What's Behind PolitiFact's 'Lie Of The Year?'

DAN RIEHL

The Left is apoplectic over this year’s PolitiFact Lie of the Year. Given that PolitiFact came under so much fire from the right this year, conservatives should be cautious, even if optimistic. A year-end gift, or a big show of balancing of the scale, will not undo any damage PolitiFact might do during the course of any year. In fact, leftists may be upset precisely because they are more generally accustomed to PolitiFact having their backs.


PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

Now, PolitiFact has chosen the Democrats’ claim as the 2011 Lie of the Year.

It’s the third year in a row that a health care claim has won the dubious honor. In 2009, the winner was the Republicans’ charge that the Democrats’ health care plan included “death panels.” In 2010, it was that the plan was a “government takeover of health care.”

Criticisms from the right can easily be found via the PolitiFact Wiki. Certainly, now they can claim to have received harsh criticism from both sides in 2011–they must be doing something right, right?

Yet in critical times with the constant churn of daily news cycles, any damage done day-to-day on a host of critical issues could easily outweigh one year-end gift, however grand.

PolitiFact.com has faced assertions among some politically conservative commentators that it is politically biased in its declarations of truth and untruth. Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized PolitiFact, in addition to similar recently-created fact-checking projects from other news organizations, writing that they “aren’t about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation.” Hemingway cited a study by the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs that found that, of 98 statements by American political figures that PolitiFact judged to be false from January 2010 to January 2011, 74 were by Republicans, while 22 were by Democrats.

Taranto of the Wall Street Journal called PolitiFact.com “less seeker of truth than servant of power”[4], while a Wall Street Journal editorial wrote that PolitiFact is “part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and ‘facts,’ rather than differences of world view or principles.”[8] In The American Spectator, conservative analyst Matthew Vadum, citing several of PolitiFact.com’s analyses, called their content “political opinion masquerading as high-minded investigative journalism.”

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