Milwaukee County Labor Council AFL-CIO

April 18, 2014

In The News

Attacks on BLS pure BS

By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted October 8, 2012


The media’s natural role of corrective watchdog has warped and sometimes flat evaporated. Normally, an extremely partisan over-reaction to good news for the other side is identified as routine sour grapes. Sometimes for a funny writer it is held up for ridicule.

But these days, the news media considers whether the source is underwriting their business and says, “Wait a minute! This nut job is one of our biggest advertisers so maybe we should report this as if there was some sort of point – we don’t want to offend someone paying the bills.”

In this atmosphere -- when the right-wing fumes and retired GE CEO Jack Welch accused without evidence or facts that Obama was engaged in “Chicago style” politics -- the media listens when it should sneer.

No case was clearer October 5 when the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported modest continued growth in job numbers but a shocker few had expected -- a slight drop below 8% in the unemployment statistics.

Politically that robbed the GOP of its major constant talking point that Obama had failed to bring unemployment under 8%. Now, 7.8% isn’t enough of a drop as Obama quickly noted, but it exploded the chief talking and advertising point of the GOP. It actually did more than that. That 7.8% combined with more jobs than expected and revised upward figures from past months reinforced how Obama in three years added 5.2 million jobs to an economy losing 800,000 a month before his efforts.

Romney on hearing the news immediately fabricated a reason, that fewer people were looking for work. Another lie because the numbers reveal an increase (!) in people in the jobs market. Worse for Republicans like Scott Walker, the growth would have been vastly greater were it not for the GOP-led drop in public sector employment.

Well, it wasn’t spectacular improvement but it was enough to blow Romney supporters’ brains apart. The partisan extremists reared or tweeted their ugly heads. And weirdly, some so-called news outlets treated it all as news of deception by the White House.

Though the BLS numbers have for decades been respected for the care, statistical integrity, secrecy of results and professionalism of its civil service operation, even though its scrupulous methodology has been defended by Republicans in the know, today’s right-wing cried foul and waved around -- of all things -- other BLS data to make their case!

Even the bureau is the first to concede that these are statistics that further information adjusts up and down under careful calculation – and they are the first to do it. Noted economist Jared
Bernstein immediately pointed out why Welch should be ashamed of himself in his blog detailing how BLS uses and protects analysis, includes margins of errors and rushes to correct results free of political influence.

Normally, the media should ignore such nonsense, but it so notably undercut the GOP harping about Obama’s steady approach to the economy that the corporate media masters who support Romney couldn’t let their mouthpieces ignore it – and even seemed to encourage them going ballistic, particularly from Tea Party sources and GOP hires such as FOX and Rush Limbaugh.

Perhaps they hadn’t noticed Romney’s ability to pivot away from the facts and how he has probably already invented some sincere sounding explanation of why 7.8% is just as bad as 8%, so all their continued attack really does is undermine his likely tap-dance. (And the right-wing thought it was Obama who had rhythm.)

Accusing Obama of “cooking the numbers” is a recent trend. Historically that is not how opposite parties react when the economy gets better. When BLS numbers went up in mid-term Reagan, the Democrats didn’t say stuff like this. When BLS climbed under Clinton, that GOP didn’t question the gatekeeper.

Trust me, when job numbers were collapsing under George Bush, if VP Cheney with Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, serving as Secretary of Labor could have gotten inside the BLS as he got inside the CIA to tweak the data on Iraq, he sure would have leaped there. But he couldn’t and didn’t.

The only thing that has changed is the willingness of today’s political extremists to embarrass themselves, counting on today’s media to lend them cover.