The Straits Times
Published on Oct 06, 2012

Ex-GE chief Welch leads 'fraud' fury over jobs data


Ex-GE chief Jack Welch, pictured here in 2009, called into question jobs numbers released by the US Labor Department. -- AFP/Getty Images/File

It took just milliseconds for the conspiracy theories to surface. Moments after the US Labor Department announced that the US jobless rate had fallen sharply to 7.8 percent -- a very favorable number for President Barack Obama -- the financial website Zerohedge tweeted: "Total data manipulation. Such a farce."

The surprise, though, was that Jack Welch, once a captain of US industry, chimed in, adding a slight on Obama's hometown.

"Unbelievable jobs numbers.. these Chicago guys will do anything.. can't debate, so change numbers," tweeted Welch, the former chief executive of industrial giant General Electric and now a management guru.

The numbers "don't smell right when you think about where the economy is right now" he told Fox News later, defending his tweet.

The fall in the unemployment rate from August's 8.1 percent was a surprise all around.

But it was a political windfall for Obama who has been struggling to meet his pledge to bring unemployment below 8.0 percent by the end of his first four-year term in office.

With the presidential election just one month away, conservative blasts came fast and furious:

-- Florida Republican congressmen Allen West: "I agree with former GE CEO Jack Welch, Chicago style politics is at work here."

-- Keith Urbahn, a former top aide to erstwhile Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: "No, there's nothing at all curious about the last jobs report diving to 7.8% unemployment before the election."

-- Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham: "Jobs #s from Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are total pro-Obama propaganda."

The White House quickly went on the defensive. Solis, who oversees the Bureau of Labor Statistics which produces the data, said she was "insulted" by Welch and the others.

"We have a very professional civil service organization... It is really ludicrous to hear that kind of statement," she told CNBC television.

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest call the allegations "utter nonsense."

The harshest blasts were for Welch, with some pointing to suspicions of earnings manipulation while he ran GE before retiring in 2001.

Former Bush administration speech writer David Frum asked: "Isn't Jack Welch about the last person on earth who (should) talk about organizations manipulating numbers to impress markets?"

And former White House economic advisor Austan Goolsbee tweeted: "Love ya Jack, but here you've lost your mind."

There was no immediate comment from Welch's successor at GE, Jeffrey Immelt, who, in addition to running the industrial conglomerate, heads up Obama's council for creating jobs.