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Sierra Daily

Oct 05, 2012

Verification in Reverse

September_unemployment-payrollsAs you may have heard, the new jobs numbers out this morning showing unemployment falling below 8% for the first time since January, 2009, have spawned a bizarre "Job Truther" movement. Suddenly, the eminently estimable Bureau of Labor Statistics is suspected of cooking its numbers. Former GE CEO Jack Welch led the charge on Twitter, followed by Fox News and even Senator John McCain.

"Frankly I am not enough of an economist to question exactly what those numbers," McCain said Friday on CNBC. "I wouldn't put anything past this administration."

If this all sounds oddly familiar, it's because it's the same conspiratorial, anti-empiricist approach taken by climate-change deniers to try to cast doubt on the incredibly extensively documented warming of our planet. NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen did the world a service last year by putting a label on what's going on here; he calls it "verification in reverse."

Verification, which is crucial to journalism, means nailing down assertions with verifiable facts. Verification in reverse is taking established facts and manufacturing doubt about them, which creates political friction, and the friction then becomes an energy source you can tap for campaigning. It’s a political technique.  

And friction, of course, is what powers political journalism. Instead of a rapidly heating planet or a better economic picture, the story becomes the dispute.

Update: McCain's spokesperson says the senator was "not questioning the BLS numbers in any way."

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PAUL RAUBER is a senior editor at Sierra. He is the author, with Carl Pope, of the happily outdated Strategic Ignorance: Why the Bush Administration Is Recklessly Destroying a Century of Environmental Progress. Otherwise he is a cyclist, cook, and father of two. Follow him on Twitter @paulrauber. 

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