A defiant Jack Welch said in a newspaper op-ed Wednesday that he's not sorry for suggesting that the Obama administration fudged government unemployment data, and compared his critics to Communists.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the former General Electric CEO insisted that the nation's 7.8 percent unemployment rate — the first sub-8 percent report since President Barack Obama took office four years ago — "is downright implausible."
The rate, he said, is too vulnerable to human and statistical error to be considered reliable.
"The economy is not in a free-fall," Welch wrote. "Oil and gas are strong, automotive is doing well, and we seem to be seeing the beginning of a housing comeback. But I doubt many of us know any businessperson who believes the economy is growing at breakneck speed, as it would have to be for unemployment to drop from 7.8% from 8.3% over the course of two months."
Welch submitted the piece in defense of comments he posted to Twitter that suggested the Obama administration manipulated the report to make the president look good for his re-election campaign. After the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the jobs data Friday morning, he tweeted: "Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can't debate so change numbers"
The words provoked a range of responses: support from many, though not all, conservatives, denials from current and former government officials and outrage from the Obama administration and its supporters.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis called the tweet "ludicrous."
"I'm insulted when I hear that, because we have a very professional civil service organization. These are our best trained and most skilled individuals," she told CNBC.
BLS assistant commissioner Thomas Nardone told CNN that there was no manipulation of his agency's data. "No political appointee is involved in the collecting, processing and analyzing of the data," he said.
Nardone added that said the president's Council of Economic Advisers doesn't get the numbers until the afternoon before they're released and that Solis doesn't see them until Friday morning.
Welch's critics also included Andy Serwer, managing editor at Fortune magazine, where Welch and his wife have contributed several columns.
Serwer said the economy's performance belied Welch's assertions. "I think it's exactly the opposite of what Jack Welch is saying," Serwer said. "Things are actually improving."
In response, Welch severed his contract with Fortune, and a similar relationship with Reuters, which had also provided critical coverage of his remarks. Welch decided to speak out in the pages of the Journal instead.
The resulting piece, titled, "I Was Right About That Strange Jobs Report," opens with the line: "Imagine a country where challenging the ruling authorities — questioning, say, a piece of data released by central headquarters — would result in mobs of administration sympathizers claiming you should feel 'embarrassed' and labeling you a fool, or worse.
"Soviet Russia, perhaps? Communist China? Nope, that would be the United States right now, when a person (like me, for instance) suggests that a certain government datum (like the September unemployment rate of 7.8%) doesn't make sense."
Welch also wrote that, "contrary to some of the sound-and-fury last week, I do not work for the Mitt Romney campaign. I am definitely not a surrogate."
He has, however, made a $5,000 contribution — the maximum — to Romney's campaign, Bloomberg News reported.
Welch went on to say that his only regret about his Twitter remarks was that he didn't add "a few question marks at the end…to make it clear I was raising a question."
Predictably, Welch's column has prompted more debate.
Welch said he was glad to see the conversation continue.
"The good news," he wrote, "is that the current debate has resulted in people giving the whole issue of unemployment date more thought."