Jack Welch is “one of America’s all-time great CEOs.”
Jack Welch is “one of America’s all-time dumbest former CEOs.”
Q: Which statement is true?
That first quote comes from CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper; the second from me.
Last Friday (Oct. 5), the Department of Labor released its monthly unemployment report. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “The unemployment rate decreased to 7.8 percent in September, and total non-farm payroll employment rose by 114,000.”
Not long after the report’s release, here’s what former GE CEOJack Welch tweeted to, a reported, 1.3 million fans:
“Unbelievable job numbers.. these Chicago guys will do anything.. Can’t debate so change numbers.”
Clearly, Welch was suggesting that the Obama administration deliberately manipulated the jobs report, something Labor Secretary Hilda Solis immediately pushed back on.
“I have the highest regard for our professional staff at the bureau of labor statistics, highly trained, highly skilled Ph.D.s, economists, statisticians, folks that have been working in this area for many years and this is a methodology that’s been used for decades. And it is insulting when you hear people just cavalierly say that somehow we are manipulating numbers. I find that very insulting.”
On his nightly CNN program, Anderson Cooper has a segment called, Keeping Them Honest, whose purpose is to check the credibility of a variety of statements that tend to gain media attention. Needless to say, Cooper was interested in speaking to Welch.
COOPER: A couple points just on the numbers. They say a number of these workers are seasonal workers and maybe work for smaller companies that aren’t really tracked in the way the BLS tracks these numbers and so maybe it’s small jobs here and there.
WELCH: Maybe, but let’s face it, the number that came out today from the household survey was the highest number since June of ’83.
COOPER: But what evidence —
WELCH: I have no evidence.
COOPER: You don’t have any evidence.
COOPER: It’s one thing to doubt the numbers and say —
WELCH: I used question marks last night.
COOPER: Well, you said these Chicago guys will do anything.
WELCH: A question mark might have been better. Last night I had a question mark.
COOPER: So you wish you would have —
WELCH: A question mark would have been better.
COOPER: So, you don’t really stand by the notion —
WELCH: I stand by it. I stand by that these numbers have to be examined.
COOPER: But, you stand by that these Chicago guys will do anything, can’t debate so change —
WELCH: I’m not changing my tweet.
COOPER: But are you —
WELCH: I’m not accusing anybody of anything.
COOPER: But you are. You are saying these Chicago guys will do anything.
… And as soon as Cooper presses Welch that his tweet clearly implies fraud, the former GE executive’s real agenda comes into focus.
WELCH: Well, you’ve seen they have been calling Romney a liar for the last two days. I mean, —
COOPER: But how would they cook the books? How would they cook the numbers, given the process?
WELCH: Look, I have no idea whether these books are cooked. I’m very clear about that. …
COOPER: But given that you say you have no facts, and you don’t know, isn’t it irresponsible to then say these Chicago — you are a respected guy, to say these Chicago guys will do anything? You’re implying —
WELCH: I’m saying you heard the president today; he’s out there on 7.8. This number is too important to not to have a long discussion about how it’s arrived at, what the assumptions are.
Welch is right, and… he’s wrong.
A deeper discussion about the numbers is important, but that discussion should be had by economists and labor experts, not Welch. It’s also important to remember that the Bureau of Labor Statistics frequently adjusts their numbers in preceding months allowing for additional data. On October 3, the BLS adjusted the August numbers.
However, there are two trends that concern me.
The first is the super-abundance of tweets by business people, politicians, celebrities and pundits. Their frequency and focus on the sensational have grown to become something akin to digital graffiti. The second and more irresponsible aspect is people like Welch who have established the perception of being both thoughtful and responsible. Speaking “off-the-cuff” (code for not thinking before speaking) as his tweet demonstrates, drives conspiracy theories. Remember Donald Trump’s birther fanaticism?
What began as a techno-geek’s instant communication wet-dream, Twitter has quickly morphed into a texting throw-down for anyone with a smart phone, 140 characters and an attitude. And while that may be fine for most people (and I have my doubts about that), business people, politicians, and anyone with a recognizable media presence should know that in the immediacy of the moment, words not only drive emotions but have serious consequences whenever it has to do with issues and individuals that are politically charged.
Self-restraint is something that people like Welch, Trump, and Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell need to make a greater effort to practice. Furthermore, all of us – the watchers, listeners and tweeters – need a similar reserve in order to avoid the spit-takes and jumping off the couch to re-tweet utter nonsense.
In defending his tweet to Anderson Cooper, Welch suggested he made a mistake. He should have added a question mark (as if that would make a difference in the meaning). Well, here’s my question for Welch:
If the Obama administration really wanted to manipulate the job numbers for political gain why not begin a few months earlier, why wait for the September numbers? It would likely make any good news much more plausible.
While it is not unethical to make a mistake, all of us have a moral obligation to do one’s best, to be diligent, reliable, responsible and informed.
Today, more than ever, we are bombarded with a virtual mountain of information, much of which is designed to persuade and influence. When it comes to voting on issues and individuals that affect us all, it’s important to do our ownhomework.
As voters, we have a duty to do no less.