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Cable News Networks Help Spread Republicans’ ‘Highly Misleading’ Stimulus Math

Back in January, the Republicans staked out their opposition to the administration’s economic stimulus package by claiming that it would cost $275,000 for every job created. “All told, the plan would spend a whopping $275,000 in taxpayer dollars for every new job it aims to create, saddling each and every household with $6,700 in additional debt,” said Rep. John Boehner (R-OH).

This number was derived by taking the entire cost of the stimulus package and dividing it by the number of jobs created in just one year, obviously inflating the per job cost a few times over. At the time, Paul Krugman called the Republicans’ number a “bogus talking point,” while Joe Klein dubbed it “phony-baloney propaganda.”

With the White House’s announcement last week that the stimulus package has thus far created 640,000 to 1 million jobs, the GOP is at it again. Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), told reporters on Friday to “get out your calculators” and divide the spending by the jobs, ending with a figure of $230,769 per job. In addition to Republican lawmakers, Fox News, CNN, and CNBC have all repeated some variation of the number (using slightly different estimates) in the last few days. Watch a compilation:

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The Associated Press’ Calvin Woodward, however, was not fooled, and today released a piece telling readers to “beware the math” coming from the Republicans:

Some Republican lawmakers critical of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package are using grade-school arithmetic to size up costs and consequences of all that spending. The math is satisfyingly simple but highly misleading…First, the naysayers’ calculations ignore the value of the work produced. Any cost-per-job figure pays not just for the worker, but for material, supplies and that worker’s output — a portion of a road paved, patients treated in a health clinic, goods shipped from a factory floor, railroad tracks laid. Second, critics are counting the total cost of contracts that will fuel work for months or years and dividing that by the number of jobs produced only to date.

As Woodward wrote, “dividing apples by oranges won’t settle” whether or not the stimulus package has been a success. But it seems to be good enough for the Republicans and all of the cable news hosts that they can get to listen.