WashPost's Bump 'Fact-Checks' Trump's Retweeted Obama Economy Charts: Facts Win, 9-0

June 4th, 2016 9:03 PM

Philip Bump and the Washington Post have apparently had a couple of pretty bad days. The Post had to endure having to cover, and cover for, an absolutely awful jobs report released Friday morning. That news made their beloved Dear Leader, who had just celebrated the allegedly wonderful economic accomplishments seen during his presidency on Wednesday, look quite foolish. Never fear: By Paragraph 4 of its related story, the Post found an "expert" who claimed that "This just does not square with all the other things we’re seeing in the economy." Actually, the job market has been virtually the only exception to otherwise uniformly weak data since the fourth quarter of last year.

Perhaps partially influenced by the bad jobs news, Bump, who toils at the Post's "The Fix" blog, came completely unhinged in reacting to a Thursday evening retweet by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The Trump retweet contained nine miniature charts, and sent Bump into an angry (cough, cough) "fact-checking" frenzy.

Bump opened his post as follows:

We have generally learned that there's not much utility in fact-checking every tweet that springs to life from the imagination of Donald Trump or which receives his blessing via retweet. Tweets containing factual errors are not as plentiful as those containing exclamation points or disparagement, but they aren't exactly rare.

But on Thursday evening, Trump retweeted this one, and we -- well, I -- couldn't let it stand.

Here is that Trump retweet:


Readers can rest assured that despite Bump's pitiful efforts, the chart-containing tweet which Trump retweeted still stands tall. Trump struck out the Obama-supporting side on nine pitches, er, charts. Bump doesn't even have a clue that this is objectively the case.

The charts in the retweet are based purely on facts. Each clearly indicates in its red-shaded area what has happened during Barack Obama's presidency, Each shows that the trends presented have gotten worse under Obama. Thus, the only open argument is over whether:

  • Obama, the Democrat-dominated Congresses of 2007-2010, or policies preceding Obama and those Congresses are responsible for the trends identified.
  • Obama himself is responsible for failing to halt them in the past 7-1/2 years (with Congress's unfortunate acquiescence).
  • A combination of both.

Bump's alleged "fact check" never demonstrated that the charts were wrong, i.e., he never disproved any underlying facts. In other words, the facts won in each instance; all Bump could do is occasionally grumble about their presentation.

Bump's problems began when he failed to determine the origin of the nine charts involved.

The original tweeter obtained the miniature charts at a "little" blog called Zero Hedge, whose traffic surely dwarfs that of "The Fix" (though obviously not the Post itself). ZH posted slightly larger but still quite small versions of those nine charts Wednesday as Obama was about to speak in Elkhart, asserting that "No fiction peddling will be allowed at Obama's speech taking place in Elkhart right now." ZH should have written that "no fiction peddling should be allowed," because of course Obama didn't stop engaging in it in his Elkhart speech.

Bump's research abilities are either clearly suspect or took an unannounced vacation late this week. As a result, he foolishly decided to fish around at other sites and sources to present his own version of Zero Hedge's charts.

If Bump is paid by the hour, he can fairly be accused of milking the clock, because an easily completed journey to a September 2015 ZH post (Google searching on "zero hedge 9 charts," not in quotes, returned it as the top non-news item early Saturday afternoon) would have shown that at least seven of the nine charts in Trump's retweet came straight from the Federal Reserve's vast database of economic data maintained and continually updated by its St. Louis branch ("FRED" stands for "Federal Reserve Economic Data"):


The FRED data ZH showed in miniature form, and which Trump retweeted, are at web pages with the following chart titles, with one possible exception noted at Number 5. The core of Bump's deranged critique follows at each item.

  1. Student Loans — "Federal government; consumer credit, student loans; asset, Level." Bump claims that a $600 billion increase in student loans since 2009 "isn't a big spike." I kid you not. Phil, it's not that far from representing a doubling of the per-person debt load.
  2. Food Stamps — "Government social benefits: To persons: Federal: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)." (Note: this is Food Stamp/SNAP program spending, not the number of recipients.) Bump says the problem here is that Obama "took office right after the recession began." Even if one excuses enrollment and spending increases in 2009 and 2010 on that basis, that doesn't explain why the enrollment kept going up and up during the next three years of the so-called "recovery," or why they're just starting to barely come down in just the past few reported months.
  3. Federal Debt — "Federal Debt: Total Public Debt as Percent of Gross Domestic Product." Bump, clearly flailing at this point, complained that the chart goes back too far, and that a chart he showed, which begins in 1990, shows "that (the debt) increase began under his predecessor, George W. Bush, as an effort to address the financial crisis." That's horse manure. Obama has built up the national debt completely unrelated to the "financial crisis" by an average of more than $1 trillion per year since taking office. There's no conceivable way any rational person could consider this a continuation of something that started under Bush. Instead, Obama, especially with the help of the 2009 and 2010 Congresses, deliberately ramped up the size of the federal government during early years of his presidency and has kept those artificially high levels going and going ever since, deficits and debt buildups be damned.
  4. Money Printing —"Monetary Base; Total." Bump went completely off the rails here, referring to amounts in the millions when they're really trillions, while pretending that we're too stupid to understand that "money printing" in the modern era is a figure of speech describing "money creation" and not entirely bills coming off of printing presses.
  5. Health Insurance Costs — Though I couldn't locate the graph at FRED, the underlying data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bump showed a separate graph which shows per-capita health care expenditures trending upward. Mr. Selective Memory obviously and conveniently "forgot" that Dear Leader promised that health insurance premiums would drop by $2,500 per family as a result of Obamacare. Instead — and Bump's own graph would essentially prove this if applied to families instead of individuals — Investor's Business Daily showed in September that "family premiums have climbed a total of $4,865" since 2008.
  6. Labor Force Participation — "Civilian Labor Force Participation Rate." Bump again claims that "the creator of the graphs cheats again, showing a section of the vertical axis." Phil, FRED gives users the ability to do that to help emphasize relevant points, and there's not a damned thing wrong with that. The rarely-gracious Bump "let it slide" here. What he didn't explain is how this rate, which was supposedly on the mend, fell by 0.4 percentage points during the past two months to a level rarely seen during the past 40 years. Rest assured that baby-boomer retirements don't explain this.
  7. Zero Hedge replaced the above chart on "Workers' Share of Economy" with one on Black Inequality, which is at FRED under the title "Income Gini Ratio for Households by Race of Householder, Black Alone or in Combination." Bump presented a graph with a zero horizontal axis for white and black inequality to somehow demonstrate that "income inequality increased, but not that dramatically." Maybe you need to let Obama, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in on your secret, Phil.
  8. Median Family Income — "Real Median Family Income in the United States." Bump laughably claims that the separate graph he provided "doesn't match the Trump chart, mind you, and it's not clear why." Uh, Phil, the real, inflation-adjusted figures match the Fed's graph exactly for the years presented. You just gave your graph a zero-value horizontal axis to smooth out what have in reality been steep real declines. (The idea that Bump appears not to realize this boggles the mind.)
  9. Home Ownership — "Homeownership Rate for the United States." Bump's excuse: "a decline that began under Bush ... Bad home loans and the rapid expansion of home ownership played key roles in creating the conditions that led to the economic collapse. As a result, home ownership rates dropped." Too bad for Phil that Democratic Party housing policies and Democrat crony-run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, helped along by "community organizers" like the late 20th-century Barack Obama, caused these "bad home loans" to be made.

Bump's hysterical conclusion:

So why did Trump tweet it? Because, as has often been the case, the details are less important than the political point. If a bunch of graphs claim to show how Obama has been bad for the economy, boom. Retweet. If some jerk goes through each one and notes why it's wrong or skewed, that doesn't detract from the main point, which is that Obama is bad. If challenged, Trump can simply blame the originator of what he retweeted, which he has often proven willing to do.

And that, in a nutshell, is why fact-checking things like this is so often thankless.

That's pretty funny, coming from a self-appointed "fact-checker" who failed to disprove a single one of the graphs included in Trump's retweet.

Final score: Facts, 9; Bump and the Washington Post, 0.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.