Krugman, liberals argue Politifact’s Lie of the Year is not a lie

PolitiFactNew York Times
PolitiFact’s choice for the 2011 Lie of the Year — the claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” — is actually a true statement, says Paul Krugman:

Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance … The new scheme would still be called ‘Medicare’, but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors. How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the ‘Lie of the year’?

Similar thoughts come from Steve Benen at Washington Monthly, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, David Dayen at Firedoglake, and others. Krugman infers that “the people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan … So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.”

PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair explains the choice in a lengthy post, and also told Poynter this by email:

“It’s worth noting that both and Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post have also rated the claim false. I appreciate and respect the feedback we’re getting and I recognize that our readers won’t always agree with our conclusions.”

Earlier: When “Mediscare” was first nominated, Dan Kennedy wrote about “PolitiFact and the limits of fact-checking” (Huffington Post) | Media Matters fact checking is most accurate, says Chris Mooney ( || Disclosure: Poynter owns the St. Petersburg Times, which operates PolitiFact.

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  • Alfred Ingram

    Next they’ll tell us that Obama is soft on terrorists. Must be true. Republicans said so. They only lie when their lips are moving or their fingers are typing.

  • Alfred Ingram

    Next they’ll tell us that Obama is soft on terrorists. Must be true. Republicans said so. They only lie when their lips are moving or their fingers are typing.

  • john matthews

    Even if you disagree that Ryan’s proposal fundamentally alters Medicare to the point that it’s unrecognizable, and therefore think the changes are merely minor, the point remains: this is subjective. How can something with a subjective interpretation (and that’s being kind to Politifact… “killing Medicare” doesn’t seem far off given the drastic, fundamental alterations) possibly be the subject of a “lie of the year?” Especially, as Krugman points out, the far more egregious (and less open to interpretation!) things that have been said. 

    It’s almost like calling me a liar because I see something different in a Roschach Test than you. Oh wait, no it’s not…. because in this instance, you’re still not accusing me of telling the lie of the *year.*I’ve only had high praise for Politifact’s work. This makes me question them — either in their ability to parse what “lies” actually are, or doubt their ability to remain objective as criticism mounts from the right — and that is sad. 

  • Hart Williams

    Gee. Funny how it’s “Liberals” who dispute the “factual” nature of PolitiFact’s absurd claim. And, of course, the “appeal to popular opinion” fallacy of Bill Adair’s response that someone else had made the same claim/error. 

    This is NOT a he said/she said universe, sir. “PolitiFact” would have you belie the second capitalized term in their clunky portmanteau term (try reading it aloud sometime).Is logic and reason the exclusive provenance of “liberals”? Or is something wrong, prima fascie, with this in-house defense? Shame.

  • Anonymous

    Poynter Institute, if the St. Pete Times is supposedly your journalism laboratory, it blew up with this as the “lie of the year.” This is the second black eye for Poynter in a matter of weeks after alienating Romenesko.

    How lame is Adair’s defense, basing it on others agreeing with their judgment? That’s like Sean Hannity defending some lie of his by saying Rush Limbaugh said it too.

    Paul Ryan and his right-wing ilk wanted to (and still want to) end Medicare. They want to put an end to any achievements of the Great Society and the New Deal that have kept regular folks from becoming destitute and even dying sooner than they had to. How about the lie of the year being that any government program Republicans don’t like is some form of “socialism”?

  • John Reinan

    Agreed. As one blogger said, it’s as if Ryan had proposed getting rid of the FBI and giving everyone vouchers to hire private investigators. But if he called the new system “the FBI,” then it’s a lie to say he ended the FBI.

  • Anonymous

    This is why I dislike these “end of year” spectacles like “Top 10 stories” or “person of the year.” It’s a lot of subjective posturing and fluff, and in this case it forces the organization to strain credibility.  

  • Anonymous

    A sad day for the credibility of the Poynter Institute, the Times, and the few remaining sources of objective journalism, as the corporate media refuses to take on the lying liars Ailes and Limbaugh head-on.  This contemporary “conflict journalism” model of false equivalencies is far from the who-what-when-where-why standard I learned in J-school 40 years ago.  Krugman is right on the money…RIP Politifact.

  • Anonymous

    Krugman gets it exactly right. Even Bill Adair damns himself with his own explanation. 

    “We discussed each of the other finalists and concluded that while clearly false, they failed to be as significant as the Medicare claim, which ignored the fact that people 55 and older would remain on traditional Medicare and that even with the privatized system under Ryan’s bill, younger people would still receive a guarantee of care.”

    If you have to make the distinction between “traditional Medicare”, a single-payer system, and Ryancare’s voucher program then by definition they aren’t the same thing – people 55 and older get one thing, everyone else gets something else. Unless, that is, you agree with Politifact’s logic that dogs and cats are equivalent because they are both pets; it’s a similar error of category. 

    The voucher is not a guarantee of care; it’s the government giving you a check to buy whatever health insurance you can afford on the private market. It certainly isn’t Medicare.