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Scholars Ding News Media For Uncritically Repeating 'Job Killer' Charge

"Job killer."

You don't have to listen very long to what passes in American politics for debate about the economy before you hear that phrase. Usually it's wielded by Republicans against their Democratic opponents although Democrats occasionally resort to it, too.

During an era of economic anxiety and less-than-optimal job growth, it's safe to say that the charge that a policy destroys jobs doesn't endear that policy with many voters, giving it a potency that probably helps explain the frequency of the term's use.

The allegation also largely goes unchallenged by the media, according to two scholars who reviewed media mentions of "job killer" from 1984 to 2011 and found that use of the term has not only exploded during President Obama's White House tenure but that it's often used uncritically by journalists reporting on policy debates or presidential politics.

Peter Dreier, a political science professor at Occidental College and Christopher Martin, a communications studies professor at the University of Northern Iowa, don't so much blame the politicians who toss around the term as much as the news media who use it with little to no examination.

An excerpt from the executive summary of their study:

  • "Media stories with the phrase 'job killer' spiked dramatically after Barack Obama was elected president, particularly after he took office. The number of stories with the phrase 'job killer' increased by 1,156% between the first three years of the George W. Bush administration (16 'job killer' stories) and the first three years of the Obama administration (201 'job killer' stories).
  • "The majority of the sources of stories using the phrase 'job killer' were business spokepersons and Republican Party officials. Republican officials (41.7%) and business sources (18.6%) were responsible for 60.3% of the 'job killer' allegations. In 17% of the stories, news organizations used the phrase in articles and editorials without attributing the phrase to a source...
  • "... In 91.6% of the stories alleging that a government policy was or would be a 'job killer,' the media failed to cite any evidence for this claim or to quote an authoritative source with any evidence for this claim. With little or no fact checking of 'job killer' allegations, Americans have no way to know if there is any evidence for these claims."

In an email, Martin told me he wouldn't be surprised if there were blowback from conservatives about the study since they are generally the ones who use "job killer" to criticize policies like higher taxes or regulations they oppose.

It wouldn't be the first time, he said.

"There was (blowback) when Peter Dreier and I first teamed up on a study about ACORN in 2009, there was some bashing. But, we are committed to doing real research on these issues and journalistic performance so that we can contribute to substantial dialogue that rises above the battling and misleading soundbites."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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