Opinion Brief

Is PolitiFact's 'Lie of the Year' a lie itself?

The Pulitzer-winning fact-checker angers liberals by giving top untruth honors to the Democratic claim that Paul Ryan and Co. voted to "end" Medicare

Celebrated fact-checking organization PolitiFact, which won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2008 election, unveiled its "Lie of the Year" on Tuesday, and for the third year running, the top fib is about government-managed health care. Unlike the last two winners — GOP claims that the Democrats' health care reform plan created "death panels" (2009) and was a "government takeover of health care" (2010) — 2011's marquee lie dinged the Left. PolitiFact says the biggest lie of 2011 was the Democrats' assertion that by approving Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) controversial budget, "Republicans voted to end Medicare." The only problem, shot back indignant liberals, is that Republicans did vote to effectively end Medicare. Is the 2011 "Lie of the Year" a lie itself?

PolitiFact should get its facts straight: It's "really awful" that with all the actual lies out there, PolitiFact is targeting "a statement that happens to be true," says Paul Krugman at The New York Times. Republicans voted for a plan that replaces the guaranteed benefits of Medicare with a system of increasingly worthless vouchers to buy private insurance. Sure, "the new scheme would still be called 'Medicare,'" but it would look nothing like Medicare as we know it. So "how is this not an end to Medicare?" Apparently, PolitiFact is so "terrified of being considered partisan" that they've chosen to become "useless and irrelevant" instead."PolitiFact, R.I.P."

Actually, it's liberals who have the facts wrong: Given PolitiFact's Democratic bias, it's natural that "liberal fans are apoplectic," says Avik Roy at Forbes. But their assertion that voucherizing Medicare "ends" the program "is, plainly, ridiculous." When Britain privatized British Rail in 1993, "the railway did not cease to exist," it just switched to an alternate mode of delivering the same service. The same is true of Ryan's plan, but I guess "would-be liberal demagogues" don't think "privatization" is a scary enough word anymore."Republicans 'ending Medicare' is PolitiFact's 2011 Lie of the Year"

Both sides are just playing with language: Ryan's plan "fundamentally changes the nature" of Medicare, says Adam Sorensen at TIME. Whether that constitutes an "end" to the program is, ultimately, "a semantic distinction." Of course, PolitiFact is relying "on the same tenuous semantics" to award its top-lie honor to the Democrats. So regardless of whether the end-Medicare claim stretches the truth too far, it looks like PolitiFact "chose it for its political potency rather than for the depth or deviousness of its deception.""PolitiFact's Semantic Distinction of the Year: Ending Medicare"

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