“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”
That Tweet — more than the numbers themselves — became the story on cable news. No stranger to cable news watchers, Welch did interviews on CNN, Fox News, CNBC and MSNBC, (the last two networks part owned by the company he once ran.) The debate continued on the Sunday public affairs shows as Obama adviser Robert Gibbs on “Meet the Press” said Welch “embarrassed himself.” NBC’s White House correspondent Chuck Todd added: “The idea that Donald Trump, Jack Welch, rich people with crazy conspiracies, can get traction on this is a bad trend.”
As I said that same evening in an interview on CNN, if I could write that tweet again, I would have added a few question marks at the end, as with my earlier tweet, to make it clear I was raising a question.
But I’m not sorry for the heated debate that ensued. I’m not the first person to question government numbers, and hopefully I won’t be the last. Take, for example, one of my chief critics in this go-round, Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Obama administration’s Council of Economic Advisers. Back in 2003, Mr. Goolsbee
himself, commenting on a Bush-era unemployment figure, wrote in a New York Times op-ed: “the government has cooked the books.”
The good news is that the current debate has resulted in people giving the whole issue of unemployment data more thought. Moreover, it led to some of the campaign’s biggest supporters admitting that the number merited a closer look—and even expressing skepticism. The New York Times in a Sunday editorial, for instance, acknowledged the 7.8% figure is “partly due to a statistical fluke.”
The coming election is too important to be decided on a number. Especially when that number seems so wrong