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FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR

“What liberal media?” (Texas edition.)

Here’s a cautionary tale for you from the states — and specifically the state of Texas. By way of full disclosure, I serve as the VP for Communications at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

From April 25th through May 20th, the Texas Public Policy Foundation ran a series of television advertisements — all available on the TPPF YouTube Channel — urging Texans to head to ConservativeBudget.com and let the 82nd Legislature know that they wanted a fiscally responsible Texas state budget. One of those commercials, featuring TPPF President Brooke Rollins, attracted the attention of PolitiFact:

What specifically seized PolitiFact’s attention was this line of Rollins’s:

“In the last five years, we’ve created more jobs than all other states combined.”

This is, in fact, objectively true, and you may verify it yourself at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data page. (We posted the graph and numbers here.) Suffice it to say that when the commercial was filmed, the latest confirmed BLS employment data was January 2011′s. Going back five years through January 2006 revealed that only ten states saw a net increase in jobs in that period — Texas, Louisiana, North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, Utah, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Montana. Texas’s total was 545,900 new jobs. The other nine states combined came to 183,700 new jobs. Call this what you will — we call it a resounding vindication of the Texas model of low taxes and small government — but don’t call it inaccurate.

PolitiFact, despite receiving updated and concurring data from the Texas Workforce Commission, apparently found this disagreeable. In its assessment, it wrote:

So, the foundation’s figures stand up — in the way that such figures are often analyzed, including by PolitiFact.

One may only say to this: quite so. The dataset we used is universally accepted, the rhetoric we used is widely understood, and the methodology we used is transparent and simple. Of course the figures stand up.

But PolitiFact was unsatisfied, and here came the astonishing bit:

Unsaid is that this gauge defines job creation as a net increase in employment. That means the foundation’s analysis only takes into account the number of jobs created in excess of the number lost over a five-year period.

PolitiFact then engaged in a series of exercises, over the course of a thousand words, in which it sought to construct alternative jobs-creation metrics, finally settling on a jaw-dropping declaration that full accuracy would demand noting gross jobs created as well as net. If it occurred to anyone at PolitiFact that this methodology would enable a state to rack up its employment figures simply by firing the entire population each Friday, and re-hiring them all each Monday, there is no sign of it. PolitiFact closed on a sorrowful note:

The foundation’s claim that Texas “created more jobs than all other states combined” stands up — considering only those states that had net job gains over five years. That’s the methodology usually used to define job creation in public discourse.

But the foundation’s analysis disregards the 40 states where millions of jobs were created but were outnumbered by losses.

Then the intended denouement:

We rate the foundation’s statement as Half True.

Well.

Let’s review something for a moment. To use “created more jobs,” or any of its variants — “job creation,” “created jobs,” et al. — to signify a net increase in jobs is a de facto universal rhetorical standard. It’s so common as to be assumed, and no reasonable person reads or hears otherwise. To pick just a few examples: Here’s President Barack Obama doing it. Here’s Gallup doing it. Here’s Michael Powell of the New York Times doing it. Here’s Dennis Cauchon of USA Today doing it. Here’s Pietro Garibaldi and Paolo Mauro of the International Monetary Fund doing it. Here’s Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke doing it. Here’s Peter Cohan of Forbes doing it. Here’s Reuters and CNBC doing it. Here’s Peter Boyer of Newsweek doing it.

The idea that Brooke Rollins would mean anything but net jobs created in her quote defies credulity. News-savvy readers may recall the White House’s own rhetorical dodge on this count from late 2009, when the chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors invoked the phrase “jobs saved or created” to concoct a net-positive figure on employment resulting from the federal stimulus. The widely derided lexical formulation was swiftly discarded, and with good reason: touting job creation in the absence of net job creation is rightly regarded as insulting or deceptive.

All of this is to say that out of the hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Texans who saw TPPF’s statewide advertising campaign, it is apparently only PolitiFact that does not understand this.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time PolitiFact has decided that the concept of net job creation, utilized by every thinking person from every corner of the political spectrum who discusses the economy, is somehow invalid. Back in early 2009, PolitiFact rated as “False” this statement from a Governor Rick Perry press release: “Approximately 70 percent of the jobs created in the U.S. from November 2007-2008 were in Texas.” You can read the PolitiFact logic, such as it is, here; suffice it to say that it’s a strikingly similar situation, with PolitiFact insisting that gross jobs created are the proper metric. (PolitiFact further penalized the Governor’s press release for using “[a]pproximately 70 percent” rather than the 67.2 percent figure given them by the Texas Workforce Commission.) To administer the coup de grace, PolitiFact brought in one Michael Brandl of UT-Austin’s McCombs School of Business:

“To say it’s misleading is to be kind,” Brandi said. “It’s just not true.”

Interestingly, Brandl was also consulted on the piece attacking us. Here’s what he had to say this time:

“To say it’s misleading is to be kind,” Brandi said. “It’s just not true.”

Hmm.

So what’s the bottom line on PolitiFact’s assessment that TPPF has promulgated a “half truth”? On the negative side, PolitiFact engaged in tendentious interpretive exercises in an effort to promulgate a jobs-creation metric that absolutely no one uses — and then penalized us for not using it. On the positive side, PolitiFact did acknowledge that TPPF’s Rollins is objectively correct by every reasonable standard, and they spelled our name right.

We rate PolitiFact’s statement as Half True.

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