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PolitiFact: Did Wasserman Schultz deny a rise in unemployment under Obama?

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, did not deny the unemployment rate went up under Obama.

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Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, did not deny the unemployment rate went up under Obama.

Bloggers could not believe it. South Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, insisted on national television that unemployment did not increase under President Barack Obama.

"Denial — it ain't just a river in Egypt," wrote blogger Ed Morrissey. "Appearing on Fox News this morning, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz insisted that unemployment didn't go up in Barack Obama's term of office, a hilarious argument on several levels."

Morrissey blogged about a 4-minute interview last week between Wasserman Schultz and Gretchen Carlson, co-host of Fox and Friends. Their back-and-forth over unemployment inspired the Republican National Committee press team to package Morrissey's post with several other accounts in an email blast to political reporters.

"This morning Delusional Debbie denied unemployment went up under Obama — a claim now gracing Drudge Report and a number of other news sites," the RNC email read. "Either Wasserman Schultz needs to study up …or she's deliberately trying to deceive Americans."

We think the interview — and what exactly Wasserman Schultz and Carlson said — warrants another look.

Here's the full exchange.

Carlson: "Unemployment has gone up precipitously since he (Obama) took office."

Wasserman Schultz: "That is simply not true."

Carlson: "Yes it is."

Wasserman Schultz: "In fact, unemployment has now dropped below 9 percent. It's continuing to drop. He's been focused on …"

Carlson: "But it's higher than when they promised that the stimulus would lower it to 8 percent …"

Wasserman Schultz: "See, that narrative doesn't work for you anymore, though, because when President Obama …"

Carlson: "It's not my narrative. I'm just talking about facts, where the unemployment numbers are."

Wasserman Schultz: "You just said that the unemployment rate has been going up since he took office, and it hasn't."

Carlson: "Is unemployment higher now than when President Obama took office?"

Wasserman Schultz: "What's happened since President Obama took office …"

Carlson: "Is unemployment higher than he took office?"

Wasserman Schultz: "Unemployment is nearing right around where it was when President Obama took office and it's dropping. You just said that it's been increasing, and that's not true."

There is no denying the unemployment rate is higher now (8.6 percent in November 2011) than it was in February 2009, Obama's first full month in office (8.2, which itself was up .4 percentage points from January 2009).

But is that what Wasserman Schultz said?

The host and guest's back-and-forth is pretty muddy, stuffed with implications and ignored points. It's confusing because Carlson and Wasserman Schultz refuse to share a frame of discussion. Carlson wants to talk about how unemployment is higher since Obama took office, but she uses a misleading word, "precipitously," to start it off. Wasserman Schultz ignores Carlson's point and reacts instead to her interpretation of what Carlson said, that unemployment is rising.

The word "precipitously" could be a fair choice to describe the jump from the April 2008 unemployment rate of 4.9 percent, with President George W. Bush at the nation's helm, to the Obama-led October 2009 rate of 10.1.

But the word is not accurate if you interpret Carlson as saying unemployment is rising precipitously now, as Wasserman Schultz did and as most people would, said Alec Marantz, New York University linguistics and psychology professor.

"If Carlson meant, 'Unemployment is significantly higher than when Obama took office,' what she said doesn't convey that," Marantz said. "The use of the adverb 'precipitously' suggests a steady, steep upward slope, which corresponds only to the beginning of Obama's presidency, not to a period between 'since he took office' and now."

The jobless rate has tapered off since its October 2009 peak, lingering mainly within the range of 9.2 and 8.8 percent. The most recent rate available is 8.6 percent, its lowest point since March 2009.

Later in the interview, Carlson tries to adjust her point so that it's about "where the unemployment numbers are." So she asks Wasserman Schultz, "Is unemployment higher now than when President Obama took office?"

The answer is an unequivocal yes.

But Wasserman Schultz does not offer a direct answer. Her response, "Unemployment is nearing right around where it was when President Obama took office and it's dropping," implies the rate has increased but articulates that unemployment is going down. It's not a denial; it's a dodge.

Our ruling

The enemy of clarity is cross-talk.

Did Wasserman Schultz really insist that unemployment did not go up during Obama's term, as propagated by the Republican National Committee? No. Wasserman Schultz insisted something else — that it hadn't gone up precipitously and that it is not going up. We rate the RNC's claim Mostly False.

The statement

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz "denied unemployment went up under Obama."

Republican National Committee, Dec. 12, in an email to reporters

The ruling

Politifact ruling: Mostly False

Wasserman Schultz never said that unemployment did not go up during Obama's term. She insisted that it hadn't gone up precipitously and that it is not going up. Those are different things. So we rate this claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact: Did Wasserman Schultz deny a rise in unemployment under Obama? 12/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2011 9:45pm]
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