WSJ Parrots Governor Christie on Jobs

But missing context undermines the governor's—and the paper's—story

The idea, I suppose, of The Wall Street Journal’s Greater New York section was to bring a little Journal touch to the local news. Not so much with this piece.

The paper types up an interview with New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, editorial-page favorite, and puts it under this headline: “Christie Crows About State Job Growth”:

Gov. Chris Christie credited his policies during his first year in office for New Jersey’s increase of 9,300 private-sector jobs in November, saying in an interview Wednesday that Democrats working on job-creating bills should watch what he is already doing.

Sure he did.

But there are several basic things wrong with the economic reporting here, which is especially problematic for something in The Wall Street Journal. For one, it’s based on a single month snapshot of the economy. What were the job numbers in the same period a year ago? What were the job numbers in the month before? We’re not told, and we can’t make a judgment about what this single month’s numbers might mean without the others.

Second, are there regional factors at play here or is New Jersey an outlier? The Journal doesn’t say. Let’s take a look. New York State added just 700 net jobs last month, but New York City, which New Jersey’s economy is heavily dependent on (half the state is a suburb of NYC), and which has about the same amount of people, added many more private-sector jobs in November than New Jersey did—14,000. It’s safe to say the regional impact of New York City was a major factor in New Jersey’s employment gain.

Connecticut, also heavily dependent on New York City as part of the Tri-State Region, gained more than 4,000 net private-sector jobs in November, proportionally about the same for its 3.5 million population as New Jersey added for its 8.7 million.

A little bit of context undermines Christie’s and the Journal’s story.

Third, the national context is missing. How did New Jersey’s jobs fare compared to the country as a whole in November? That would have actually helped the Journal’s cause, since New Jersey’s gain was proportionally much better than the country’s 50,000 net private jobs.

Fourth, there’s the he said-she said thing. Christie crows that his tax cuts and “certainty” have boosted the economy, but a Democrat says Christie actually raised taxes:

Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, called Mr. Christie’s tax-cutting claims incorrect. Democrats say he effectively raised taxes by cutting property-tax subsidies and tax credits for the working poor.

“That was a tax increase, an absolute tax increase on the poor,” he said.

One of them is right, but the WSJ doesn’t tell us which.

It’s also interesting to note that the uncertainty meme, which I criticized in the Journal the other day, pops up again here.

“This is a result of the certainty that we’re bringing to the marketplace in New Jersey,” Mr. Christie said. “I’ve created optimism and certainty regarding New Jersey’s business climate in the future because of the tough things we’ve done on spending and taxes.”

The bottom line is, if you’re going to do a story about a governor trying to take credit for creating jobs in his state, which is a dog-bites-man story if there ever was one, you’ve got to actually report the context.

Otherwise, you might as well reprint the governor’s press releases.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , ,