The folks over at Media Matters are blogging today about a new report that shows a troubling trend in the press:
When newspapers print the term “job killer” to describe a policy (for instance, on taxes, labor, and environmental regulations), 91.6 percent of the time they allow the claim to be made without any evidence or an authoritative source with any evidence.
Two university professors printed their findings in a report, based on nearly three decades of research on four major sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Associated Press.
From the report:
In 91.6% (349 of 381) news reports analyzed, news organizations provided no evidence to support the "job killer" claim. (See Figure 7.) Even in the 8.4% (32 of 381) of the stories in which some evidence was supplied, it's not clear whether or not journalists investigated the veracity of the evidence cited.
Similarly, in only 6.8% (26) of the 381 stories did reporters provide an alternative claim. In most issues, there are at least two sides to a story. In the case of "job killer" allegations news organizations typically report only one side. Even in the stories that carried alternative claims -- in other words, that reported that some organization or expert challenged the "job killer" allegation -- reporters provided evidence to back up challenges to the "job killer" claim in only 8 stories. Thus, in 18 of the 26 alternative claim cases, there was just a competing claim with no supporting evidence.
The impact isn’t lost on the report’s authors, who quote Republican pollster and strategist Frank Lutz as saying: “…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.”
In short, the authors wrote, “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.’”
Here’s what caught our interest: Just two years ago, there was an anti-tax campaign here in Oregon called “Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes.” It was the campaign run by corporate lobbyist Mark Nelson to defeat Measures 66 and 67.
One of their main tenets was that the tax measures would cost the state 70,000 jobs, which they backed up with a study by the corporate think tank Cascade Policy Institute. This claim was thoroughly debunked by actual economists, but it was mentioned often in the press throughout the campaign. In fact, every time the No campaign was mentioned, the “job-killing” claim was repeated through its name.
Because the measures passed, we actually have the opportunity to judge whether the “job killing” claim was accurate.
The answer, in short, is: Not even close. Between 2009 (when the tax increases went into effect) and 2011, we not only didn’t lose 70,000 jobs, we gained more than 18,000. In fact, that number would be closer to 24,000, except that we’ve lost thousands of public sector jobs in education and local government due to budget cuts. (Source: qualityinfo.org)
In fact, Oregon now has the second-fastest growing Gross State Product in the nation. So much for “job-killing.”
The only recent Oregon policy that can accurately be described as “job killing” are the budget cuts that have led to mass layoffs of teachers and other public employees. These job losses are slowing our economic recovery, particularly in rural parts of the state where public employment plays a much larger role in the local economy.
Now we’re wondering: Will these basic facts cause the local media to stop repeating “job-killing” claims without evidence?