The irony? When the revisions came in two months later, it turned out the economy had actually seen the addition of 107,000 jobs in August 2011—not spectacular, but not the disaster it appeared to us that evening, and to everyone else the following morning. This was hardly an isolated occurrence. In 2010, the job numbers were revised up in 11 out of 12 months, with the more-impressive revisions never getting the attention received by the less-impressive initial announcements, which clearly hurt Obama politically. Yet, however negative or seemingly unfair this trend was, there was one thing neither the president nor anyone on his team would consider doing: attacking the credibility of the workers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The same went for those at other agencies, such as at the Bureau of Economic Analysis, that are responsible for compiling and announcing America’s major economic indicators.
For every administration in the past four decades, any public comment from the president casting doubt on the legitimacy of the government’s jobs, GDP, or health reports would have been unthinkable, for a few reasons. One, it would have been considered unfair to career civil servants to even suggest, with no evidence or proof, that they were tampering with numbers. Two, it would have hurt global confidence in the United States to even imply that anyone in the government was in any way manipulating the government’s economic reports—doing so would risk pushing the U.S.’s reputation toward that of China, whose published economic numbers aren’t widely trusted.
And additionally, every administration since 1974 had been cautious about never again allowing the type of ugly political interference that President Richard Nixon became famous for. Near the end of his first term, Nixon became convinced that the BLS’s assistant commissioner, Harold Goldstein, was not putting enough positive spin on the monthly jobs reports. Livid with Goldstein, Nixon ordered his top aides to “reorganize” BLS, demanding a count of the number of Democrats and Jews in the Bureau. He ended up demoting Goldstein, replacing him with a “politically sensitive, loyal Republican,” as well as appointing a loyalist as the new deputy commissioner overseeing all data analysis. A year later, the president and his top aides also forced the removal of the BLS’s commissioner, Geoffrey Moore, before the end of his term, which came after months of trying to re-assign him to another federal post.
Goldstein and the two more-junior career BLS employees demoted during Nixon’s crusade were Jewish, and the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s 1976 book The Final Days, as well as the Nixon tapes, made clear that Nixon’s beliefs about and actions toward the BLS were motivated by paranoia and anti-semitism. “There’s a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this,” Nixon was recorded as saying, adding, “Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that [BLS] staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [inaudible] that isn’t gonna be loaded against us?”