Tag: lie of the year

Strike Three for PolitiFact

The annual unveiling of its “Lie of the Year” award garners PolitiFact more attention than anything else. Hopefully, it will garner so much attention that people will recognize this award, which is supposed to improve political discourse, instead degrades it.

PolitiFact’s past three Lies of the Year have been about health care.  Not one of them was a lie.

A lie is when a speaker says something that he knows or believes to be false, for the purpose of deceiving others. None of these supposed Lies of the Year even met the threshold test of being false.  The first two (“death panels” and “ObamaCare is a government takeover”) were actually, demonstrably true.

The third and latest Lie of the Year—that “Republicans voted to end Medicare”—is arguably true: its veracity depends on what your definition of “Medicare” is. To seniors, Medicare means “the government helps me pay for health care.” The House Republicans’ budget (a.k.a., the Ryan plan) would not end such federal assistance, and would arguably improve access to quality health care. To the Left, “Medicare” means the particular way the federal government helps seniors access health care: a single-payer system.  The Ryan plan would end that single-payer system. My leftist friends are right and PolitiFact is wrong: from a certain and valid perspective, this claim is true.

Moreover, even if these three statements were false, the speakers believed them to be true. Therefore, they cannot be lies. Every single Lie of the Year award has gotten that basic fact wrong.

In the process, this award degrades political discourse by implicitly launching—an encouraging others to launch—ad hominem assaults on people who hold legitimate differences of opinion. PolitiFact should find a better way to attract readers.

I have been writing about the flaws in PolitiFact’s business model for some time:

I’m glad to see my friends on the Left have taken notice, though I regret the way it happened.

Why I’m Boycotting PolitiFact

Reporters at PolitiFact.com have used me as a resource half a dozen times or so when fact-checking something someone said about health care reform. Sometimes we disagree about where the truth lies, but I’ve always been happy to help. That changed recently, and I should let PolitiFact’s reporters know why.

At the end of each year, PolitiFact sifts through the many claims its reporters have deemed untrue and selects one to be their Lie of the Year. The Lie of the Year award is easily PolitiFact’s biggest publicity-generator. In 2009, they picked Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim. In 2010, they picked the claim that the new health care law is a “government takeover” of health care.

Looking at those two Lies of the Year together brought a couple of things home for me.

The first is not so much that each of those statements is actually factually true; it is rather that they are true for reasons that PolitiFact failed to consider. PolitiFact’s “death panels” fact-check never considered whether President Obama’s contemporaneous “IMAC” proposal would, under standard principles of administrative law, enable the federal government to ration care as Palin claimed. (In an August 2009 oped for the Detroit Free Press, I explain how the IMAC proposal would do just that.) PolitiFact’s “government takeover” fact-check hung its conclusion on the distinction between “public” vs. “private” health care, without considering whether that distinction might be illusory. (In a January 2011 column for Kaiser Health News, I cite well-respected, non-partisan sources – and even one of President Obama’s own health care advisors – to demonstrate that this distinction is illusory.) Aside from whether they arrived at the truth, each of these fact-checks was woefully incomplete.

Second, PolitiFact’s decision to go further by declaring those statements lies highlights a logical flaw in their Lie of the Year award. For a statement to be a lie, the speaker must know or believe it to be false. In neither the case of “death panels” nor “government takeover” has PolitiFact offered any evidence that the speakers knew or believed their statements to be false. Until PolitiFact offers such evidence, it has no factual basis for calling either statement a lie. Moreover, if PolitiFact’s reporters believe that Sarah Palin et alia believe that what they said was true – and I would be willing to bet good money that they do – then PolitiFact’s reporters know that their past two Lies of the Year aren’t really lies.

I have concluded that the errors in those two fact-checks, plus the fundamental (and rather ironic) error at the heart of PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award, are serious enough that until PolitiFact addresses them I can no longer serve as a resource for PolitiFact in good conscience. Since January, I have declined maybe four requests for help from PolitiFact reporters, and will politely continue to do so until they address these errors.

Some conservatives think PolitiFact is a left-wing outfit. I don’t think that’s true, and I have defended PolitiFact against that charge. I believe that PolitiFact’s reporters are earnestly doing their best to get at the truth. But there’s a tension between that belief and these errors. Whether PolitiFact recognizes and addresses that tension will tell us a lot about PolitiFact.

Just Call Me ‘Liar of the Year’

It would appear that I am the Liar of the Year.

The fact-checking journalists at PolitiFact.com gave their 2010 Lie of the Year award to the notion that ObamaCare is “a government takeover of health care,” and in 2009 gave the same award to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim.  But as I explain in my latest column for Kaiser Health News, the fact-checkers left out a few facts.  Read the column to find out what PolitiFact missed.  Here’s my conclusion:

From my vantage point, the evidence shows that ObamaCare is a government takeover of health care, and Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim was essentially true. If that makes me Liar of the Year, so be it.

But another way to look at it is this: PolitiFact has now misappropriated this award for two years in a row.  Not only is each of these “lies” factually true, but – and this is more important – the people who made those statements believe them to be true, which means they fall short of the dictionary definition of a lie: “An assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive.“ There is simply no factual basis – and no excuse – for calling them lies.

PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year award has proven as  conducive to civil discourse as Rep. Joe Wilson’s, R- S.C., dyspeptic “You lie!” outburst during one of President Obama’s previous addresses to Congress. Rather than continue to poison the well by dispensing another award this year, PolitiFact should just let it lie.

PolitiFact should also revisit its evaluations of those two claims.