Job Killers…They’re Everywhere!

July 3rd, 2012 at 6:02 pm

HuffPo already had a good story on this but I missed it: evidence of the huge spike in the use of the term “job killer” in prominent newspaper articles about progressive policies (here’s the underlying study).

The graph shows that the dramatic spike in stories that used the term corresponds to President Obama’s arrival in the White House.

Source: Dreier and Martin, link above.

A few things struck me from this study.  First, the disciplined creation of the meme: these conservatives are clearly playing from the playbook of R pollster Frank Luntz:

“…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.”

Second, note these policy areas that R’s attacked as murderers of employment:

Source: Dreier and Martin, link above.

Even a glancing familiarity with the evidence suggest how nuts it is to label some of these “job killers.”  Financial reform?!?  Unregulated financial markets are like a mass murderer…like the black plague…when it comes to jobs.  Student loan reforms…voluntary healthy food marketing guidelines??

And re the others, you have to know some of the research.  Minimum wage increases always face this type of accusation, but there’s little evidence to support it and much to refute it.  Environmental regs, like those of the EPA, are also constantly under this attack, again, with very little to show for it (and what “job killer” studies there are in this research always ignore the benefits of the regulation—the “people-killer” stuff).

As the study points out, however, the job-killer claim rarely gets the evidentiary scrutiny it should.

I could go on, but I’ve already treated this way too seriously.  It’s classic Luntzian repetition without regard to facts or evidence.  Unfortunately, it’s effective.

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11 comments in reply to "Job Killers…They’re Everywhere!"

  1. Bob Wyman says:

    Repeat after me:
    “When the people are saving, their government must spend. When the people are spending, their government must save.”
    “When the people are saving, their government must spend. When the people are spending, their government must save.”

    Get your friends to say it. Encourage your elected officials to say it. Write about it. Talk about it on TV. Eventually, selling stimulus will get easier and people will not only learn that a slump is a terrible time for austerity they will also learn why it will make sense to raise taxes once the economy picks up.

    Or, if you think that my phrasing is too wordy, try: “Government should spend during the bad times and save during the good.”… Or, something more catchy and memorable that you or your speech writers come up with. In any case, drill the lesson in as often as possible.

  2. Michael says:

    Why do you think the media allows themselves to be chumped like this?

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      There are a couple of other graphs in the study that are suggestive. Part of what’s happening here are sources are saying “job killer” more and thus getting picked up in the authors’ filter. It’s then up to the journalist to write a sentence as to the veracity of that claim. According to the study, that didn’t happen enough. But also, note the dominance of the WSJ–the main offender. They include editorials here, and this is a meme of the Journal’s extremely whacky editorial page.

      See the paragraph right above figure 3.

      • Michael says:

        Sure, but journalists are under no obligation to quote a given two words in a source’s statement.

        I’m serious — the journalists have to know how this game works. Why are they willing to be owned?

    • Alex Blaze says:

      Journalists are fundamentally conservative. They might not be explicitly partisan (unless they work for a Murdoch publication), but just look at their coverage of an issue like Social Security (“There were once 20 workers for every recipient of SS benefits, and now that ratio is reversed! No, I will not verify that claim before publication, because I love it like my first born son”).

      I don’t remember if the stimulus had the “job killer” phrase attached to it. Was that too early in the Administration?

  3. Alex Blaze says:

    The usual response from liberals is to try to replicate this process, which never actually happens. It’s mostly because of money; conservatism’s basic goal is to increase the power of the aristocracy, and, not paradoxically at all, the aristocracy tends to have more money. More money means more speech, and we didn’t need the Bowers court to tell us that one.

    Solving this problem isn’t going to come from the left making up stupid slogans. The left is fully capable of doing that, of course, but it takes money to get that kind of repetition in the mainstream media. The best we can do is try to increase people’s actual understanding of these issues. It’s a taller order, but we’re never going to win a bumper sticker war anyway.

  4. wendy beck says:

    “I could go on, but I’ve already treated this way too seriously. It’s classic Luntzian repetition without regard to facts or evidence. Unfortunately, it’s effective.”

    Jared, I don’t think you can treat this too seriously. The Republican/Luntz memes are repeated endlessly, and as you said are very effective. Look at how many people, political and otherwise, now say “Democrat Party”. Now, either they don’t know when to use a noun vs. an adjective or there’s something else going on. The same with “death taxes” and “death panels” and now the tax as punishment/penalty meme (instead of “taxes are what we pay for a civilized society” ) takes on a new momentum what with the Supreme Court calling the penalty a “tax”. Language has consequences and repetition (not on ads, but on Sunday talk shows, interviews, op-eds, etc.) cost no money, but demands a receptive and cohesive political group.

  5. Rima Regas says:

    One of the conclusions must be that those whose mission it is to counter such usages *must* use everyday examples to drive home their point. Examples such as 401K plans, tainted peanut butter, ground beef and lettuce – all are examples that everyone can identify with on a personal level. Talking about regulations in general, or ones you can’t really see, is apparently too abstract.

  6. Peter Dreier says:

    Jared’s interpretation of our study is correct. Most reporters act like stenographers. They repeat the “job killer” accusations by business groups, Republicans, and conservative economists without bothering to check the veracity of these claims or to even get the “other side”. Even the standard “he said/she said” formula — quoting union, consumer and environmental advocates or liberal economits to challenge the “job killer” claims — would be an improvement. So there’s hardly any debate over the issue; it becomes conventional wisdom. The corporate lobby groups and their GOP friends are relentless and disciplined at repeating the “job killer” accusation without any facts on their side. Journalists let them get away with it by being lazy.

  7. wkj says:

    Apparently something like this is also happening in France. See today’s NYTimes A sectuib, where an article on the budget proposals of the new Socialist government states:

    “The auditors (Cour des Comptes) urged the government to cut spending more than raise taxes, because the latter hurts economic growth…”

    My French fails me.

  8. Misaki says:

    >Financial reform?!? Unregulated financial markets are like a mass murderer…like the black plague…when it comes to jobs.

    Easily understandable from the idea that “the reason for unemployment is a lack of national wealth.”