Journalism: The opposite of math

Tim Nerenz has done a radical thing for the second time with state job numbers: He added them up.

The first headline in the Google list told the whole story: “Government Data Shows Wisconsin Leads Nation In Job Loss Under Walker.”

The paragraphs that follow cite a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report that says Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs over the past 12 months, more than any other state in the union, and then the article quotes numerous opponents of Governor Walker who demand that he be recalled because of it.

Actually, I was hoping to avoid yet another swim in the murky waters of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, but since none of my fellow countrypersons whose crushing student loan debt bought them a degree in journalism seem inclined to use it for the five minutes it takes to discover a fly in any BLS ointment, I passed on the SNL musical guest last night and contradicted the BLS headline with its own data.  You can fact-check me yourself; here is the link …

According to BLS – not me – the number of persons employed in Wisconsin in March of 2011 was 2,838,145.   And according the BLS – not me – the number of persons employed in Wisconsin in March of 2012 was 2,856,643.  My calculator says that is an INCREASE of 18,498.

My Excel spreadsheet says that is an INCREASE of 18,498.  Arithmetic by hand says that is an INCREASE of 18,498.  Slide rule, abacus, ponies stomping – anyway you count ‘em up, that is 18,498 more people are working now than a year ago, not less.  When do I get my Pulitzer Prize?

While we are at it, the BLS – not me – says that during Walker’s first 15 months in office the number of people working in Wisconsin has INCREASED by 23,575.  And BLS – not me – says that during his predecessor’s first 15 months in office, with a national economy growing at more than double the current rate, the number of people working in Wisconsin DECREASED by 143.

Don’t shoot the messenger, especially now that we have concealed carry and you never know which messengers will shoot back.  Did we recall Governor Jim Doyle after a year? No, that was a different time; nearly a decade before we lost our minds. Should we have recalled Doyle in 2004?  Absolutely not – he won an election, and elections should mean something in a democracy.

My point is not that Walker’s policies have led to high rates of job creation; 23,575 more people working is anemic and we need to do a lot better than that.  My point is that the professional axe-grinders would like you to believe BLS data is some Biblical truth whenever a slice of it can be carved out to support their narratives, but a BLS headline is not truth.  They do statistics, not truths, and there are limits to statistics.

If you want to go cherry-picking BLS data, Milwaukee is pretty gruesome; so whose fault is that – Barrett, Abele, Walker, Obama, or whoever is running the U.N. these days?  Dane County is not exactly frackin’ North Dakota, so which Madison politician wants to fall on their sword for that?  What next – should we go ward by ward and start recalling aldermen?

The fact is that none of our elected officials who promise to create jobs in the private sector have any say in the matter; politicians can only put up or tear down barriers to job creation.

If you want to judge Governor Walker, or any other politician for that matter, on job creation, then list the barriers he has erected to private sector job creation down one column, and list the barriers he has removed down a second column.  As a businessman and job creator, I can tell you that one of my lists is substantially longer than the other, but everyone is entitled to their own list and their own opinion. …

Still think you know how many jobs there actually are in Wisconsin?  And if any of you student-debt-laden journalism majors want to do a little investigative journalism, why don’t you go figure out why one floor of the BLS – not me – says that 2,856,643 people are employed in Wisconsin today while another floor of the BLS – not me – estimates there are only 2,730,100 jobs?

How could that possibly be?  That is 126,543 more people working than there are jobs to employ them; do people think they are working when they are not?  The data comes from the same federal Department, same agency, same website, same web page, same table even – and only 3 rows apart.

And which of these two conflicting pictures – 24,000 fewer jobs or 18,000 more people working – is consistent with the other BLS data that shows the number of unemployed Wisconsinites dropping from 232,167 to 207,527 over the past year?  Which one is consistent with the unemployment rate dropping to 6.8%?  …

It didn’t take much work to find the information that I have presented here; any 9th grader could have done it in a half hour with a little encouragement.  So ask yourself why you are just reading this now for the first time.  Better yet, ask your favorite news outlets why they didn’t tell you about employment going up under Governor Walker, since that is what BLS – I repeat, not me – says.

This is the sort of thing that makes you think the media is in the tank for whoever the not-Walker is. (Beyond the ethical violation of signing political petitions, that is.) This is also an example of lazy journalism in accepting whatever the authority says without independently checking it out. And in both cases, those journalists who try to be fair and as objective as humanly possible get painted by the same broad brush.

2 thoughts on “Journalism: The opposite of math

  1. Looks you failed to check his facts and see that he didn’t do it correctly. Back to school for you.

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