WASHINGTON – American conservatives saw conspiracy Friday in a positive jobs report, openly accusing the White House of working with the Bureau of Labor Statistics to skew numbers as a helping hand to President Barack Obama after his sluggish debate performance this week.
In the hyper-charged, intensely polarized U.S. political atmosphere just a month before the presidential election, even a positive jobs report was subject to far-fetched, partisan suspicion as various Mitt Romney supporters took to Twitter to make their accusations.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers … these Chicago guys will do anything … can’t debate so change numbers,” Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, wrote in a Tweet that quickly went viral.
The right-leaning Americans for Limited Government was equally skeptical.
“Given that these numbers conveniently meet Obama’s campaign promises one month before the election, the conclusions are obvious,” it said in a statement.
Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff to Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush’s onetime defence secretary, echoed the sentiment.
“No, there’s nothing at all curious about the last jobs report diving to 7.8 per cent unemployment before the election,” he tweeted.
Fox News business commentator Stuart Varney also weighed in.
“Oh how convenient that the rate drops below eight per cent for the first time in 43 months five weeks before an election,” he said. “That’s why there’s some mistrust on these numbers.”
Rick Santelli, the CNBC media personality, shouted on-air: “I told you they’d get it under eight per cent — they did! You can let America decide how they got there!”
The report, compiled monthly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics under tight security, shows the country’s unemployment rate has slipped below eight per cent — to 7.8 per cent — for the first time in four years.
It also found 114,000 new jobs were created in September. There were also upward revisions of jobs numbers from July and August.
The stock market climbed in response to the good news, and Obama’s InTrade number — on the wane following Wednesday’s debate — was back on an upswing. InTrade bettors now give him a 70 per cent chance of re-election, after he slipped to 67 per cent post-debate.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis scoffed at the latest conspiracy theory to swirl around Obama, who’s already shown two forms of his birth certificate to prove he was born in the United States.
The accusations are “ludicrous,” she said on CNBC.
“I have the highest regard for our professionals who do the calculations,” Solis added.
Josh Earnest, deputy White House press secretary, was equally dismissive of the conspiracy theories.
“They’re utter nonsense,” he said while travelling with Obama in Cleveland
“Any serious person who has any familiarity with how these numbers are tabulated understands that these are career employees at the Bureau of Labor Statistics that are responsible for compiling and analyzing these numbers and they do that on their own.”
Indeed, the non-partisan number-crunchers at the bureau — an independent agency within the federal Department of Labor — are isolated from all political staff. They compile the monthly job numbers during an eight-day security lockdown in an imposing former post office building near Capitol Hill.
They sign confidentiality agreements every morning, their computers are encrypted and they lock data into a safe even when they briefly use nearby restrooms.
At least one Republican pushed back against the conspiracy theorists, almost immediately dubbed “Jobs Report Truthers” by the wags on Twitter in a nod to the so-called “truthers” who believe 9-11 was an inside job.
“BLS is not manipulating data,” tweeted Tony Fratto, a former spokesman for the George W. Bush administration. “Evidence of such would be a scandal of enormous proportions and loss of credibility.”
Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama’s former economic advisers, addressed Welch directly.
“Love ya Jack but … you’ve lost your mind,” he wrote.
Many of the same conservatives who cast aspersions upon this month’s report have seized upon previous Bureau of Labor Statistics findings that have spelled bad news for Obama.
“OK, I say this is a flat-out bad report on the state of the economy,” Varney said a month ago. “America simply is not at work.”
It’s not the first time Republicans have questioned the agency, however.
In 1971, former president Richard Nixon became convinced the Bureau of Labor Statistics was being secretly controlled by his Democratic rivals and what he called a “Jewish cabal.” He instructed aides to compile a list of “important Jewish officials” at the agency.