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Mon Mar 13, 2017, 01:02 PM

Our failed MSM - slate - "The WH Is Still Lying About the Obama Economy, and Journalists Are Letting [View all]

Them Get Away with It"


The White House Is Still Lying About the Obama Economy, and Journalists Are Letting Them Get Away With It

By Jordan Weissmann

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump's go-to tactic for attacking President Obama's economic record was to simply assert that the numbers were all fake. The unemployment rate? It was “phony,” a “fiction,” “one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics,” Trump suggested. In reality, he told voters, the job market was a disaster.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the first jobs report covering President Trump's time in office. It was solid—U.S. businesses added 235,000 workers to their payrolls. So, naturally, reporter decided to ask Press Secretary Sean Spicer during his afternoon briefing that day whether, given his past statements, Trump thought this jobs report was “accurate and a fair way to measure the economy”— you know, whether it was still a sham.

Spicer was ready. “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly,” the press secretary said, grinning like a 12-year-old about to win a spelling bee. “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

The whole room laughed. Loudly. Then the press conference moved on. It was almost a tender moment. Except the entire White House Press corps was chuckling at the president's habit of spreading conspiracy theories about his political opponents—sometimes it’s wiretapping, more often it’s about unfriendly numbers—and then reversing himself once convenient. Apparently, pathological dishonesty is now a winking joke. That's our Trump!

The gag took another soul-crushing turn on Sunday, when White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney sat down for an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper. Since the White House was now trumpeting the formerly phony jobs report, Tapper asked whether the Bureau of Labor Statistics had changed its methodology. What followed was an awkward, factually inaccurate attempt at evasion, in which Mulvaney insisted that, while he didn't want to bore the viewers with specifics, the Obama administration was definitely up to something fishy and the Trump administration was most definitely not.

“We’ve thought for a long time—I did—that the Obama administration was manipulating the numbers in terms of the number of people in the work force to make the unemployment rate, that percentage rate, look smaller than it actually was,” Mulvaney said. “And we used to tell people back home, the only thing you should really look at, number of jobs created. And as long as that number is above $250,000 [Note: e seems to have meant above 250,000 jobs], then the economy is doing extraordinarily well. And that was the number we hit last week.”

Nothing in this garble was true, except perhaps for the fact that Mulvaney might believe his own nonsense. The economy did not add 250,000 jobs in February. More importantly, the Obama administration did not manipulate any percentages—there are different ways to calculate unemployment and underemployment, some of which are broader than others. The Obama administration reported the same ones as past presidents. The Trump administration is reporting the same exact numbers as Obama, tallied in the same way. The figures haven't even changed much since Trump took office—the official unemployment rate is still 4.7 percent, like it was in December.
In his follow-up question, Tapper almost got Mulvaney to admit so much, before dropping the subject, seemingly out of exhaustion.
Tapper: But just to—I don’t want to spend the whole interview talking about this.
Mulvaney: Sure.
Tapper: But just a point on it—you’re not the one that was attacking the numbers as phony. There’s nothing that changed that made them real today?
Mulvaney: Right. The BLS did not change the way they count. I don’t think. But you could have a long conversation, when you have got a numerator and a denominator, how to arrive at a percentage. But again, I don’t want to bore people.
Tapper: This isn't a claim that you made, so I'm not going to spend too much time on it.
And that was it. Lame as his bit about the complexities of long division may have been, Mulvaney was allowed to end on the utterly baseless note that, somehow, the Trump administration was doing something differently, the specifics of which were just too dull for a television audience. And Tapper, typically one of the most aggressive interrogators on television, was content to leave it there as if this is, somehow, a b-level story.

It's not. The idea that Obama was lying about the state of the economy is a keystone in Trump's claim that he is actually making the job market great again. It's a core part of the the administration's administration's narrative. And yet, even good reporters like Tapper barely seem to have the heart to press them on it. The rest have just decided to laugh it off.

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Reply Our failed MSM - slate - "The WH Is Still Lying About the Obama Economy, and Journalists Are Letting [View all]
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