Meet the Incredible, Incoherent Jobs-Report Truthers

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Good economic news for Obama? Some conservatives insist it can't possibly be true.

Today's jobs report was good. Not beat-the-world, America-is-back good, but pretty good: The economy added 114,000 jobs, almost exactly hitting the expected 115,000; the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent; and revisions to previous months showed the economy was doing better than it initially appeared over the summer. For those who are pessimistic, or who back Mitt Romney and want to portray the economy in its worst light, there's plenty to be unhappy about: Millions of Americans are out of work, GDP growth is slow, and the global economy remains precarious. That's the tack the Romney campaign took in its response, saying the growth just isn't fast enough. "This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said in a statement.

Or you could just make stuff up.

A surprising number of commentators on the right seem to be doing just that Friday morning -- and not just the anonymous Internet types who buy into voodoo like unskewedpolls.com. Some of the brightest lights in the business world and conservative commentariat have gone into a conspiracy-mongering overdrive (along with the usual conspiracy theorists). Take Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, who said the following on Twitter this morning:

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There are several reasons this makes no sense. For one thing, the growth hit the consensus forecast of economists. For another, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a nonpartisan body, and no one seemed to think it was manipulating the numbers before this report. In fact, there have even been detailed descriptions of the incredible secrecy around the report and how late the president receives it. As my colleague Matt O'Brien points out, Welch knows a thing or two about manipulating numbers. During his time at GE, the company began a system of tweaking their earnings that eventually resulted in a $50 million fine. But just because he oversaw a cooking of the books doesn't mean that's a standard national practice.

Moreover, if Obama were capable of manipulating jobs reports, wouldn't he have done so long before now? I put that question to the Twittersphere, and I got this reply*:

Screen shot 2012-10-05 at 10.03.43 AM.png

This would reflect a surprising new faith in the ability of bureaucrats on the part of the conservative establishment! Another version of the belief that somebody is messing with the numbers but it's not Obama comes from the Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll:

conncarroll.jpg

Well, sure. Maybe this is the fabled Obama ground game we've heard about! But it requires a pretty active imagination and utter disregard for Occam's razor to believe so many jobless love Obama so much, and are so organized, that they chose to lie about their status in a bid to change the unemployment number. It also doesn't make sense in light of the trend: We've seen consistent, if slow, job growth, and the revisions to July and August numbers -- the U.S. gained 40,000 and 46,000 jobs, respectively -- suggest a healthy underlying trend. Nonetheless, even CNBC, the television network for Very Serious Business People is jumping on the jobs-report truther bandwagon. We learn this via Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, who manages to both call the numbers disappointing and insinuate that Obama is manipulating them in one post. Thankfully, there are some cooler heads:

Screen shot 2012-10-05 at 10.41.50 AM.png

The irony of the jobs-report truthers is that, while the skepticism offers an entertainingly bleak demonstration of a post-truth politics in which people steadfastly refuse to believe facts, it probably doesn't matter to the election either way. Sure, the new numbers will almost certainly change the media narrative. After a day dominated by doomsaying about President Obama's weak debate performance, folks will move on to talking about economic recovery. That's good for Obama insofar as he won't have to answer so many skeptics and can look happy; for the same reason, it's unfortunate for Mitt Romney. But -- for those who still believe facts -- the reality is probably that late changes to the economy don't make much difference in the electoral result.


* An earlier version of this post misidentified the source of the tweet. We regret the error.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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