“Job Killers” as conventional wisdom

The Office of Management and Budget highlights a study (pdf) of the phrase “job killer(s)” in the press:

A comprehensive study analyzes the frequency of the “job killer” term in four mainstream news media since 1984, how the phrase was used, by whom, and—most importantly—whether the allegations of something being a “job killer” were verified by reporters in their stories.

Some of the key findings (my emphasis in bold):

•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.

The Wall Street Journal was the most likely of the four news organizations to deploy “job killer” as conventional wisdom, with no attribution.  The Wall Street Journal generated sourceless “job killer” allegations in 45 stories (about 30% of its 151 total stories), the New York Times did so in 8 stories (14.5% of its 55 stories), theWashington Post 5 times (about 8% of its 60 stories), and the AP in 5 stories (about 4% of its 115 stories).

Most of the stories with the phrase “job killer” focused on federal (65%) or state government (12%) policies to regulate business, including environmental, tax, labor, and consumer protection measures.  During the 28-year period, the top-ranked issues portrayed as “job killers” are 1) the environment, including climate change, 2) tax policy, 3) health care reform, and 4) wage laws (typically laws to raise the minimum wage).

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.

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.

•The “job killer” allegations can have a significant ripple effect across the news media. For example, the Associated Press news feeds serve 1,700 newspapers and 5,000 television and radio news organizations in the U.S., and more internationally.  A single allegation of “job killer” from a significant news source can snowball into thousands of results in a Google search. One 2010 AP story in which Republicans “slammed” a bill as a “job killer,” yielded at least 12,800 web publications.

My favorite graph from the study:

Remember folks, if you say it enough for long enough it will become true.


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