drops, you know two percentage points, you know what, I'm going to say the same thing. Let's investigate it, because there's a lot of weird stuff going on in the fog of government numbers. [Fox Business, Varney & Co., 10/31/12]
Scott Martin: Unemployment Rate Is A “Complete Fairy Tale” And “The Number Tomorrow Look[s] A Little Bit Cloudy To Me.” On Fox Business' Markets Now, Fox Business regular Scott Martin referred to the unemployment rate as “fantasy” and a “complete fairy tale,” and implied that due to Hurricane Sandy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics' October report looks a “little bit cloudy” :
MARTIN: You want to talk about fantasy, how about just a complete fairy tale, which I think Mark's alluding to. The unemployment rate, there's two surveys here. Let's face it. There's the establishment survey which actually surveys real businesses, 100,000 plus of them that say how many people did you hire or fire last month and they net that out. The other one is the household survey, they call people on the phone and ask if they have a job, how many jobs they have if they're looking for work. That number, as Mark pointed out last month Cheryl almost 900,000 jobs, I'm not misstating that, 900,000 jobs were supposedly created in September alone. That number is way off. That was the highest number in about ten years. I think that's coming down, because if you look at GDP numbers at two percent productivity as we got this week growing in the third quarter at about two percent as well, there's no way the economy is creating that many jobs.
MARTIN: Well, listen Cheryl, I'm not going to doubt that there's some hiring going on out there. I just don't know if it is 100,000 or 200,000. I tend to think it's probably somewhere around 75,000, that's my prediction for the number tomorrow. And yes, let's call the change between Moody's and Macroeconomic advisers who had previously been working on the ADP number timely I guess because they got a good number right before the election. But let's not forget too, Cheryl, you know, they take the survey for the unemployment rate and for the non-farm payroll number in the third week and the second week of the month. So the Bureau of Labor Statistics being out of power, you know, maybe those electric pencil sharpeners that they're using at the BLS were not in operation actually earlier this week, they use their satellite offices to come up with a number, it makes the number tomorrow look a little bit cloudy to me. [Fox Business, Markets Now, 11/1/12]
Charles Payne, Discussing October Jobs Report, Says “People Were Out And Out Calling The Federal Government, Saying That They Lied About” Last Report. Fox Business contributor Charles Payne claimed on Fox & Friends that there might be an “incentive” for the government to try to delay the release of the October jobs report because last month's numbers were “sloppy,” causing “people” to say the federal government “lied” :
PAYNE: Obviously every conspiracy theorist in the world would say obviously there's a -- listen, last month when the number came in at 7.8 percent unemployment and all the other numbers suggested that we were just as sloppy as any other month, it just didn't match. You know, of course keep in mind the government thing is two surveys: surveyed businesses, the establishment, and the household survey. They just were so off, they did not match to the point where people were out and out calling the federal government, saying that they lied about this. So, yeah there would be an incentive if somehow that 7.8 became 8.4 percent and we learned about it after the election. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 10/30/12]
To see the conservative media's history of dismissing newly released jobs numbers, click here.
But There Is No Evidence That Previous Jobs Data Was Manipulated
MSNBC: “There Is Absolutely Zero Evidence To Suggest The Unemployment Data Has Been Manipulated In Any Way.” On The Maddow Blog, MSNBC contributor Steve Benen wrote “there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the unemployment data has been manipulated in any way” :
For the record, there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the unemployment data has been manipulated in any way. The monthly report is compiled by career officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who are walled off from political influence and who've done nothing to have their integrity called into question, and if Republicans are going to raise the specter of an elaborate conspiracy theory, it's incumbent on them to offer at least some kind of proof.
But the larger problem is that this kind of twisted thinking isn't limited to job numbers.
I'm reminded of something Alex Seitz-Wald wrote earlier this year, when Fox News became heavily invested in the argument that the job numbers were illegitimate:
If it weren't improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold on strong belief about something invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers.
But doesn't this sound familiar? The polls look bad for Romney, but rather than deal with the evidence, Republicans assume there's a conspiracy to “skew” the data.
Climate scientists present evidence of global warming, but rather than deal with the evidence, Republicans assume there's a conspiracy to scare the public.
Forget politics for a minute and consider this thesis: it's just not healthy for an entire political party to be so uncomfortable with reality that they deal with it, frequently, by cooking up elaborate and implausible theories, based on no evidence whatsoever. [The Maddow Blog, 10/5/12]
Economist Betsey Stevenson: “Anyone Who Thinks That Political Folks Can Manipulate The [Unemployment] Data Are Completely Ignorant.” In a post on Twitter, Betsey Stevenson, former chief economist at the Department of Labor, wrote: “Anyone who thinks that political folks can manipulate the unempt data are completely ignorant about how BLS works & how data are compiled.”
Business Insider: Drop In Unemployment Rate Is Not A “Gigantic Surprise.” Business Insider reported that the drop in the unemployment rate “should not have been a gigantic surprise,” because the number is “consistent with a lot of other September datapoints, including monthly auto sales, which came out earlier this week, and were at the highest level since the crisis, at nearly a 15 million annualized adjusted rate” :
The drop in the unemployment rate in September -- from 8.1% to 7.8% -- should not have been a gigantic surprise.
As we reported before, the number is consistent with a lot of other September datapoints, including monthly auto sales, which came out earlier this week, and were at the highest level since the crisis, at nearly a 15 million annualized adjusted rate.
And as you can see from this chart, there is a LONG history of the unemployment rate (red line) moving in tandem with car sales.
Business Insider included the following chart:
[Business Insider, 10/5/12]
Ezra Klein: “The Data Was Not ... Manipulated.” MSNBC policy analyst and Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein wrote that the “data was not, as Jack Welch suggested in a now-infamous tweet, manipulated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set up to ensure the White House has no ability to influence it.” Klein added: "[I]f the White House somehow was manipulating the data, don't you think they would have made the payroll number look a bit better than 114,000? No one would have batted an eye at 160,000." [The Washington Post, 10/5/12]
For more information on why previous jobs data was not manipulated, click here.
The Bureau Of Labor Statistics Is Non-Partisan And Trusted By Congress
BLS Is An Independent Statistical Agency Committed To Scientific Integrity. The BLS website includes the “Statement of Commitment to Scientific Integrity” that federal statistical agencies agree to uphold, ensuring they are non-partisan and objective. The site details precisely how BLS is independent from the rest of government:
Independence must include separation of the statistical agency from the parts of its department that are responsible for policy-making or law enforcement activities.
Independence must include control over personnel actions, especially the selection and appointment of qualified professional staff, including senior executive career staff.
Independence must include the statistical agency having authority for professional decisions over the scope, content, and frequency of data collected; analysis, or publishing of the information; authority to release statistical information without prior clearance; and adherence to predetermined schedules for public release of statistical information.
Independence must also include the statistical agency's ability to control information technology systems used in collection, storage and dissemination of statistical information, since such control is essential for ensuring adherence to laws and regulations requiring appropriate protection of data collected under a promise of confidentiality. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 10/3/12]
Wash. Post Described Grueling Accuracy Process For BLS Jobs Numbers. A March article from The Washington Post explained the pain-staking fact-checking process that each BLS employment report goes through before it is released:
The raw data had arrived at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), like always, on Wednesday the week before the report's release: millions of characters representing survey information from 55,000 households; and then, a few days later, monthly payroll data from 486,000 businesses. Kosanovich's boss posted a two-page schedule on the office wall, detailing the tasks ahead for a team of more than 20 economists. They would be required to make a series of six deadlines. Their work would undergo 15 fact checks and then 15 clearance reviews. They would sit together in a windowless conference room and read aloud from their eventual creation, a three-page news release and 24 data tables, debating commas and verbs for hours on end.
They would do it all with absolute discretion during an eight-day security lockdown, signing confidentiality agreements each morning, encrypting their computers and locking data into avery time they walked 10 yards away to use a bathroom. “Is your workstation secure?” asked a sign in the hallway. They all remembered the last security miscue, in November 2008 -- the accidental transmission of some data to one wire service a full 25 seconds before the report's scheduled release, an incident that had necessitated a series of internal investigations and revisions.
“We always tape paper over the windows of the conference room or draw the shades,” Kosanovich said about her typical routine during a lockdown. She made a habit of refraining from answering phone calls or e-mails from unknown numbers and never discussing data outside her office. For eight days, nobody visited her team's floor at BLS without a security clearance. The custodial staff did not empty their trash until the report was released.
The lockdown was an exercise in tedium and precision, but those have been the hallmarks of BLS for 125 years. The agency remains strictly nonpartisan and intentionally bland. It measures the economy without ever opining on it. “The glass here is never half-empty or half-full,” Kosanovich said, repeating a popular BLS motto. “It's an eight-ounce glass with four ounces of liquid.” [The Washington Post, 3/9/12]
EPI: “The Idea That” BLS Data “Are Manipulated Is Just Completely Implausible.” Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, wrote about the “outrageous” attack on BLS:
Apparently, Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric, is accusing the Bureau of Labor Statistics of manipulating the jobs report to help President Obama. Others seem to be adding their voices to this slanderous lie. It is simply outrageous to make such a claim and echoes the worrying general distrust of facts that seems to have swept segments of our nation.
BLS is a highly professional agency with dozens of people involved in the tabulation and analysis of these data. The idea that the data are manipulated is just completely implausible. [Economic Policy Institute, 10/5/12]