On a conference call with reporters just now, top Obama adviser David Axelrod pressed media figures with unusual directness to hold the Mitt Romney campaign accountable for its core claims about the two candidates’ economic records.

Specifically, Axelrod argued at length that the Romney campaign has been operating from a double standard. Romney aides defend him against Dem attacks on his record as Governor of Massachusetts by pointing out that he inherited an economy losing jobs, and that this shouldn’t detract from the assessment of the true impact of his policies. This, even as they slam Obama over the “net” job loss on his watch, a metric that does include the huge job losses at the start of Obama’s term.

“Go back to the Romney campaign and ask them about this extraordinary double standard,” Axelrod said on the call.

“Ask them how it is that they should exempt Governor Romney’s first years in office because he had to encounter a recession far less deep than the one the president had to face,” Axelrod continued.

“The’ve painted themselves into a corner here,” Axelrod concluded. “Now that double standard is clear, and they’re going to have to explain it to the American people.” Steve Benen has a roundup of the relevant quotes from Romney aides that illustrate the double standard.

This may be the most explicit pressure yet from the Obama campaign on the press to stop letting Romney’s core assertions go without scrutiny. To be clear, the press is sometimes very tough on Romney, but it usually has to do with matters like Eric Fehrnstrom’s Etch-A-Sketch moment or Donald Trump’s birtherism — passing flare-ups of the moment. Rarely do you see meaningful or sustained national media scrutiny of the core claims that underlie Romney’s whole case for the presidency — such as his constant use of the “net” job loss figure about Obama, and, now, the use of a different standard for himself.

By the way, this needn’t be a partisan matter: The point here is to settle on a standard that can be applied evenly to both candidates’ job creation records. In some ways that could favor Romney. As Jonathan Cohn noted the other day, if we discount the early jobs losses for both men, it could undermine some Dem talking points against Romney.

It isn’t easy to settle on the appropriate standard here. Mike Tomasky compared their records while discounting their entire first year, and found that by this metric Obama has a better job growth rate than Romney does. Jed Lewison started the clock at several other points and found similar results.

But whatever the right time frame, it hardly seems unreasonable to ask for a uniform standard to be applied to both men’s records. And it definitely is reasonable to expect media figures to press the Romney camp on its insistence that the early jobs losses on his watch shouldn’t detract from later job gains, and to ask whether this contradicts his whole case against Obama.


UPDATE: Check out Glenn Kessler’s chart comparing the two men’s jobs records for a sense of just how much not holding either accountable for the job losses at the start of their terms would alter the picture.