Here’s Brownstein:

From February 2001, Bush’s first full month in office, through January 2009, his last, total U.S. nonfarm employment grew from 132.5 million to 133.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s an increase, obviously, of just 1 million. From January through April of this year, the economy created 573,000 jobs. Over a full year, that projects to 1.72 million jobs.

But, as he admits, that’s ignoring Obama’s first year, when nearly 4 million jobs were lost. Comparing all eight years of the Bush administration with just one year of the Obama administration really doesn’t seem legit.

Brownstein acknowledges that he’s playing with the numbers. The point, he says, is that hearty job creation would help Democrats “argue that their agenda has started to turn the tide.”

The way his analysis rocketed around shows that it has some appeal.

But it also showed how dangerous such apples-to-oranges comparisons can be, especially if it’s just the oranges that get reported.

TPM, for example, ran Brownstein’s eye-catching “if” paragraph under the headline that declared, “It’s Getting Better All The Time.”

And while the post noted that “[t]here’s a lot riding on the ‘if’ in Brownstein’s sentence,” it moved quickly to the “reasonably likely scenario that the economy will continue to produce jobs at the current rate.” No footnotes. No asterisks. Just a link. That’s sloppy.

Of course, if the business press did a better job tracking these numbers, we wouldn’t need a primer on Brownstein’s math.

As we’ve said, often, the unemployment story is a hard one to tell. It demands creativity. But it’s not going away, not soon. And not without a bit more work from the press, to make sure it gets the attention it deserves in Washington.

Holly Yeager is CJR's Peterson Fellow, covering fiscal and economic policy. She is based in Washington and reachable at