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

By James Fallows

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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/this-could-be-the-most-dishonest-thing-fox-news-has-ever-done/262245/