There was an interesting exchange on CNN’s “State of the Union” yesterday, when Candy Crowley pressed David Axelrod on one of Mitt Romney’s favorite talking points.

To establish the context, the Romney campaign released a memo on Saturday, insisting that “nearly 1.7 million jobs have been lost” since President Obama took office. CNN’s Crowley relied on this claim to ask the Obama advisor whether it explains Romney’s lead in polls on the economy. From the network’s transcript:

CROWLEY: But couldn’t that huge gap, which is a pretty big gap between those who think you could handle the economy as opposed to Mitt Romney — couldn’t it also be that, from the day — from the month the president took office, we still have 1.7 million fewer jobs in the marketplace?

AXLEROD: Candy, let’s have — you know what, I’m happy to have that discussion. Do you know that, when he was campaigning for president in 2007 and 2008, Governor Romney had nothing but praise for the economic policies that were in place at that time, as America was sliding into the worst recession since the Great Depression, after eight years in which we…

CROWLEY: But this isn’t Romney. This is a fact.

Well, not exactly. Crowley has embraced the Romney campaign’s line without scrutiny, and the result is a “fact” that misleads the public.

Consider this: in the first six months of 2009, the U.S. economy lost 3.89 million jobs. That’s not an exaggeration — from January ’09 to June ’09, 3.89 million American jobs vanished. That’s jaw-dropping, of course, and it’s evidence of an economy that was facing an extraordinary crisis with no modern precedent.

For Candy Crowley and Mitt Romney, President Obama deserves to be blamed for those losses, even though he’d just taken office, even though his policies hadn’t taken effect, even though his economic team was not yet in place. Obama took office when the global financial system was on the brink of collapse, inheriting a recession that began a year before his inauguration, but for Republicans and the establishment media, it makes sense to count the job losses from Obama’s first six months in office against him. (This even includes January 2009, and Obama didn’t take the oath until the month was two-thirds over.)

By any fair standard, this is ridiculous. Indeed, even in early 2009, no sane person thought this way. It was simply understood three years ago that the president had walked into a catastrophe that was not of his making. Blaming him for the job losses of early ’09 simply doesn’t make any sense.

And guess what? If one excludes those first six months of 2009, when the nation was hemorrhaging jobs due to a crisis the president wasn’t responsible for, Barack Obama has overseen a net gain of 1.4 million jobs. In the private sector, it’s 1.97 million jobs.

Those are just facts — and they’re part of a context Republicans and many in the media prefer to ignore.

Media professionals have to know better. As Greg Sargent, who first flagged Crowley’s misleading claims, explained yesterday:

There’s no denying that Obama’s policies have not engineered the recovery as fast as we would have hoped, and by all means, Obama advisers should be pressed on that. But the Romney campaign’s ongoing use of this figure in this way is just absurd. Journalists like Crowley really should be pressing the Romney campaign on why their “net” job loss figure proves Obama’s policies failed, when the metric it uses includes so many jobs lost before those policies kicked in. This claim, which has become central to Romney’s whole argument, deserves scrutiny, not uncritical amplification. You can bet that Romney aides broke out high fives when Crowley echoed it on national television.

It’s time for journalists to pick up their game. Romney, who’s already demonstrated a commitment to post-truth politics, is going to try to spin a lot of reporters over the next 10 months. There’s no reason for media professionals to allow themselves to be played for fools.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.