Today at a press conference, President Barack Obama said that "we’ve created 4.3 million jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone. The private sector is doing fine. Where we’re seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government ..."
Later, in a cleanup attempt, in what the press is claiming is a walkback, Obama really didn't walk it back: "Listen, it is absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine. That's the reason I had the press conference. ... what I've been saying consistently over the last year, we've actually seen some good momentum in the private sector. We've seen 4.3 million jobs created -- 800,000 this year alone -- record corporate profits. And so that has not been the biggest drag on the economy." He never pulled back from saying that "the private sector is doing fine." The abject panic at the Associated Press is evident in tonight's report by Ken Thomas and Philip Elliott (HT to a NewsBusters tipster; bolds and numbered tags are mine):
Obama gets grief for saying private sector 'fine'
President Barack Obama made Mitt Romney's day by declaring "the private sector is doing fine" and opening himself to the accusation that he - not the rich Republican  - is the one who is out of touch with reality. Obama quickly clarified his remark Friday but Republicans already had their teeth in it  and weren't letting go.
"Is he really that out of touch?" GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney asked as Obama's initial comments ricocheted through the presidential campaign.
Seeking to head off any damage, Obama backpedaled and declared it is "absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine."  While there had been some "good momentum" in the private sector, Obama said, public sector growth lagged behind, making it imperative that Congress act on his proposals to hire more teachers and first-responders.
Obama's original six-word sentence, even if taken out of context, amounted to an unforced political error. The economy is the single biggest issue on voters' minds and a weak spot for him, given the nation's stubbornly high 8.2 percent unemployment rate.
Nearly every day, Obama finds himself having to defend his stewardship of an economy that has struggled to recover from the 2008 economic downturn and pleading with voters to stick with him because, he says, Romney would pursue policies that led to the recession.
But on Friday, Obama may have given his rival an opening. 
... Obama's comments at a White House news conference were reminiscent of Republican nominee John McCain's assertion in mid-September 2008 that the "fundamentals of our economy are strong,"  just as the U.S. economy was melting down. Candidate Obama seized on those comments then. Now, as president, he was getting grief along similar lines.
... But while "doing fine" is in the eye of the beholder, Obama was correct that the job picture in the private sector is brighter than in the public sector. Since the recession officially ended in June 2009, private companies have added 3.1 million jobs. 
Notes (in how Thomas and Elliott might have discussed these matters among themselves):
 -- "Geez, we have to get something in here really quick about the fact that Romney is rich, even though it's totally irrelevant to our report."
 -- "We need a wild, out-of-control animal reference to make Republicans look like the unreasonable meanies."
 -- "We know this really isn't a backpedal, because he didn't admit that the private sector isn't fine, but we're going to pretend it is anyway. Those dummy subscribing publishers and broadcasters who use our content won't know any better."
 -- "Even though we know it's something Mitt Romney and Republicans will be driving a Mack Truck through for the next five months, let's just call it an 'opening.'"
 -- "We know that McCain was only talking about the economy's capabilities as opposed to where it actually stood, but we pounced on it when we had the chance. So let's use it now, even though Obama's out of touch flub is obviously different, as it clearly refers to his take on the private sector's current actual health."
 -- "Let's be sure not to tell anyone that 737,000 of those jobs are with temporary help services, that the number of part-time employees is at an all-time high of 28 million, that full-time employment is down by 1.6 million since Obama took office (and only up by 1.5 million since the recession ended almost three years ago), or that non-postal federal employment is up by over 140,000 since January 2009. And whatever we do, we can't say that states like Wisconsin which have addressed public sector employment costs have largely avoided public employee layoffs, while states like Ohio which tried but failed to rein in costs due to union activism are seeing public-sector layoffs all over the state."
Obama had a chance to simply say he was wrong, and didn't. It's too late now; for reasons far beyond what is detailed here, this seems destined to haunt him all the way until Election Day. The way Thomas and Elliott pathetically and desperately tried to construct their defenses at the Administration's Press clearly demonstrate that.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.