“Lie of the Year”? Hardly.

PolitiFact, the political fact-checking website, has once again announced its “Lie of the Year”:

“PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections. Readers of PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times’ independent fact-checking website, also chose it as the year’s most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin. (Their second-place choice was Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claim that Obama was going to spend $200 million a day on a trip to India, a falsity that still sprouts.)”

This tells us a lot about PolitiFact. Despite its claims to be “non-partisan,” it appears to have Media Matters-like sensitivity to statements they disagree with originating from Republicans, and a much more lenient standard when it comes to Democratic spin. Its readers, meanwhile, overwhelmingly hail from the left side of the political spectrum, and left-leaning readers flock to left-leaning websites. No balanced poll would “overwhelmingly” choose as PoliFact’s readers did.

Gee: I wonder if PolitiFact’s claim to be “non-partisan” qualifies as one of the “lies of the year”? No…it has been saying that for a long, long time.

“Government takeover of health care” may be an exaggeration, it may be misleading, it may be unfair, it may be technically, literally, or theoretically wrong. But it is not the “lie of the year,” because it is not a lie. To qualify as a lie, a statement must be an unequivocal falsehood made by a party who knows it is false and makes the statement to deceive others. There is little question, however, that the partisan warriors who repeat this phrase believe it, and not, as PolitiFact would have us think, because they are misinformed. They believe it because they interpret the health care reform bill differently than PolitiFact, and because their definition of  what constitutes a“takeover” is also different. It may (or may not)  be incorrect, but being wrong doesn’t make it a lie.

The website does an excellent job making its case that the mega-law doesn’t constitute a “take-over” in a technical sense. I don’t disagree with its argument at all. On the other hand, we have a health care law that establishes literally scores of new panels and regulatory bodies that will have a direct impact on patients, hospitals, doctors and insurers. The law will, for the first time in history, compel American to pay money to private companies to purchase a product (health insurance), and as described in a Newsweek story that was defending the law, bases its reforms on “changing how medicine is practiced.” Here is a 3000 page law that injects a massive new regulatory network into the health care system, dictates the once-personal decisions citizens must make regarding their health care choices, and changes how medicine is practiced. Would you regard a similar degree of mandated government control over your household or your business a “takeover”? I would.

The point of disagreement depends on one’s tolerance for  an outside  authority’s interference with free choice. Every new control, regulation or alteration in options reduces the autonomy of individuals and the marketplace. To supporters of government micromanagement of individuals and commerce, this isn’t a “takeover,” because significant choices still remain with the consumer and the industry. To those who object to all but the most unobtrusive government controls, it is a takeover, because the government is deciding which options are available.

Regardless of who is right, and this is just part of a long-standing argument about what is the proper role of government, calling one side’s sincere and defensible characterization of the law  1) a lie, and 2) “the lie of the year” is taking partisan sides, especially obnoxious for a website that promotes its lack of bias.

The site could just as easily, indeed with more justification, have chosen the Democratic claim that “the health care bill will reduce the deficit.” This dishonest statement was bolstered by the Congressional Budget Office’s calculations that if the assumptions in the bill were valid, the costs of the reforms will indeed be more than covered by savings.  But the assumptions in the bill presume Congress will make responsible but politically difficult choices to keep this formula intact in future years, which we know is complete fantasy; it assumes that the costs of this gigantic program will not balloon exponentially, though virtually every government program has and does. Democrats do not believe that health care reform will reduce the deficit; they are not that naïve. This, therefore, is a lie. But it’s aDemocratic lie, so PoliFact’s readers aren’t bothered by it.

PolitiFact let its bias show in last year’s “Lie of the Year” as well, choosing Sarah Palin’s “death panels” remark.  Again, the site called something a lie that was a sincerely expressed hyperbole, and again, it applied literal standard of truth to a description that had some validity. When ultra-progressive columnist Paul Krugman approvingly cited “death panels” as a necessary cost-reduction measure in health care on a Sunday morning talk show, nobody batted an eye. As someone who sat in a meeting where a panel of doctors decreed that my mother-in-law would not get experimental cancer treatment that was her only chance to survive, because it was too expensive and likelihood of success was small, I have seen a death panel in action. After its 2009 choice of “Lie of the Year,” I suspected that PolitiFact doesn’t know what a lie is. After its 2010 choice, I am certain of it.

The Ethics Alarms choice of 2009’s Lie of the Year? Easy:
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s outrageous “The system worked,” after her porous measures and dysfunctional U.S. intelligence allowed “the underwear bomber” to board a domestic flight, and his attempt to bring down the plane was foiled only by the efforts of passengers.

She knew the system had failed miserably. She was trying to bluff her way out of a public relations disaster by deceiving the public, and absolutely nobody believed her. Now that’s a whopper. PolitiFact take note.

The Ethics Alarms 2010  “Lie of the Year”?

Watch this space!

2 thoughts on ““Lie of the Year”? Hardly.

  1. “Lying,” said Clare Booth Luce — who successfully mixed journalism, politics, the theatre, diplomacy, and intelligence all in the same lifetime — “increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts” And, if you do it well, keeps you out of jail and comfortably in the public eye. Until Jack spots it.

    Like Kurt, I would keep coming back . . . except that my computer crashed last night and will not be hard-drive wiped until mid-January … so I will have to catch up on the last Ethics Alarms of 2010 and the first of 2011 in a month or so. MAY YOUR ETHICS BE TIMELY AND YOUR ALARMS SPREAD FAR AND WIDE!

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