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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Opening yet another front in their endless war against reality, right-wing conspiracy-mongers have moved on from polling data to federal unemployment statistics, apparently because  — like the political polls they’ve disputed in recent weeks — the latest jobless number is not sufficiently damaging to President Obama.

Shortly after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September unemployment numbers on Friday morning, showing that the jobless rate fell last month from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, outraged expressions of doubt began to appear on the Internet.

Nobody cited any substantive evidence to support allegations that the BLS had suddenly “cooked” its data to promote the president’s re-election, of course. Evidence isn’t required or expected in Fox Nation.

What sustained at least momentary interest in this new “truther” flurry, however, was a Twitter effusion from Jack Welch, the former General Electric chairman, who described the BLS number as “unbelievable” and complained that “these Chicago guys will do anything” because Obama “can’t debate.” (He later admitted to Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, “I have no evidence to prove that [the White House influenced the BLS], ” adding disingenuously that “I just raised the question.”)

Although Welch is superficially a credible figure — indeed, still an idol in certain quarters of American business — he is also a particularly enthusiastic and volatile Romney surrogate. “Neutron Jack,” as he used to be known,  admires Romney deeply, perhaps because both have become symbols of “corporate greed, arrogance, and contempt for workers.” His tweet about the BLS was a political expression, not an expert assessment, and invites skepticism. But Welch certainly is familiar with dubious numbers and political manipulation.

Several years after he retired from General Electric in 2001 — where his legendary managerial successes brought him accolades as the “CEO of the century” in the business press — the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation of the company’s accounting practices. What the SEC eventually uncovered were long-running schemes to inflate earnings, reminiscent of Enron.

While nobody held Welch personally accountable, the violations that cost the conglomerate $50 million in fines occurred on the watch of the chief financial officer he had appointed in 1998. Other accounts of questionable business practices at GE date back much further.

More pertinent than GE’s accounting misadventures is Welch’s controversial role in the 2000 election, when he became known as an outspoken supporter of George W. Bush. (Considering the dismal history of the Bush presidency, voters might think twice before taking Welch’s political advice this year.)  At the time, GE owned NBC and its cable networks CNBC and MSNBC, and Welch was known to make his presence felt in the studios and newsrooms. Nobody at 30 Rock had the slightest doubt about Welch’s hatred toward President Clinton and the Clinton administration, or about his desire to see Clinton replaced by Bush.

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