October 10, 2012
One of the most reliable laws of human behavior is that a conspiracy theorist will never back down. As the ice caps melt, climate change skeptics continue to yell as loud as ever; creationists persist in their anti-Darwin crusade despite 150 years of scientific evidence and a recent sharp reprimand from Bill Nye the Science Guy.
There would be something romantic about their steadfast commitment to these wildly implausible ideas--a Homeward Bound-esque display of determination--if it weren't so depressing.
This morning, another great conspiracy theorist joined the ranks of so many others, braving public humiliation to shout his singular world view from the far-reaching rooftop of The Wall Street Journal’s Op-Ed page. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, doubled down on his widely debunked belief that the Obama camp cooked the books on September’s jobs report in an article that, from the very headline--“Jack Welch: I was Right about That Strange Jobs Report”--reeks of the pungent odor emitted by a conspiracy theorist who has decided that the only honorable thing to do once hard data and human rationale backed him into a corner is to fistfight his way out.
In case you need a little background, Welch’s descent began last Friday, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September. The three-tenthes of one percent decline in joblessness certainly didn’t herald an end to the nation’s deep economic problems. However, because the announcement came only days after President Obama’s poor debate performance, many speculated that this figure would prove more influential in the upcoming election than an ungraceful performance in his verbal tango with presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
At least, that was Welch’s fear anyhow, because only moments after the 7.8 percent figure was released he took to Twitter to accuse Obama’s team of manipulating the data.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers...these Chicago guys will do anything... can’t debate so change numbers,” he blasted to his 1,368,779 followers. His tweet quickly catalyzed a B.L.S. truthers movement among the fringe of the GOP and proved ample entertainment for the remaining sane part of the population. As a writer over at TechCruch
observed, “we should all thank Twitter for a world where powerful people can say delightfully crazy things without the silly filter of public relations professional protecting their reputation.”
Since that first, now infamous tweet, Welch’s accusation has been well debunked by pretty much every knowledgable economist and journalist, including The Washington Post’ Ezra Klein, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman and Nobel-Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.
"No president, maybe except Nixon, would actually try to change what the Bureau Labor Statistics does or what the DEA does. These are really independent agencies and the idea that they would do that is literally absurd," Stiglitz said in an interview with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.
Klein, meanwhile, refuted the allegation with so many actual numbers and colorful graphs that his article
is best read in its entirety.
Faced with such a barrage of effrontery and mind number math, Welch decided that there was nothing to do but fight back, recasting himself as the star of an action movie about persecuted patriot in some imaginary communist nation.
“Imagine a country where challenging the ruling authorities—questioning, say, a piece of data released by central headquarters—would result in mobs of administration sympathizers claiming you should feel "embarrassed" and labeling you a fool, or worse,” Welch began in the Op-Ed article
that The Wall Street Journal somehow decided was fit to print.
“Soviet Russia perhaps? Communist China? Nope, that would be the United States right now, when a person (like me, for instance) suggests that a certain government datum (like the September unemployment rate of 7.8%) doesn't make sense.”
Hello Jason Bourne-Welch. Thank you for taking on the deadly and potentially globe-threatening Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Welch proceeds to raise the possibility of errors stemming from the BLS’s survey methodology (limitations that the bureau itself publicly acknowledges); goes on to question whether federal, state and local governments really added the 602,000 workers they claims to have added; and finally cites the damning evidence that during the “business reviews of a dozen companies” he attended last week no one boasted of stronger third quarter earnings. His rationale on the last point seems to be that if the 1% isn’t making more money, the economy can’t be growing.
However, to give his rant a measure of credibility, he does admit that if he could he write his incendiary tweet again, he would have accompanied his allegations of presidential fraud with a handful of question marks.