But the claim, though discredited, had become a key part of Romney's message - and he went right ahead and repeated the falsehood during the debate.
Much of the burgeoning fact-check function in the media is subjective. But the jobs claim is black and white: The evidence the Romney campaign furnished to support the claim did not do so.
Romney's economists do think the economy would add 12 million jobs under his policies in four years, and they issued a paper in August claiming that. But the paper is not based on Romney's five-point plan, and elements of that plan, such as cracking down on China, aren't even mentioned in it. Rather, the 12 million figure is based on the assumptions that Romney's policies would mean "the current recovery will align with the average gains of similar past recoveries."
This forecast is not terribly controversial, though claiming Romney's policies will cause it is equivalent to the rooster believing his crow causes the sunrise. Several independent economists, and President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, project the economy will add 12 million jobs in four years without Romney's policies.
More controversial is Romney's linking of his plan to the jobs. "I have a plan," he said in a recent speech, "that's going to get this economy going and create jobs, jobs, and more jobs - 12 million jobs." He often says that his tax policies would create seven million jobs and his energy policies would generate more than three million. In an ad, Romney says his "energy independence policy means more than three million new jobs," his tax plan "creates seven million," and "expanding trade, cracking down on China, and improving job training takes us to over 12 million."
But when the Post's Kessler asked for substantiation, the campaign referred him to a Rice University professor's study for evidence that Romney's tax plan would generate seven million jobs - which turned out to be a 10-year number. The evidence for the energy policy comes from a Citigroup study that did not analyze Romney's plan and was assuming an eight-year horizon. The remaining two million, Kessler wrote, were justified by a 2011 International Trade Commission report that also didn't analyze Romney policies.
"The big point is the 3+7+2 does not make up the 12 million jobs in the first four years (different source of growth and different time period)," Hubbard acknowledged in an e-mail to Kessler.
Kessler called Romney's claim a bait-and-switch, a characterization Obama echoed when he spoke at a rally in Iowa last week. "Turns out his jobs math isn't any better than his tax math," Obama charged.
About the same time, Romney took the stage in Chesapeake, Va. This time, he dropped the reference to 12 million jobs. "I'm going to get this economy going," was the extent of his vow. It wasn't flashy, but it had the virtue of being honest.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.