Fox News is helping promote a baseless conspiracy accusing the Obama administration of manipulating employment data for political gain. The accusation, fed by a thinly sourced New York Post column, is now being used to push for congressional investigations.
On November 18, The New York Post blasted the headline: "Census 'faked' 2012 election jobs report." The basis of that claim is a single source, a Census worker who allegedly was caught fabricating data while measuring unemployment in 2010. Beyond that uncorroborated evidence, the Post offers a single anonymous source who claims that Census employees manipulated unemployment data throughout 2012. The Post concluded by calling for a congressional investigation into the supposed "manipulation of data."
Fox cited that report and extended the conspiracy theory beyond low-level Census employees to accuse the White House of knowingly manipulating jobs numbers. The hosts of Fox & Friends argued that the Post reporting corroborated the 2012 conspiracy theory pushed by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch that "these Chicago guys" in the Obama administration and campaign were skewing the jobs data:
KILMEADE: How the number is calculated is one issue. But the issue that we're talking about is how the number was skewed and was fudged, because we're talking about, out of nowhere the unemployment rate dropped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent at the crucial time between August and September.
So -- the conventions are over. You wonder if the economy is on track, you've got Mr. Economic Business Wiz Mitt Romney coming up the rear. And all of a sudden the unemployment rate is dropping. And you're thinking maybe we are on the right track.
Jack Welch comes out and says, it's amazing - and I'll just paraphrase -- it's amazing what these Chicago guys will do to win an election.
Later in the show, on-air graphics insinuated that the White House was "cooking the books."
This unsourced rumor, however, provides no evidence that the jobs numbers were manipulated to improve the unemployment rate, nor does it reveal that anything "unusual happened with the September  report," as Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal explained (emphasis added):
The allegation is interesting. It claims that surveyers conducting the Household Survey -- which is what establishes the unemployment rate -- were pressured to fake surveys in order to fill in data gaps, when it was difficult to get adequate response rates on its surveys.
It also claims that instances of bad data being filled in is something that was going back to 2010 -- in other words, this is not a story about the infamous September 2012 jobs report. There's also no allegation here that there was pressure to manipulate the number up. The only claim is that there was pressure to fill in gaps where there was a shortfall in the number of survey respondents.
There may be more information to come to light on this, but at least this particular report doesn't jibe with Welch's claim that something unusual happened with the September report to artificially push the number down.
In a later post, Weisenthal expanded on his criticism of the New York Post piece, noting that "While it's true that at the time the September Jobs Report looked very weird, in retrospect that drop-off in the unemployment rate looks totally on-trend," and explaining that the supposedly-suspicious regional data didn't seem to match a noticeable dip in unemployment in the same regions.
Right-wing media have a long history of attempting to discredit employment data. As early as February 2012, Fox's Steve Doocy claimed the unemployment data was "fishy," while Fox's Eric Bolling asked if the Labor Department was "playing around with the numbers."
UPDATE: In a November 19 Twitter post, CNBC senior economics reporter Steve Liesman reported that the worker named in the New York Post article has not worked for the Census Bureau since August 2011: