Of course, Walker’s pledge itself raises questions about how much control any elected official—even a governor whose party also controls the state legislature—has over the course of short-term job growth. Fortunately, the Journal Sentinel has weaved the work of its PolitiFact arm into articles and editorials that bring a fuller treatment to the story. An April 2012 editorial, for example, rebuked the governor and GOP legislators for taking their “eyes off the ball on job creation.”
And a smart recent piece by the paper’s Craig Gilbert on Walker’s presidential ambitions cites PolitiFact’s work, building off that foundation of fact to get the governor to address his record on jobs:
Walker got elected in 2010 on a specific, well-publicized promise of 250,000 new jobs. In a national race, job growth is an obvious metric for judging governors on economic performance. (It may not be entirely fair, given all the factors beyond a governor’s control, but that hasn’t stopped governors themselves from using it). It’s hard to sell yourself as “somebody who’s turned a state around” if that state ranks poorly in job creation.
…Using a combination of data, PolitiFact Wisconsin estimates the state is only about 15% of the way toward meeting Walker’s target of 250,000 more first-term jobs, with fewer than 40,000 net new jobs generated halfway through his four-year term.
Gilbert’s post continues:
When I asked the governor if it’s fair to judge him on the state’s slow jobs growth, he said yes. But he went on to cite factors he says people should be taking into account…
He defended his own policies as job-friendly, but argued as he has before that the reaction to them—the protests and recall drives—hurt job growth “not just through June 5 (2012) but probably for some time thereafter.”
He went on:
“You had that, compounded by the national economy not improving at a good pace, the fiscal cliff talks, now the sequester and the other looming issues about concerns over the Affordable Care Act, the (health care) exchanges, who’s in, who’s out - those are all legitimate reasons. Now I’m not … you know, building the groundwork or the foundation for saying this is why we’re not going to get to a fixed number (of jobs). It’s just that those are all things that are legitimate issues that are out there that we have to deal with and try and figure out ways to overcome.”
For all the attention it has attracted, PolitiFact is still something of a novelty, having emerged during the 2008 presidential race at the then-St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times). But Nelson and his team are practicing the most traditional sort of public interest journalism—collecting and reporting evidence that hold elected officials accountable to their promises.
The “innovation” here is simple: sustained, painstaking attention. That translates into a willingness to offer more minute details online than ever would have been allowed into a traditional print story, as well as the construction of a standing platform where a running story—the state’s progress toward Walker’s pledge—can be told as it unfolds. Those steps in turn help reporters and readers alike build up a base of knowledge—which means they’re ready to push back against self-serving or misleading official statements, like Walker’s 100,000 jobs claim.
“What we are doing, as responsibly and thoughtfully as possible, is to monitor [Walker’s] most important campaign promise,” Nelson said. He added: “We know that not only readers are paying attention, but the political establishment is paying attention.”
More in United States ProjectRead More »