Back when Massachusetts’ Jack Welch was in charge of General Electric, anyone questioning the integrity of the company’s products or services could expect a fusillade of rebuttals. But when Welch, last Friday, made the incendiary claim on Twitter — without offering any evidence — that the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ unemployment report was corrupted and that “these Chicago guys will do anything,” he seemed dumbfounded by the chorus of condemnations that followed.
At first, Welch suggested that he should have added question marks to his tweet. Then he went into full defense mode. He quit his Fortune column because the magazine covered the furor over his comments. He wrongly claimed that former Obama aide Austan Goolsbee had once raised similar complaints (Goolsbee had questioned the methodology of the unemployment report, not the integrity of the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Finally, he issued a Wall Street Journal op-ed comparing the Obama administration’s response to his toxic tweet to Soviet oppression.
Welch is entitled to his views. And if he had merely pointed out what others did — that the bureau’s household survey, while massive, is often subject to fluctuations and therefore shouldn’t be considered a definitive measure of unemployment — he would have been on solid ground. But accusing the White House of phonying up a jobs report for political purposes calls into question the integrity of metrics that investors, among others, rely on. It’s no wonder so many people erupted over his charge.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics often revises its pronouncements, in a scrupulous effort to be fair and accurate. Welch should do the same.