“Job Killers” in the News:

Allegations without Verification

June 2012

Peter Dreier, Ph.D.

Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics
Chair, Urban & Environmental Policy Department
Occidental College
Phone: (323) 259-2913 FAX: (323) 259-2734

Christopher R. Martin, Ph.D.

Professor and Interim Head

Department of Communication Studies

University of Northern Iowa

Phone: (319) 273-6118 FAX: (319) 273-7356


“Job Killers” in the News: Allegations without Verification 

“…there’s a simple rule: You say it again, and you say it again, and you say it again…and about the time that you’re absolutely sick of saying it is about the time that your target audience has heard it for the first time.” -- Frank Luntz, Republican pollster

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.

The study’s key findings include the following:

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), the Washington 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.

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.”

The Study

We analyzed all stories in which the phrase “job killer” appeared from 1984 to 2011 in four major news organizations—the Associated Press, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.   There were 381 total stories written that contained the phrase “job killer” and its variations.  The Associated Press news service had 115 stories, the New York Times 55 stories, the Wall Street Journal 151 stories, and the Washington Post 60 stories.