We live in a time when misinformation is rampant. Politicians lie. Cable news pundits twist the truth to fit their agenda. And citizens use the wild west of social media to either consciously or inadvertently spread conspiracies that simply are not true.
For the past 13 years, Poynter’s PolitiFact has sifted through all the lies of the year to come up with the lie of the year. It’s never an easy choice. Sadly, the year is full of them.
This year’s “Lie of the Year” has been told for virtually all of 2021. Published just this morning, PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” is:
PolitiFact’s Angie Drobnic Holan, Bill McCarthy and Amy Sherman write:
We picked these lies for two reasons. First, the attack was historically important; a federal judge called it “the most significant assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812.” While some members of Congress lodged protests when the Electoral College count was close, as in 2000, or when individual states had close margins, like Ohio in 2004, never before had Americans overtaken the Capitol to hold up electoral proceedings and threaten lawmakers. In fact, “the peaceful transfer of power” has long been a hallmark phrase in describing, with pride, the American experience.
Second, the events of Jan. 6 were widely broadcast on that day and many days afterward, allowing the public to see for themselves exactly what happened. The body of evidence includes direct video documentation and many eyewitness accounts. So efforts to downplay and deny what happened is an attempt to brazenly recast reality itself.
Certainly, the horrific events of Jan. 6 have been made even more dangerous by those who have downplayed or dismissed what actually happened that day. One of the darkest days in the history of this country continues to haunt us, and might be only a preview of what could easily happen again.
The lies about Jan. 6 weren’t the only lies of 2021.
What about all the misinformation surrounding COVID-19, especially the vaccines? That, too, was incredibly prominent and harmful. Couldn’t that have been a “Lie of the Year?” We’re also still dealing with climate change deniers and those who continue to wrongly believe that the 2020 election was rigged
So, I reached out to PolitiFact editor-in-chief Angie Drobnic Holan to get the lowdown on this year’s choice for “Lie of the Year.” Here’s our conversation:
Tom Jones: Angie, I’ve asked you this before, but can you take readers through the process of selecting the “Lie of the Year?”
Angie Drobnic Holan: We look back at everything we’ve fact-checked since the beginning of the year, and we ask ourselves, what was the most important or significant or harmful falsehood? We usually end up with two or three choices. Then we have a long discussion about which was the worst, and what the most important things are to tell our readers about it. It’s a team process, but we’re usually all satisfied with where we end up.
Jones: There was so much going on in 2021, particularly as it related to COVID-19 — masks, vaccines and so forth. Was any consideration given to the “Lie of the Year” being about the misinformation surrounding COVID-19?
Holan: Definitely, we especially considered misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine. People all over the world spent most of 2020 hunkered down in their homes, hoping and waiting for something that could prevent them from getting COVID-19. When vaccines became widespread in 2021, they were followed by a trail of lies. Over and over again, the vaccines have been shown to be effective and safe. Yet some people won’t take the vaccines and will die of COVID as a result. That’s very discouraging for people who trust science and facts.
Jones: Ultimately, you chose the lies about the Jan. 6 insurrection as the “Lie of the Year.” What swayed you to make that decision?
Holan: We chose it because the day was really important, it was well-documented, and there have been so many lies told about it. From the people who minimized Jan. 6, it really was a case of “don’t believe your lying eyes.”
We know what happened that day, but the denial is trying to deflect attention from getting to the bottom of the causes and conditions that set up Jan. 6. The public still needs to know that, so it can continue the peaceful transfer of power that’s been the hallmark of American democracy.
Jones: Usually, when it comes to a lie of the year, one person is most responsible for that lie. But this year, it’s different. It wasn’t just one person. There were many. But if you had to point to who was most responsible for downplaying the Jan. 6 insurrection, who would it be? Politicians? Fox News? Other right-wing cable networks? All of the above?
Holan: I think it was all of the above, but some people really do deserve special recognition. Above all was Donald Trump, who repeatedly said that he won the election when it was pretty clear he didn’t. Tucker Carlson at Fox News really went above and beyond the average dissembling, especially with his “Patriot Purge” Fox Nation series, which was full of misinformation. Among House Republicans, Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene said some truly ridiculous things. But the silence of the mainstream Republican leadership was also a huge and surprising development. Our story details what that looked like. It was a lot of, “move along, nothing to see here.”
Jones: Your selection for “Lie of the Year” was made before the news came out that several Fox News personalities — including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade — were texting White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the riot to urge Donald Trump to tell his supporters to stop what they were doing. What was your reaction to that news as you were in the final stages of editing the “Lie of the Year” piece?
Holan: It was basically another piece in the puzzle of what we were already seeing — that people across the board knew Jan. 6 was a big deal, but it wasn’t in their own interest to say so publicly.
Jones: Last year’s “Lie of the Year” was coronavirus downplay and denial. Do you see any similarities to how this year’s lie was perpetuated as compared to last year?
Holan: The biggest similarity is the tactic of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. It’s not like there was just one or two lies about the coronavirus last year. There were a bunch, all different, all claiming to represent some other reason why the coronavirus wasn’t a serious pandemic. With Jan. 6, it was similar: a lot of different distortions and excuses, but all in service of trying to convince people that the insurrection either wasn’t what it looked like or it wasn’t worth paying attention to.
There really is a playbook now for trying to confuse and deceive the public about important issues. And while reality has its own ways of pushing back — like journalism and fact-checking — it tends to be a long and sometimes painful process.
Jones: Finally, Angie, tell us why you think it’s important for PolitiFact to choose a “Lie of the Year,” and what do you want readers to take from it?
Holan: We pick it because it’s so easy to experience information overload and get bombarded by news. The story is our way of telling our readers, stop, this is really important. We need to pay attention to this.
My hope is that people who care about democracy, people who believe in evidence and facts, people who think we need a well-informed public — that all of them will read our work and come away with a little more knowledge and a little more wisdom.
My thanks to Angie Drobnic Holan for taking us behind the scenes of this year’s “Lie of the Year.” Be sure to check out the detailed and informative story on PolitiFact.com. Now onto the rest of today’s newsletter …
Are we at all surprised?
Speaking of the lies surrounding Jan. 6, the big media news of the moment is the discovery, thanks to the House committee investigating the insurrection, that Fox News personalities Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade were urging then-President Donald Trump to do something to stop the rioters on that day. All three sent texts to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, imploring him to persuade Trump to make it all stop.
What makes it newsworthy is they, along with many of their Fox News colleagues, have struck quite a different tone on the air, often questioning who caused the riot, downplaying just how serious it was and blaming people other than Trump and/or Trump supporters.
Like most media reporters and critics, I wrote extensively about this in my Tuesday newsletter. It’s been all the buzz for the past 36 hours. And like many, I was initially somewhat stunned that Fox News personalities would show major concern off the air, but mislead viewers on the air.
But then came this naive realization: Should we really be surprised after all?
More than 24 hours after their texts to Meadows became public, both Hannity and Ingraham addressed them for the first time on their shows Tuesday night, claiming they always condemned the violence on Jan. 6. Hannity then turned down the whataboutism trail by talking about protests after the George Floyd murder, blaming the problems of Jan. 6 on Nancy Pelosi and taking plenty of shots at Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who is on what he called a “sham committee.”
Ingraham chose to blame the media for misrepresenting her takes on Jan. 6, criticized Cheney and also claimed that she has always condemned Jan. 6. (Although, she insisted Tuesday night that Jan. 6 was not an insurrection.)
Regardless of what the Fox News personalities now say or don’t say about those texts, should we be at all surprised that they’ve gone on the air, including Tuesday night, with their grifting and gaslighting? For the prime-time hosts on Fox News, that makes up the bulk of their programming. It’s anti-liberal. Trump is good and Joe Biden is bad. Their side is right, and the other side is wrong. And the other side is anyone who disagrees with them, especially the left and the “media mob.” You’re either with them or against them.
In fact, the text I found most interesting was the one from Ingraham, who wrote, “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
Us? Hurting all of us?
During an appearance on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on Tuesday, Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said, “Those text messages clearly show they were concerned about the president’s legacy. They weren’t concerned about the safety of lawmakers or legislators. They were concerned about the president’s legacy. That’s deeply disturbing, given the loss of life for that afternoon. So we’re going to continue our work. It’s important that we do that. But clearly those folks in the former president’s friendly media circles, they were concerned and they were reaching out.”
But just because all of this is oh-so-predictable does not mean that this is not important.
CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza wrote, “What’s truly remarkable is that that isn’t even the worst thing that these texts reveal. The worst thing is this: Even knowing what they said to Trump on January 6 about the severity of what was happening, many of these same people have spent the last year doing their damndest to downplay it all — arguing that the whole thing was overblown by the media and its Democratic enablers. That, to me, is the truly appalling part of all of this. To know the right thing — and to even call on Trump, in the moment, to do the right thing — and then spend the next 11 months pretending publicly like you didn’t? Gross.”
Gross, yes. But surprising? Not in the least.
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Checking in from Kentucky
My Poynter colleague, Al Tompkins, has been in Kentucky this week, reporting on media coverage following the deadly tornadoes that have claimed at least 88 lives with many more still missing.
Meanwhile, NBC News’ Deon J. Hampton had this eye-opening story: “Factory workers threatened with firing if they left before tornado, employees say.”
The best show on TV
Yes, I’m still geeking out about the season three finale of HBO’s “Succession,” which received five Golden Globe nominations this week. If you’re still geeking out, too, and acknowledging that there are major spoilers ahead, check out these links:
- The Hollywood Reporter’s Katie Kilkenny with “Brian Cox Talks ‘Succession’ Season 3 Finale Twist and How the Show Stays Unpredictable.”
- The Ringer’s Justin Sayles with “‘Succession’ Season 3 Finale Power Rankings: Make Your Own Pile.”
- The Ringer’s Alison Herman with “How ‘Succession’ Pulled Off a Season of Near Stasis.”
- And, finally, there is some controversy involving Michael Schulman’s profile of “Succession” actor Jeremy Strong in The New Yorker. Deadline’s Tom Tapp writes, “Aaron Sorkin Blasts New Yorker Profile of ‘Succession’ Star Jeremy Strong, Gets Support From Adam McKay; New Yorker Responds.”
The New York Times announced Tuesday that both their Cooking and Games verticals have reached 1 million subscriptions.
Cooking launched in 2014 with 18,000 recipes and then introduced subscriptions in 2017. It is now up to 21,000 recipes, including an additional 700 this year. The Times reports that more than 12.5 million cooks have gone to Cooking for a recipe this year, with the most popular being Molly O’Neill’s Old Fashioned Beef Stew. Since being published in 1994, that recipe has been viewed more than 5.6 million times.
Meanwhile, Games started with the original Daily Crossword and then introduced the Mini in 2014. Since then, it has rolled out popular games such as Spelling Bee, Tiles, Vertex and, my personal favorite, Letter Boxed. New York Times Games have been played more than 500 million times this year.
3 … 2 … 1 …
Staying home and watching TV this New Year’s Eve? Well, you’ll have some choices. You could opt for the traditional “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve With Ryan Seacrest” on ABC. (It’s the 50th anniversary of the original “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”)
Or, you could choose between two cable news giants. CNN’s special will be live from Times Square with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. There will also be a slew of other celebrities and CNN personalities.
Meanwhile, Fox News’ special will be based in Nashville and hosted by Rachel Campos-Duffy, Will Cain and Pete Hegseth. They, too, will have a bunch of personalities spread out across the country, including Times Square.
And what will I be watching? My usual, assuming SYFY Network is airing its “Twilight Zone” marathon.
- Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds with “Lee’s stock is now trading at way more than Alden Global Capital’s takeover offer.”
- Anita Chabria has been named California columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Chabria had been the Times’ Northern California reporter. Her column will begin in January.
- My favorite headline of the day, from FoxNews.com: “Woman finds squirrel wedged inside squirrel-proof bird feeder.”
- Over the summer, there were reports that The New York Times was thinking about buying The Athletic, the ad-free, subscription-based sports website. Then talks broke down. Are they back on again? Front Office Sports’ A.J. Perez and Michael McCarthy write, “New York Times Reconsiders Buying The Athletic.”
- The Associated Press’ Ben Fox with “AP seeks answers from US gov’t on tracking of journalists.”
- The New York Times’ Katie Robertson with “Wirecutter Union reaches a deal with The New York Times Company.”
- Back-to-back days of solid scoops from The Washington Post sports department. First, Gus Garcia-Roberts with “The secret settlements that helped a baseball star play on.” Then, Will Hobson and Liz Clarke with “Daniel Snyder pledged support for the NFL’s investigation. His actions tell a different story.”
- More sports, this one from the always-superb John Branch of The New York Times, who writes about American snowboarding star Chloe Kim in “A Teen Sensation Grows Up.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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