If you missed it, the hot new story in the right-wing fever swamps is that the Census Bureau manipulated unemployment numbers in the run-up to last year’s election to boost Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
You might recall Jack Welch blowing a fuse last October when the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, a development he said meant “these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.” He got laughed out of town.
New York Post columnist John Crudele re-opened the fake controversy with an atrocious piece of journalism on Monday headlined “Census ‘faked’ 2012 election jobs report.”
Crudele’s bombshell claim was based on a single “reliable source” who said the 2012 numbers in question were faked, and he all but says that the Obama administration intentionally (and illegally) skewed the numbers in its favor:
The decline — from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September — might not have been all it seemed. The numbers, according to a reliable source, were manipulated…
And a knowledgeable source says the deception went beyond that one employee — that it escalated at the time President Obama was seeking reelection in 2012 and continues today.
The problem here is not that there’s no story, but that Crudele seriously overplays and distorts what he’s really got, turning a nugget of news into a blockbuster conspiracy exposé. It’s like if Woodward and Bernstein had skipped the years of legwork and just went with “NIXON HENCHMEN BURGLE DNC” the day after the Watergate burglary.
But of course, Nixon’s henchmen did actually burgle the DNC. What Crudele has uncovered is not evidence—at all—of a political conspiracy—but a very minor story about a single Census employee filing fake household reports rather than doing the work of surveying the households.
It turns out that the single Census employee Crudele found faking reports—Julius Buckmon—hasn’t worked for the Census since 2011, when, presumably, he was fired. That news came from CNBC’s Steve Leisman, and it moots the thesis of Crudele’s entire column.
All he’s got after that is a single anonymous source saying the Census intentionally interfered with the election, and that doesn’t come close to cutting it, particularly since Crudele’s reporting in the rest of the piece is fatally flawed.
To make matters worse for the Post, Buckmon was just one of 7,000 Census workers submitting reports, meaning he couldn’t have meaningfully affected the unemployment rate one way or another had he actually been working for the Census in 2012. Crudele himself even wrote that Buckmon “was never told how to answer the questions about whether these nonexistent people were employed or not, looking for work, or have given up.”
The New York Times reports that the “typical field representative handles about 37 cases a month” out of 54,000 nationwide, and that “if a few employees in one office fudged the numbers one month, it would certainly be troubling and cause for a top-to-bottom investigation, but it would not be enough to alter the nationwide figure by much.”
And as Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal noticed right away in a very good piece debunking Crudele, Buckmon’s region showed a much smaller dip in unemployment than the famous national number last October. Again, though, Buckmon had been run out of the Census at least a year earlier, anyway.
Weisenthal also points out that the steep one-month decline last fall doesn’t look unusual at all when you pull back and look at the trendline since then.
In other words, this is a bullshit story, and a reckless one at that.
But the right seems to think it has yet another Watergate—as it does with every minor or soon-to-be-debunked Obama scandal.
Needless to say, the Post hasn’t corrected Crudele’s piece.
UPDATE: CNBC’s Rick Santelli latched onto this fake story, naturally.
Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.
Tags: Census, John Crudele, New York Post, statistics, unemployment