STUDY: Right Wing Spins Media with "Job-Killer" Claims

The media is indiscriminately using the term "job-killer" to describe government policies and programs, but without verifying or substantiating the claims, according to a new study. Use of the phrase by major media outlets has exploded since President Obama took office and rapidly circulates throughout the press with little or no fact checking of the "job killer" allegations.

"Job-Killing" Rhetoric From the Right

"The news media, by failing to seek to verify allegations made about government policies and proposals, typically act more like a transmission belt for business, Republican, and conservative sources than an objective seeker of truth when it comes to the term 'job killer,'" its authors found.

The independent study, Job Killers in the News: Allegations without Verification, conducted by Prof. Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher R. Martin of the University of Northern Iowa, reviewed the use of the term "job-killer" in stories from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Associated Press going back to 1984.

The vast majority of the "job-killer" allegations were directed at federal or state government policies to regulate business (particularly policies towards the environment, taxes, health care, and raising the minimum wage). Most of the sources for the "job-killer" charges came from business spokespersons and Republican Party officials, but in around 17 percent of the articles and editorials, news outlets used the phrase without citing a source. In 91.6 percent of the stories about "job killing" government policies, the media failed to cite any evidence or quote an authoritative source to corroborate the 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 or whether they are simply a cynical political ploy used to discredit opponents' policy ideas," Dreier and Martin noted.

Indeed, according to the authors, "There is no correlation between the frequency of the phrase 'job killer' and unemployment rate. Instead, 'job killer' allegations correspond much more closely with political cycles," particularly during election season and under Democratic administrations.

"Job-killer" allegations were barely used under the Clinton administration and virtually disappeared during the eight years George W. Bush was president -- despite job growth under Clinton and job loss under Bush -- and skyrocketed once Barack Obama became president. The number of news stories alleging that a particular government policy would be a "job killer" increased 1,156% between the first three years of the George W. Bush administration and the first three years of the Obama administration.

"The cavalier nature in which the 'job killer' allegations are reported suggests that term is used loosely by those who oppose government regulations, and they can get away with it because news organizations fail to ask -- or at least report -- whether they have any evidence for the claims they make," the study's authors wrote.

The Wall Street Journal was the most likely news organization to use the phrase with no attribution.