November 29, 2017

WashPost ‘Fact Check’ Angrily Gives Pence’s True Statement About Jobs ‘Three Pinocchios’

In one of the more brazen and fraudulent “fact checks” one will ever see, the Washington Post’s Nicole Lewis told readers on Tuesday that Vice President Mike Pence’s absolutely true mid-November statement that “There are more Americans working today than ever before in American history” deserved “Three Pinocchios,” and that the audience which applauded this statement should be ashamed of themselves. The bogus nature of Lewis’s “fact check” is only exceeded by the seething anger which virtually drips down readers’ screens.

There is no point in disputing the truth of Pence’s statement, whether one looks at the government’s Establishment Survey, which estimates the number of workers collecting paychecks, or the Household Survey which estimates the number of Americans employed in some form, including self-employment and non-payroll contract work:

TotalUSempTable0107to1017

According to the Post’s fact-checking evaluation framework, Lewis had five choices in evaluating Pence’s statement:

  1. Decide that it was true, see that it would be a complete waste of time to quibble over it, and get on with checking genuinely questionable statements made by others. In the context of when and where Pence delivered his remarks, this was the obviously correct choice.
  2. Give it “One Pinocchio,” meaning “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods. (You could view this as “mostly true.”)”
  3. Give it “Two Pinocchios,” meaning “Significant omissions and/or exaggerations. Some factual error may be involved but not necessarily. A politician can create a false, misleading impression by playing with words and using legalistic language that means little to ordinary people. (Similar to “half true”).”
  4. Give it “Three Pinocchios,” meaning “Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions. This gets into the realm of “mostly false.” But it could include statements which are technically correct (such as based on official government data) but are so taken out of context as to be very misleading.”
  5. Give it “Four Pinocchios,” meaning “Whoppers.”

Lewis got so unhinged over Pence’s absolutely true remark that she wrote that she was “tempted to say that Pence earns Four Pinocchios,” because it is “so devoid of meaning that Pence and the people who applauded his statement should be ashamed.”

So who were these crazy people who applauded such an “almost-whopper” of a statement? They were the attendees at the Tax Foundation’s Annual Dinner in Washington on November 16. I daresay that many, if not most, attendees at this event know far more about economics than Nicole Lewis. This was a speech, and not an economic dissertation. Instead of ridiculing the Tax Foundation and its members, the Post should consider referring to its thorough research more often.

Naturally, Lewis misrepresented the context of Pence’s remarks:

We’ve grown accustomed to the Trump administration making grand statements about the president’s purported impact on the economy. Typically, it goes a little something like this: An official will bemoan the economic stagnation of the past eight years before running through a list of ways President Trump has (allegedly) already made great progress by cutting regulations, creating jobs and sending the stock market soaring.

Since 2009, the economy has been recovering from the effects of the Great Recession, but that doesn’t stop the Trump administration from taking credit for a few modest economic gains since taking office. During a speech at the Tax Foundation’s annual dinner, Pence made a claim that tops them all. After rattling off a series of Trump’s initiatives to “get the economy moving again,” Pence declared, “There are more Americans working today than ever before in American history.”

Amazingly, the statement was met with applause.

At first, we thought the claim wasn’t worthy of a full fact check as employment is clearly a reflection of the overall population. But we kept wondering: How can Pence get away with making such a grand statement? Let’s take a look.

… It is a claim President Barack Obama could have made in 2014, 2015 and 2016 as people regained jobs following the recession, but as far as we can tell he did not.

How’s that for defensiveness over the pathetic record of the previous administration?

The reason Barack Obama and his economic team didn’t prominently tout the economy’s total employment as highest ever during their last 2-1/2 years in office is because, based on detailed information seen at the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Obama was in office for 5-1/2 years before the jobs recovery from the recession took place (64 months in the Establishment Survey, 68 months in the Household Survey). The amounts of time it took to achieve full jobs recovery in those two surveys (76 months and 82 months, respectively) are, by far, the longest it has taken the economy to recover employment losses since the Great Depression of the 1930s. That’s because the recovery itself was the worst-ever since the Great Depression. Any attempt by Team Obama to brag about total employment would merely have reminded everyone of those sad truths.

A review of the transcript of Pence’s speech, which Lewis did not otherwise quote, did mention a series of Trump administration initiatives. But when it came to job growth, the Vice President gave credit to the people who deserved it — employers who have actually done the hiring:

 This President will never punish the prosperity of our people. He will only promote it. And already, the American economy is responding to the President’s leadership and our agenda.

The truth is, optimism is sweeping all across America as we speak for consumers and job creators alike. Manufacturers haven’t been this confident in more than two decades.

Businesses large and small have actually created 1.5 million new jobs since January of this year, and there are more Americans working today than ever before in American history.

(The table seen earlier in this post is for seasonally adjusted total nonfarm employment. Total private-sector employment growth through the first ten months of 2017, which was known at the time of his speech but is subject to revision, has actually been 1.623 million.)

Pence was effectively congratulating businesses for hiring people. He was not taking credit himself or on behalf of the Trump administration for that job growth, except very indirectly by citing “optimism,” or for the fact the more Americans are working than ever before.

If Pence had been presenting an economic dissertation, Lewis’s points that he should have considered mentioning less-then acceptable labor participation rates and the fact that the U.S population has continued to grow might have some merit. But in the context of an after-dinner speech — Give, me, a, break.

And here’s one more point for those who think we shouldn’t be impressed with this year’s job growth.

After Donald Trump’s victory in the general election, the conventional wisdom, as expressed by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics in an early February conference call, was that monthly job growth would decline to about 100,000 in “not too many” months because “the workers to hire just aren’t out there.”

Defying conventional wisdom, the economy, public and private sector combined, has added an average of 168,000 jobs per month. I should also add that through ten months, for reasons I haven’t heard anyone satisfactorily explain, ADP’s private-sector payroll additions of roughly 2.1 million have been almost a half-million greater than the government’s official figure cited earlier. If BLS “catches up” to ADP, we’ll find that the economy has added an average of about 210,000 jobs per month.

Lewis’s “fact check,” and the Washington Post’s publication of it, are the actions of extremely bitter sore losers.

Cross-posted, with possible revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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