Politics

Scholars ding news media for uncritically repeating 'job killer' charge

Speaker John Boehner and other House Republican leaders at a May 31, 2012 news conference at which they described a proposal by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to raise taxes as a
Speaker John Boehner and other House Republican leaders at a May 31, 2012 news conference at which they described a proposal by Rep. Nancy Pelosi to raise taxes as a "job killer."
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

"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:

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.