This Could Be the Most Dishonest Thing Fox News Has Ever Done

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I realize that's a big claim. But for your "post-truth" chronicles, check this out, a "data-based" graphic from a Fox & Friends program today.

fnc-ff-20120811-ingraham-unemploymentrate.jpg


It is worth checking out the analyses from Zachary Pleat at Media Matters and Steve Benen at Maddow Blog, but here is the heart of the deception:

To make it look as if the unemployment rate now is nearly twice as bad as it was four years ago -- 14.7 percent versus 7.8 percent -- the chart compares two different ways of measuring unemployment as if they were the same.
  • The "2009" version is the "official" unemployment rate, people actively looking for work who can't find it.
  • The "now" version is the "real" unemployment rate, which includes the official level and also: people who have given up looking for work, people working part-time who wish they were working full-time, and some others.
The second number will always be larger than the first, often by a lot. "Comparing" the two is like saying that someone weighs 180 pounds when undressed, and 200 when wearing heavy boots and an overcoat with weights in the pockets, and using the difference to prove that he has gained 20 pounds.

If this was an innocent though embarrassing error, a real news organization would immediately correct it and apologize. There is no sign that Fox has done so. [UPDATE: I see via Mediaite that Fox, after getting complaints, will issue a correction. Huzzah! That's a positive step -- but it also means that no one within the system said, Wait a minute, before we go with this, can these figures possibly be right? Let's double check...] This is as blatant an example of intentional, no-gray-zone dishonesty as I can remember from a news operation, counting Fox as such.
 
If it were an honest comparison, here is how the figures would look:
  • Official unemployment: 7.8 percent in January 2009, 8.1 percent now (worse by .3 percent, not 6.9 percent)
  • "Real" unemployment: 14.2 percent in January 2009, 14.7 percent now (worse by .5 percent, not 6.9 percent)
Pleat and Benen each explain why the other part of the graphic, the "sitting on E-Z Street" implication of 5.1 percent unemployment for public workers, is deliberately misleading too. Short version: for the past two years, the private economy has been adding jobs, albeit too slowly; the public sector has been losing them constantly.

I had a lot of stuff I meant to put up about China right now, but this drew my attention. Next stop, Chinese developments, tonight or tomorrow morning.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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