Or, the treachery of objective journalism
Those were my thoughts as I made my way through the New York Times article about today's jobs report. (Not picking on the Times in particular; this is a disease of the so-called "objectivity" in journalism.)
The article keeps stating the "facts". For example:
Employers added 431,000 nonfarm jobs nationwide in May, the biggest increase in a single month in a decade, the Labor Department said Friday. (my emphasis)
This sounds objective -- it is a "true" statement that this number is the "biggest increase in a decade". But it is also a "lie" because this is also the only month in the past decade for which the Census took on hundreds of thousands of temporary workers. The article also stated this additional "fact":
But the bulk of the growth was in government jobs, driven by hiring for the 2010 census, and private-sector job growth was weak.
A few paragraphs later, the article stated:
Altogether, 411,000 of the jobs added were for census workers whose positions will disappear after the summer.
Here lies the rub. We cannot argue with this paragraph because all statements are true as stated but this is not what I consider "good reporting". This reporting misrepresents "what the data means".
Here's one version that calls a spade a spade:
Employers added 20,000 nonfarm jobs nationwide in May, the Labor Department said Friday. In addition, 411,000 jobs were added for temporary workers for the once-in-ten-year Census, positions which will disappear after the summer.
In data reporting and analysis, it is very dangerous to be "objective" in the sense of "just stating the numbers". This is a very important point to realize. You want your data analysts to interpret and understand what the data means. The fact that this increase was "the biggest in a decade" has zero value, none whatsoever! To mention this in the first sentence of this report is a travesty, an embarrassment.
Many economics blogs are vigilant about reporting of economic statistics in the media. I recommend Dean Baker's Beat the Press, and Calculated Risk even had a preemptive strike about the reporting of this jobs announcement (CR has analysis here).
PS. My related post about how to read these type of data.