Pants On Fire: Politifact’s Fictional Narrative about Rick Scott and his 700K Jobs Promise

by | Apr 16, 2018

Now that we’re well past the seven-year mark with Rick Scott as governor, it was only a matter of time before someone in the Florida media took a stab at assessing the performance of Scott’s 7-7-7 Jobs plan in which he laid out seven steps to create 700,000 jobs in seven years.

Today is that day. After seven years and 1.47 million new (non-farm) jobs created in Florida during that time, PolitiFact gives Scott credit for fulfilling 86% of his promise. They even rate it as a “promise kept.”

I should probably just accept this as a win, but I can’t help myself. Not when I see inaccuracies from the one media outlet that claims to be the arbiter of political facts. So let’s check PolitiFact’s math: 1.47 million new jobs divided by his 700,000 job promise equals…210 percent.

Wait. What? That’s not even close to PolitiFact’s 86 percent. What’s going on here?

Politifact’s “equation” relies on an artificial target number of 1.7 million jobs which was wholly invented by someone other than Rick Scott, touted by Scott’s political opponents, and seized upon by the Florida media. We’ll get into all that in a moment, but let’s check the math with this new number: if we divide 1.47 million jobs created on Scott’s watch as governor by PolitiFact’s inflated target of 1.7 million, we get roughly 86.4 percent.

But where did PolitiFact get the 1.7 million jobs number in the first place?

It all started with Scott’s 2010 campaign rollout of his “7-7-7 Plan.”  You might even remember the nifty “Let’s get to work” tagline. The plan to create 700,000 jobs in seven years was emblazoned on everything from press releases and pamphlets to television screens and tour buses.

As Scott gained traction in the polls, reporters starting asking questions, including an important and entirely fair question about the direction of the economy, which, most economists agreed, was going to add jobs regardless of whether or not Scott won the election.

The question Scott was asked was if Scott’s 700,000 jobs goal was on top of what “normal growth” would be. Scott answered:

“Our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs, and that plan is on top of what normal growth would be.”

The questions that follow are obvious: Who defines “normal growth?” How many jobs is “normal growth” going to create? Did Scott ever agree to a specific “normal growth” number above his 700,000 jobs promise?

This is where PolitiFact defines what “normal growth” is, assigns it a number, and conveniently puts a brand new promise into Scott’s mouth that he never actually uttered. From a Tampa Bay Times account that provides a perfectly clear picture of how reporters invented this promise:

Let’s rewind to July 2010. State economists had already estimated Florida’s recession rebound — no matter who the new governor might be — would add more than 1 million jobs by 2017. On July 21, Scott unveiled his 7-7-7 plan

A-ha. The Tampa Bay Times decided in mid-2010 that the singular and final authority on “normal growth” will be “state economists,” who at the time predicted “normal growth” would be 1 million jobs. To the Tampa Bay Times, there is only one economic model that matters, and all other economic projections are irrelevant.

If you’re a PolitiFact reporter, this makes the math both easy and obvious: Rick Scott’s verbatim promise of 700,000 jobs, plus the Tampa Bay Times’ final and authoritative determination that “normal growth” absolutely and without question will be 1 million jobs, equals Rick Scott’s unspoken promise of 1.7 million jobs.

As Scott’s former communications director who has been in the middle of this absurd debate for the better part of a decade, I have reams of email exchanges with Florida reporters, including PolitiFact, dating back to the campaign eight years ago. Throughout that time, Scott’s messaging has always been consistent, always promising that his plan would create 700,000 new jobs, no matter if the economy expanded or retracted. It goes without saying that Scott’s promise applies in addition to (or despite) whatever jobs might be created or lost without his plan.

But reporters, skeptical political animals that they are (and who can blame them?), have constantly chafed at this, because, admittedly, it’s such a nebulous promise. It was made that way by design for a modern political campaign, to be impervious to later rhetorical assault. The promise is ingenious because it sounds specific, but there’s really no way to measure it.

Which is why, when Scott rolled out a beautiful chart (see main image, above) measuring his progress in mid-2011, it drove some capitol press reporters crazy. Here was Rick Scott refusing to say what “normal growth” might be, but still taking credit for every single job created on his watch, without any way to know whether it was created by his plan or by “normal growth.”

It was a thing of beauty, and it was one of many visual tools that helped tell the story of Scott’s success and propel him to a re-election in 2014.

But in late 2011, Politifact was annoyed by it, so eager were they to pin hard numbers on Scott, they accused him of pulling a bait-and-switch on his promise. At one point, Scott even flat out denied ever saying he promised 700,000 “on top of normal growth.”

I contend there’s a perfectly logical explanation for his denial of having said this, and that’s because reporters continually were asking him exactly how many jobs he promised to create. By that point, he’d been made aware of the false media claim that “normal growth equals 1 million jobs.” So by that point, when asked if he really promised to create 700,000 jobs on top of “normal growth,” Scott denied it just as if he was asked if he really promised 1.7 million jobs. In the media’s collective mind (and indeed Florida Democrats were pushing the same narrative), that’s exactly what they meant every time the subject was brought up anyway (indeed, they still think so this very day).

To Scott, his promise has always been the same and it has never changed: “No matter what happens with the economy, the 7-7- 7 Plan will create at least 700,000 new jobs.”

By relentlessly focusing on job creation over his first seven years in office, even PolitiFact, with their inflated target number, begrudgingly admitted that Scott kept his promise.



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