From: Lanhee Chen
Date: Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 1:07 PM
Subject: Recent Fact Check on Women's Statistics
Cc: Andrea Saul
To whom it may concern:
I was deeply troubled to read your piece dated April 6, in which you review Romney for President Press Secretary Andrea Saul’s statement that “women account for 92.3 percent of the jobs lost under Obama,” find it to be “accurate,” and then rate it “Mostly False.” Putting aside the obvious problems with rating an accurate statement mostly false, your analysis in this instance was so inadequate that the piece ended up being little more than Obama for Americaspin. I hope you will consider the problems identified below, retract the piece, and replace it with one confirming the accuracy of what Ms. Saul said.
1. Plainly Inconsistent Standards
In your piece, you reject the use of the January 2009 through March 2012 timeframe as representative of the Obama administration’s tenure, writing “Obama cannot be held entirely accountable for the employment picture on the day he took office, just as he could not be given credit if times had been booming.” But one month earlier, on March 2, you reviewed a statement by Newt Gingrich that 16 million jobs were created during the Reagan years. Using exactly the same analysis provided by the campaign here, you wrote “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps the most widely used data on employment, which can be accessed on its website on a month-by-month basis. In January 1981, the month Reagan took office, there were slightly more than 91 million Americans employed. By January 1989, the total was 107.1 million Americans. That’s an increase of 16.1 million employed Americans.” On this basis, you rated the Speaker’s statement as “True.”
If a statement that begins assessing President Reagan’s record as of the month he took office is rated as “True,” how can the use of the same metric count against the veracity of Ms. Saul’s statement here?
2. Failure To Focus On The Appropriate Context
Your second criticism of Ms. Saul’s statement focuses on a supposed lack of context. You write, “by choosing figures from January 2009, months into the recession, the statement ignored the millions of jobs lost before then, when most of the job loss fell on men.” Insofar as you might believe such context is relevant to assessing the factual accuracy of a statement, you have an obligation to analyze the substance of that context rather than simply accepting the talking point as relevant. Here, there are two problems.
First, why should it matter that men had already lost millions of jobs? Was it now women’s “turn”? Is this part of the President’s conception of “fairness” that he talks about so frequently? If the data showed the opposite (i.e. that women had been disproportionately hurt prior to the President taking office), we imagine you would have used that as an indictment of Ms. Saul by arguing that the trend was inherent to the recession and predated the President.
Second, by choosing to dive deeper into context, you take on an obligation to do so effectively. If you want to advance the claim that the President is not responsible for the start of his term, and that it was the women’s “turn” to lose out late in the recession, then you need to test that hypothesis by looking to the start of the so-called recovery – when these factors should no longer be relevant. And yet, if you had taken the time to look at job growth since the recession ended in June 2009 (with the President’s stimulus now in effect), you would have found exactly the same picture. Since that time, less than one-eighth of the economy’s meager job creation has gone to women.
3. Failure To Critically Assess “Expert” Claims
To push back against Ms. Saul’s statement, you offer two claims from so-called “experts.” Each of these were flatly untrue and would themselves have deserved ratings of “False” had you taken the time to evaluate them.
Gary Burtless “explained the gender disparity” by suggesting that the decline in government employment must explain the statistics. Yet even a cursory review of BLS statistics shows this to be completely untrue. In fact, women have suffered relatively worse in the private sector under President Obama, accounting for the entire loss of private sector jobs.
Betsey Stevenson suggested that this trend was simply a repeat of what has occurred in every prior recession. While examining this claim requires slightly more effort, this appears to be the sort of task for which Politifact is well-suited. Once again, the data shows the claim to be false. In fact, no comparable time period at any point before, during, or after a prior recession has produced disproportionate job losses for women.
If Politifact sees its role as going beyond the facts themselves to consider the policy arguments for various interpretations of the data, it surely must have an obligation to assess the accuracy of those arguments as well.
4. Embarrassing Bias and Lack of Journalistic Standards
Perhaps most problematic is the selection of experts itself. The involvement of the BLS’s own spokesman is somewhat bizarre, but he seems to have just emailed you statistics that you could have looked up for yourself. Far more troubling were the selection of your two experts.
As you may or may not know, Gary Burtless has already donated twice to President Obama’s campaign this cycle.
Much more inexplicably, Bestey Stevenson, who you identify simply as “a business and public policy professor at Princeton University,” was until recently the chief economist for Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. She also authored a recent opinion piece for Reuters entitled “The Case for Obama’s Jobs Program.” I have no way of knowing whether Politifact was aware of this and failed to disclose it, or whether she failed to identify her role in the Administration – frankly, I am not sure which would be worse.
On a final, fitting note, Ms. Stevenson has a Twitter account and on April 6 tweeted “This recovery has not been good for women.” Those forty-two characters are far more accurate than anything that you wrote.
In summary, your piece confirms Ms. Saul’s claim as accurate, and then relies on a direct contradiction with a prior Politifact piece and incorrect claims from two publicly acknowledged Obama supporters (including one Administration official!) as the basis for rating it “Mostly False.” I hope you will agree that this rating was inappropriate and that the piece does not reflect the journalistic standards to which your organization intends to hold itself. Please retract the piece and issue a correction as soon as possible.
Lanhee J. Chen, Ph.D.
Romney for President
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