I'm disappointed in PolitiFact. The fact checking organization has given its LIe of the Year 2011 award to "Republicans voted to end Medicare." Today I emailed PolitiFact, expressing my disappointment with this choice:
I've been a big admirer of PolitiFact. I read your site every day and often refer to it on my blogs, where I try to base my opinions on facts rather than faith. But your Medicare "Lie of the Year" is deeply disturbing. Over and over I heard Democrats and Obama say "Paul Ryan wants to end Medicare as we know it." But you left out "as we know it," which alone makes your Lie award highly debatable.
Then there's the question of what Medicare is: a single payer plan with guaranteed benefits. Do you know anything about the recently released Wyden-Ryan plan? Apparently not, because Ryan's revised plan is considerably closer to the current Medicare, though as an option it now preserves traditional Medicare. Did you hear that last phrase: "preserves traditional Medicare."
In Ryan's new iteration of Medicare reform, he has agreed to preserve traditional Medicare along with a voucher system that provides premium support for private insurance. Yet your Lie of the Year award is based on Ryan's original plan preserving Medicare. Huh? Again, you really should have informed yourself about the Wyden-Ryan plan before you wrongly chose the Lie of the Year.
I realize that you're sensitive to criticism that PolitiFact is prone to political correctness and marketing considerations. But understand: when you make screwy rulings like this, your credibility takes a big hit. Like I said, I've been a big fan of yours. However, I'll never be able to trust PolitiFact like I did before. This isn't your best day, to put it mildly.
Lots of bloggers, columnists, and political commentators have been lambasting PolitiFact for this screwy decision. David Wiegel, Steve Benen, Jed Lewiston, Thom Hartmann, and Paul Krugman all make valid criticisms. I like Benen's analogy:
Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intended to privatize the existing system and replace it with something very different — a voucher scheme. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.
It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word “end,” but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.
I’ve been trying to think of the best analogy for this. How about this one: imagine someone owns a Ferrari. It’s expensive and drives beautifully, and the owner desperately wants to keep his car intact. Now imagine I took the car away, removed the metallic badge off the trunk that says “Ferrari,” I stuck it on a golf cart, and I handed the owner the keys.
“Where’s my Ferrari?” the owner would ask.
“It’s right here,” I’d respond. “This has four wheels, a steering wheel, and pedals, and it says ‘Ferrari’ right there on the back.”
By PolitiFact’s reasoning, I haven’t actually replaced the car — and if you disagree, you’re a pants-on-fire liar.
Here's my own biggest problem with PolitiFact's decision. A Lie of the Year should be unmistakably lie'alicious. Given how many falsehoods politicians spout every day, the absolute biggest grandest lie for all of 2011 should be obvious B.S.
Yet when I first heard that PolitiFact had picked "Republicans voted to end Medicare" my reaction was, Huh? That's what they actually did.
As Benen said, the entire justification for PolitiFact's award choice rests on the word "end." Ryan and his fellow Republicans clearly wanted to change Medicare drastically. PolitiFact apparently had no problem with the Democratic mantra, "Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it."
So how much of a difference is there between a supposedly false statement, "Republicans want to end Medicare," and this indisputably true statement, "Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it"? Do those four words, "as we know it," really create such a gigantic change from false to true that it justifies giving the first statement a Lie of the Year 2011 award?
This afternoon I stopped following PolitiFact on Twitter. With some 50,000 followers, PolitiFact probably won't notice. But it made me feel better, because PolitiFact blew it big time on this one.
At the least, "Republicans want to end Medicare" deserves a Half True ruling, as PolitiFact often gives on issues that can't be pinned down with factual exactitude. Yet in this case PolitiFact didn't give any leeway, failing to understand how subjective the word "end" is.
Someone says, "I want to end my marriage." Right at that moment? In a few months? Next year? When the kids are grown up? Does it matter all that much what the precise time period is? Isn't the intention what's important?
Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it in ten years. If we won't be able to recognize Medicare in a decade, to me that sure sounds like the end of Medicare. I give PolitiFact a "mostly false" on this ruling.