PolitiFact sticks to its rubber guns

There’s been something of an Internet scrum over PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” this week, a fact that I chronicled in a previous Linked and Loaded. Yesterday the national editor Bill Adair provided a response to the substantial pushback that was, shall we say, lacking:

PolitiFact had its latest brush with the Echo Chamber Nation this week. We gave our Lie of the Year to the Democrats’ claim that the Republicans “voted to end Medicare.” That set off a firestorm in the liberal blogosphere, with many saying that claim was not actually wrong. We’ve received about 1,500 e-mails about our choice and only a few agreed with us. 
Some of the response has been substantive and thoughtful. The critics said we ignored the long-term effects of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan and that we were wrong to consider his privatized approach to be Medicare. In their view, that is an end to Medicare. 
We’ve read the critiques and see nothing that changes our findings. We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false.


Then, of course, Adair does nothing to refute the substantive and thoughtful criticism. Instead he continues to portray his organization as heroic victims being assaulted by an Internet echo chamber. This makes it seem as though they don’t really have a response to the most legitimate criticisms, and may explain why they don’t even bother to try. Which means they deserve to be shredded by Dave Weigel:

In reality, it is an end to Medicare as we know it. Let’s be fair — as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out the other day, any substantive change to a program “ends the program as we know it.” When you’re fundamentally changing a program from the way it was designed 45 years ago, you’re ending it as people know it. 

Ultimately the most damning feature – in my humble pundratic opinion – of PolitiFact’s choice and follow up response is the utter lack of recognition of where the Democratic claim originated. The ads that PolitiFact based their decision on – containing the offending phrase – was not an original claim made by the ad makers:

Democrats weren’t the first to make this characterization. The Wall Street Journal‘s reporter Naftali Bendavid did, writing that the Ryan plan “essentially ends Medicare.” Democrats, in their ads and attacks, cited that story to make their claim. I covered the NY-26 race on the ground, and I remember seeing it in the mailers and ads, but anyone can check it. The Bendavid story has never been corrected — corrections are what editors typically do if facts have been misstated.


And there’s the kiss of death for me on this particular subject. The very fact that the claim didn’t even originate with the people labeled as having the lie of the year strikes me as a basic disqualification. Not only did they seemingly ignore this rather important part, they haven’t even acknowledged it’s existence. In this case, it’s to the detriment of an otherwise worthy organization.


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