The latest monthly job totals were released late last week, and the news was quite encouraging. The economy added 243,000 jobs in January -- 257,000 in the private sector -- and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%. The job totals are the best we've seen in two years, and the jobless rate has reached its lowest level in three years.
The right has struggled with the news. Mitt Romney went into denial; his supporters desperately tried to convince people not to give President Obama credit; GOP leaders on Capitol Hill found themselves at a loss for words; and Fox News spent much of Friday going to comical lengths to pretend the jobs report wasn't newsworthy at all.
And then, there are the conspiracy theorists.
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) came first, arguing on Friday there's "something suspicious about the job numbers." He did not elaborate.
On Fox News' "Fox & Friends" this morning, the cast went down this road with more enthusiasm. Here's what Eric Bolling told viewers:
"So are they playing around with the numbers? Look, it's the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it's supposed to be non-partisan, but that's the Department of Labor. Hilda Solis heads the Department of Labor, Hilda Solis works directly to Obama. I'm, you know."
Steve Doocy raised the question of whether the Obama administration is "cooking the books," while Gretchen Carlson emphasized the fact that this is "an election year."
For the record, there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the unemployment data has been manipulated in any way. The monthly report is compiled by career officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who've done nothing to have their integrity called into question, and if Republicans are going to raise the specter of an elaborate conspiracy theory, it's incumbent on them to offer at least some kind of proof.
Alex Seitz-Wald had a good take on this:
If it weren't improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold on strong belief about something invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers. Needless to say, this is hardly the behavior one expects from fair and balanced journalists Fox hosts claim to be.
I am curious about something, though. If the conspiracy theorists on the jobs report were right, why did the Obama administration wait three years to start manipulating the report? In other words, if political and electoral considerations were driving the data, leading officials to "cook the books," why wait so long? Wouldn't it have been better to show a significant improvement shortly before the 2010 midterms? Why wouldn't the administration just keep the unemployment rate artificially low all along?
Perhaps "Fox & Friends" can tackle this tomorrow.