Updated at 4:05 pm EDT
If the dip in unemployment below 8 percent came as an October surprise in the presidential election contest underway, the rumblings of a conspiracy theory have the makings of another politically volatile story.
None other than Senator John McCain, the Republican Party’s 2008 presidential nominee, has placed a casual blessing on the comments of former General Electric CEO Jack Welch about the Obama administration manipulating the data for the president’s re-election.
“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers,” Welch said in a message posted on his Twitter account immediately after the Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.
McCain, when asked on CNBC today about Welch’s comment on employment data manipulation, said he “wouldn’t put anything past this administration.” He also said he’s “not enough of an economist” to interpret the jobs data — something that was born out toward the end of his own campaign, in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis, when he called the American economy fundamentally sound.
The Obama administration calls the allegation baseless and defends the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which computes the figures. Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told Bloomberg Television that Welch’s remark was “irresponsible.”
Welch’s remarks were heard ’round the Twitter world.
As Bloomberg’s Tim Catts reports: “Welch’s own profile assured that his message would attract attention, and Twitter users had resent the comment 2,361 times as of noon in New York. His success as GE’s CEO for 20 years through 2001 and as a business-book author has made him one of the nation’s most-recognized retired executives. ”
“His words ring louder than many others and that’s just the fact of life for a CEO, especially a well-known corporate icon type CEO that he has been,” said Peter Thies, a senior partner at Los Angeles-based executive search firm Korn/Ferry International.”
“These numbers don’t smell right, when you think about where the economy is right now,” Welch said in an interview this afternoon with Neil Cavuto on FOX News. “That’s why I tweeted.”
The data are based on “assumptions,” Welch told Cavuto. “It’s just ironic that these assumptions came this way the month before the election — you draw your own conclusions.”
Still, the allegation from a Romney campaign supporter rings hollow.
““No serious person would question the integrity of the Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Krueger said on Bloomberg Television. “These numbers are put together by career employees. They use the same process every month. So I think comments like that are irresponsible.”
Which won’t necessarily stop it from spreading in the political sphere, with a little help from McCain, who lost that 2008 election to Obama.
“Frankly I am not enough of an economist to question those numbers,” McCain said at 1:27 pm in his CNBC appearance. “I wouldn’t put anything past this administration.”