Who will fact-check the fact-checkers: As you may have heard, Politifact recently chose its annual “Lie of the Year.”
In the process, the fact-checking site made progressives mad. We agree that Politifact made a very dumb choice for "Lie of the Year." But might we start with the basics?
Why would a serious fact-checking site be choosing a “Lie of the Year” in the first place? In our view, PolitiFact ceased to be serious when it ventured down this low-IQ road.
Just consider one of the site’s ten nominations for this year’s prize. To peruse all ten, click this:
The vaccine to prevent HPV can cause mental retardation.—Republican presidential candidate Michele BachmannBachmann’s statement was a real groaner. But what made Politifact call it a “lie?” If we’re still speaking English, a lie is a knowing misstatement of fact. Did anyone think that Bachmann knew that this statement was way off-base?
Until fairly recently, journalists widely avoided use of the tricky word “lie.” Quite correctly, journalistic culture had long understood a basic fact: As a general matter, it's hard to tell if a misstatement is knowing. But with the rise of tribal culture has come the desire for frequent loud thunder, the dumber the thunder the better.
Tribal groups love to name-call the other. One apparent result: Even this major “fact-checking" site abandoned a very old, useful distinction. Can we talk? Politifact has no idea if Bachmann was “lying” when she blurted that groaner. But so what? In the modern context, the thunder feels very good.
Politifact thus dumbs us all down. But so did some of our leading liberals as we roared about the selection. In this passage, the liberal world’s most valuable player dumbed this topic down too:
KRUGMAN (12/20/11): Politifact, R.I.P.Is “the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare...a statement that happens to be true?” We’re sorry, but it isn’t that simple. Politifact was very silly to pick that claim as “Lie (or Misstatement) of the Year.” But there were some problems with that claim, even though tribals won’t notice such things as they spill over with ardor.
This is really awful. Politifact, which is supposed to police false claims in politics, has announced its Lie of the Year—and it’s a statement that happens to be true, the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare.
Steve Benen in the link above explains it, but let me just repeat the basics. Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance—and not just that, a voucher system in which the value of the vouchers would systematically lag the cost of health care, so that there was no guarantee that seniors would even be able to afford 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”?
“How is this not an end to Medicare?” Thinking about the world of real people who do get misled, let us count two possible ways:
“This is not an end to Medicare” if some senior citizen hears that claim and thinks it means that the GOP is ending all health care assistance to seniors. Almost surely, some senior citizens were misled by that claim in that fashion.
“This is not an end to Medicare” if some senior citizen hears that claim and thinks that the GOP proposal would take effect immediately—would affect their ongoing assistance under Medicare. Again, we will assume that some seniors were misled that way by that claim.
In theory, it’s easy to straighten out such misunderstandings. But it’s also easy to avoid those misunderstandings, perhaps by putting your thunder aside and making a more nuanced, more accurate statement.
Many folk have noted the fact that it’s very easy to say this: "The GOP proposal would end Medicare as we know it."
It’s easy to make that more accurate statement. But in an increasingly tribal culture, the thunder pleases us more. And in all honesty, we progresisves rarely think about regular people who may get misled, unless they're getting misled by very bad folk in the other tribe. Simply put, we don't really care if folk get misled by us.
Krugman is our most valuable player, by far. In our view, he’s a genuine hero of journalistic labor. But he’s a bit of a late-blooming rube when it comes to partisan matters. The post he wrote just wasn’t real smart. He was working outside his element.
By the way, did we mention that this was a very dumb choice by Politifact? Your lizard brain will yell in your ear, saying we didn’t say that.
Our choice for misstatement of the year: Among Politifact’s ten nominees, our choice for groaner of the year would be this:
The economic stimulus created "zero jobs."—The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other RepublicansThat was a genuine, widely-mouthed groaner. You can argue that statement is “technically accurate.” You just can’t argue it well.