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Bill Ritter's daily take on the news.

January 6, 2012 1:13:31 PM PST
Some of the best advice anyone ever gave me about news on television came from the man in charge of our editing system.

Dave Mulewski long ago told me this simple theorem: Numbers in news tend to confuse.

It was a shocker for me, having gone to school in accounting and economics, and after spending many years as a newspaper reporter focusing on business and white collar crime.

Numbers in news confusing? What's more riveting than an earnings-per-share statement? Or pouring over the numerical nuggets of a 10-K filing with the SEC?

But on television, where the words and pictures can fly by, too many numbers can make viewers' eyes glaze over.

I bring all this up because the latest jobs numbers are out, and they provide a fascinating look at how numbers in news can confuse. Especially when taken in or out of context.

Here are the simple numbers: The economy added 200,000 jobs last month, dropping the unemployment rate to 8.5 percent, the lowest level in nearly 2 years.

Lots of numbers but we're just beginning.

The jobs created represent the sixth consecutive month that new jobs have topped the 100,000 mark ? far below what the economy needs to get back to pre-recession employment levels. But it's still an uptick ? and not reflective of the total doom that the rhetoric of a nasty Presidential primary season might otherwise portray.

It also comes on the heels of some other not-so-rim news about the otherwise sluggish economy: Polls show a slight rise in consumer confidence (of course that has yet to truly translate into consumers fully opening their wallets), factories have upped their production, and even small businesses are reporting what the New York Times today called "signs of life."

All of this is of no small consequence to the man who was elected President during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

And, as ABC News' pollster Gary Langer offered today, "it's hard to overstate how important the unemployment rate is to Barack Obama's re-election prospects. Not just the number, but its trajectory." So with that in mind, it's fascinating to look at the numbers reported today by The Times' economics columnist Paul Krugman who posits that when the President inherited an "economy in free fall," the job losses during his first few months in office aren't his responsibility.

That means, says Krugman, that the 3.1 million jobs lost between January, 2009, and June 2009, are on President Bush's watch sort of like a relief pitcher not getting charged for runners on base who score after he comes into the game.

Then, says, Krugman, since then the economy has gained 1.2 million jobs which means those are on Pres. Obama's watch. The difference between the 3.1 million lost and 1.2 million gained is 1.9 million net job loss since Mr. Obama's first month in office and that's the number Republicans like Mitt Romney are using.

Many will disagree with Krugman's assessment, of course. And there's certainly plenty of criticism of the President's job-creation policy; if it had been more successful, there would have been more new jobs than just 1.2 million since June, 2009.

But the point is that the numbers can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Reminds me of my dad's old axiom that "liars figure but figures don't lie." The numbers are the numbers. So what do you think? We'd love to hear from you.

And if my pal Dave Mulewski's theory is true that numbers in news tend to confuse then let me be the first to apologize for what I've written so far. I hate to confuse people.

We'll have the latest on the economy, tonight at 11.

We'll also have reaction on what is perhaps the least surprising story of this new year: Archbishop Tim Dolan of New York will be named a Cardinal by the Pope.

I say least surprising because the last 8 men in charge of the New York City Archdiocese have become Cardinals.

Only two men back in the 1800s have not been "elevated" to the post.

F or Dolan who's been on the job three years come April has embraced the politics of his predecessors, but he's done it with an infectious sense of humor and everyman-kind-of approach that often disarms his most arduous critics.

Even those who find themselves on the other end of the debate from Archbishop Dolan kinda love the guy. Hard not to.

He's self-deprecating and he's not afraid to toy with religious humor. For example, the St. Louis native grew up as an avid baseball fan. And he once joked that, "The only Cardinal I wanted to be growing up was Stan Musial."

Now he'll join Musial, in a sense, during a ceremony next month at the Vatican.

Also at 11, with so many people now engaging in their personal business activities online, we take a closer look at how you can make your personal information more secure over the Internet.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Meteorologist Jeff Smith (in for Lee Goldberg) with his weekend AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Sade Baderinwa and me, tonight at 11.


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