The right wing relies on an old method of deception: repeat something often enough and people will begin to accept it as fact.
And when the media acts as a conduit for delivering this message without verification, false truths spread at a rapid pace.
A new media study by two academics reviewed the use of the term “job killer” in major media outlets going back to 1984. They found the number of news stories alleging that some government reform would be a “job killer” increased by 1,156% between the first three years of the George W. Bush administration and the first three years of the Obama administration.
Not only did the media repeat the right’s rhetoric, nine out of ten of these stories (91.6%) failed to cite any evidence for the claim. The allegations were targeted at policies like paid sick days and other measures intended to safeguard consumers, protect the environment, raise wages, expand health insurance coverage, increase taxes on the wealthy, and make workplaces safer.
The study, “Job Killers” in the News: Allegations without Verification, by Professors Peter Dreier of Occidental College and Christopher R. Martin of the University of Northern Iowa, also analyzed the sources for such allegations. In three-fifth of the stories (60.3%,), the source was a spokesperson for big business or Republican party official. Nearly another fifth (17%) used the phrase in an article or editorial without attributing it to any source at all.
“By failing to seek to verify allegations made about government policies and proposals, the news media 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’,” Dreier and Martin reported.
The Power or Journalism
The authors cite Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism, who point out that verification is “the essence of journalism.” It is what separates journalism from propaganda, “which selects facts or invents them to serve the real purpose: persuasion and manipulation.”
Dreier and Martin’s study showed the “significant ripple effect” of this irresponsible practice across the news media. A single allegation of “job killer” from a prominent news source like the Associated Press can snowball into thousands of results in a Google search.
“Allegations without Verification” has already gotten lots of press coverage including on NPR, Huffington Post, ThinkProgress, Media Matters and other outlets around the country.
We need to make sure the mainstream media reads it as well – and takes stock of what we hope are inadvertent efforts to be a mouthpiece for the right.