As Mitt Romney prepares to roll out his latest misleading attack on President Obama's economic record—this one charging that the stimulus actually cost jobs—The Washington Post's Greg Sargent has some great questions that the press should be asking the Romney camp.
Sargent notes that the campaign is counting hundreds of thousands of jobs lost before the stimulus went into effect, and wonders whether reporters will ask the campaign about this obvious problem with the charge.
But it's worth pointing out that, even if you set that issue aside, the attack still doesn't hold up. It's impossible to say definitively exactly how many jobs a piece of legislation worth over three quarters of a trillion dollars created or subtracted—and the Romney campaign's claim is designed to take advantage of that uncertainty. But there have in fact been numerous studies of the issue, and by surveying the best of them, we can get reasonably close to an answer.
That's exactly what The Washington Post's Wonkblog did last August. It found that six of the nine most authoritative studies showed that the stimulus created a significant number of jobs, while the other three found a negative effect, or no effect. "[T]he preponderance of evidence indicates the stimulus worked..." the Post concluded.
It's not surprising that the Romney campaign's rhetoric isn't constrained by this type of empirical evidence. But the press's response should be. Rather than simply reporting Team Romney's charge and the Obama campaign's response, reporters should be ready to say clearly that the claim that the stimulus subtracted jobs is belied by the evidence.
Think of it as another in the series of Rachel's tests for the Beltway press corps.