Viewpoint: PolitiFact swung and missed with allegations against Romney

By Joshua Madden
A&E Editor

PolitiFact, a nonpartisan group designed to look at political claims and verify accuracy, called Mitt Romney’s statement “mostly false” when he said women were hit hard by job losses under President Barack Obama.

The problem is, it’s actually PolitiFact’s claim that is “mostly false.”

If ever there were a political situation that could make a run at being the world’s greatest example of irony, this might be it.

The Romney campaign is claiming that 92.3 percent of job losses during the Obama administration have been jobs held by women. While PolitiFact labeled this as “mostly false,” the problem is that it’s actually true, although like every political issue, it is more nuanced than that.

PolitiFact looked at the numbers and, admirably, did acknowledge that there was some validity to the claim. According to PolitiFact, “Romney’s campaign pointed to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment figures from January 2009, when Obama took office, and March 2012, for all employees and for female employees.”

PolitiFact found that there was a total of 133,561,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in January 2009 in comparison with 132,821,000 in March 2012, meaning that overall, the economy lost 740,000 jobs. PolitiFact compared that with the statistics for female employment and found that in January 2009, there was a total of 66,122,000 female nonfarm payroll jobs. In this case, there was a total 65,439,000 jobs by March 2012, which would mean that there was a net loss of 683,000 jobs.

PolitiFact explained that the Romney campaign then divided the net loss among women by the total net loss and came up with 92.3 percent. Unless I’m missing something here, wouldn’t that actually make the Romney campaign true, not “mostly false?”

PolitiFact goes on to explain several things that make the issue more complicated, pointing out that the Romney campaign is basing numbers off of when Obama took office — meaning before his policies had time to be implemented — and that the claim doesn’t take note of the fact that the recession has hit men hardest overall, all of which seemed valid to me.

The latter point is particularly true; due to the nature of recessions, male-dominated industries (like construction) are usually the first hit and female-dominated industries usually follow afterwards. This was true in this recession — men were overwhelmingly more affected by the recession during the Bush administration and it is true that whether or not Obama took office, women probably would have lost most of the jobs in the next few months.

While all of that is true, it doesn’t make the Romney campaign’s claim wrong. If anything, the Romney campaign’s claim is “mostly true,” although perhaps incomplete.

Let’s look at the two Tweets that PolitiFact cites as having sparked the controversy. It reported that “On April 6, 2012, Romney’s press secretary Andrea Saul tweeted, ‘FACT: Women account for 92.3% of the jobs lost under @BarackObama,’ a claim also made on Romney’s website.” It said Saul “followed it up a few hours later with this: ‘@BarackObama touts policies for women & 92.3% jobs lost under him r women’s. He’s even more clueless than we thought.’”

Notice how Saul doesn’t actually say that the job loss is Obama’s fault or that this is atypical of a recession — she simply says that women held 92.3 percent of jobs lost under Obama. That’s simply a true claim. The context that PolitiFact cites, while all valid, doesn’t actually affect the claims being made. It may put it in context, but it doesn’t make the initial claim false.

The thing is, when people see an amazing statistic like that — where the numbers are just so overwhelming — they’re going to see that it was reported as “mostly false” and dismiss it off-hand, without actually looking into it more than that.

To put it simply, that’s unfair to the Romney campaign, and PolitiFact should apologize to the campaign and correct the error, which it has so far refused to do.

In a world where politicians on both sides of the aisle can claim credit for “jobs saved or created,” as Obama has done in the past, PolitiFact doesn’t have the right to claim that an otherwise true claim is made “mostly false” because of its surrounding context.

Context does matter and I would always encourage people to look in depth at the claims being made by political campaigns, but PolitiFact’s rating here is simply inaccurate. It owes the Romney campaign — and its own readership — an apology.

Joshua Madden is a graduate student from Olathe, Kan., and is the Lariat’s A&E Editor.