Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 17, 2010

THE LIE OF THE YEAR.... In late 2009, PolitiFact named Sarah Palin's "death panels" garbage the Lie of the Year. It was a well-deserved honor.

As 2010 comes to an end, it's time for PolitiFact's editors to bestow the award on this year's biggest whopper, and this time, it's another bogus Republican line on health care reform.

In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul America's health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a "government takeover."

"Takeovers are like coups," Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. "They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom."

The line stuck. By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the "public option" concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.

But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn't let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.

That last line seems especially important. Plenty of reporters were responsible when it came to the "death panels" nonsense -- though much of the public ended up believing it anyway -- but the "government takeover" baloney simply became the standard Republican response to the entire policy initiative. News outlets used it routinely, with almost no scrutiny, in the he-said-she-said reporting that's become the American norm.

But reality is stubborn, and the "government takeover" claim is demonstrably false, whether it was called out by the media or not. PolitiFact quoted Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, explaining, "The label 'government takeover" has no basis in reality, but instead reflects a political dynamic where conservatives label any increase in government authority in health care as a 'takeover.' "

Many Republicans who used the line were no doubt aware of this. The point of the attack was not to point out a problem with the Affordable Care Act, but to fool the public into believing nonsense, which in turn would create opponents of health care reform out of those who benefit from it. The tactic was about deception through repetition, not debate.

And good lord was it repetitious. PolitiFact "sought to count how often the phrase was used in 2010 but found an accurate tally was unfeasible because it had been repeated so frequently in so many places. It was used hundreds of times during the debate over the bill and then revived during the fall campaign."

Incoming House Speaker John Boehner's website, for example, uses the phrase more than 90 times. The RNC's site features it more than 200 times.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) noted, "There was a uniformity of Republican messaging that was disconnected from facts. The sheer discipline ... was breathtaking."

Quite right. What Republicans lack in policy knowledge, decency, integrity, and veracity they compensate for with remarkable message discipline, repeating the same lie over and over again, practically in unison. They do this because it works -- much of the country now believes the lie.

Best of all, the fact that the "government takeover" line has been deemed the Lie of the Year will have absolutely no bearing on GOP rhetoric going forward. It follows a familiar pattern: (1) Republicans make a policy claim; (2) objective evidence makes clear that the Republican claim is demonstrably false; (3) Republicans repeat the claim anyway, hoping the public won't know the difference. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Still, the award is well deserved, and kudos to PolitiFact for making a wise choice.

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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"whether it was called out by the media or not."

Yeah, that happened all the time.

It isn't like the Rs claimed to have helped bring about the internet. *That* was worth 24/7 coverage by the "liberal" media.

Posted by: IOKIYAR on December 17, 2010 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

The idiots still believe it and still repeat it. When engaged in the annoying question I always ask "so what exactly is the government run part"? The answers vary from shock that I asked (with no coherent reply) to conspiracies about how the increased regulation will bankrupt the insurance companies and lead to single payer (because that's what Obama wants according to a utube video of OB talking to the AFL-CIO at a convention or something). No policy knowledge at all. You'd think maybe they'd at least site the increased medicaid eligibility but even that subtly eludes the non thinking twits of the right.

Posted by: KK on December 17, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Ah, but "government takeover" has a truthiness about it that can't be ignored!

Of course, it can't be ignored when Faux News and the Republicans keep spouting it all the time. It certainly doesn't hurt when your PR firm is working so hard for you...

Posted by: Ranger Jay on December 17, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

And tax cuts cause government revenues to go UP!

But what about those pesky deficits?

Deficits don't matter. Until they do. Until they don't again. Until they do....

Republicans are not engaged in a policy "debate." They are using the language to protect privilege.

Posted by: Ted Frier on December 17, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

As if this could not have been predicted from 1,000 miles away. The big mystery, however, is why President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul America's health insurance system didn't include the hiring of Frank Luntz out from under the Republicans' feet. Everyone ought to have known that, predictably, he'd be the PR behind Republicans' battle against reform.

Posted by: Varecia on December 17, 2010 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

I wrestle with the question whether Republicans are shameless liars or blind partisans. Of course, there's no real difference except a slight amount of conscious intention. The real problem is that politics has become a subset of sports. You see how much the spectators want their team to win: they cheer every bad call on the other team and scream bloody murder when it's their turn. The refs (the media) are supposedly above the fray except we know they're human. Worse, they've been neutered by the partisans own refs, bought and paid for, who buy the homers the calls they want.

Posted by: walt on December 17, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Since almost everything that came out of the mouths of Republicans this year was a lie, why can't the Lie of the Year simply be the Republican Party?

Posted by: delNorte on December 17, 2010 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

"Still, the award is well deserved, and kudos to PolitiFact for making a wise choice."

Yes, all of the couple of hundred of us who are now informed and care, stand and applaud your efforts.


Posted by: c u n d gulag on December 17, 2010 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

This all the fault of the dems. When the GOP want to go over the head of the press, they go on FOX and run negative ads. Even thought the dems see how effective the negative ads work, they refuse to use them. The dems also are afraid to beat up the press. That is where the false equivelancy is.

Posted by: Live Free or Die on December 17, 2010 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

What I have a problem with is the use of the word 'brilliant'...that the Republican messaging machine is POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE is without question. But if words matter, the admiring tone of the media of describing the machine as 'brilliant' is what adds luster to the words 'government takeover'...the public assumes that what is reported is 'true' since there is no disgust at the lies.

Posted by: SYSPROG on December 17, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Joseph Goebbels
He also said:
“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly - it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over”

Posted by: DAY on December 17, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Plenty of reporters were responsible when it came to the "death panels" nonsense

No, they weren't. They kept quoting the lie and giving it prominent play in the national media. Even if they did follow up with a meek notation that it wasn't true, they handed the Republicans a megaphone to broadcast their lies.

A responsible reporter would be well within her writes to omit the words "death panels" (or "government takeover," or "partial birth abortion," or "death tax," or...) from any story, and more, to make it clear that they wouldn't print such nonsense, and even that if the politician persisted, they'd write a story to the effect of "prominent Republican repeats blatant lies about health care." If they did so -- that is, adhere to objective standards of truth -- Republicans would have less incentive to lie. (They'd always have some, as their policies suck and are unpopular when accuraltely related.)

But the so-called "liberal media" still manages to give Republicans a platform for their deceptive buzzwords, with little consequence except an obscure "lie of the year" dishonor well after the fact, so they actively encourage, aid and abet the Republicans' serial dishonesty.

Posted by: Gregory on December 17, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Walt ...If you haven't seen this daily show clip - Your answer
Daily Show Debate: Is Fox News Evil or just Stupid?



Posted by: John R on December 17, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

As I said, and repeat for emphasis, the Republicans followed Lenin's dictum, "a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth." Now, Republicans may be proud of using this tactic to cause havoc and take the House. BUT they should not be...

Posted by: KurtRex453 on December 17, 2010 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

Left out of Steve's 3-part "familiar pattern", of course, is part 4:

The corporate-owned so-called "mainstream" media from which most Americans get most of their information legitimizes the Republicans' blatant lie and relentlessly hammers the American people with it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on December 17, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Republicans repeat the claim anyway, hoping the public won't know the difference. Lather, rinse, repeat"

That should read:

Republicans repeat the claim anyway, hoping the public won't know the difference, and KNOWING that the media will never, ever call them out on their deliberate lying. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Posted by: Mark-NC on December 17, 2010 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

There is only one important fact here - not a single media (broadcast or Cable, or print) stood up and flatly called any of the lies produced by the GOP regarding Healthcare a lie, and confronted the McConnells,Palins,Boeners on it. They "balanced", they equivocated, they danced around the truth of the matter, and in the case of Fox, actually broadcast the known lie. At the Corporate Ownership level, neither NBC, CBS or ABC allowed a truthful expose of Luntz and the Big Lie.

Posted by: T2 on December 17, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

There is one step in that familiar pattern that you have forgotten : (4) Democrats then rollover onto their backs, stick their legs in the air and whimper quietly. Without this step the Republican lies wouldn't stick. The Republicans have it so easy. They can say any bullshit and they know nothing will happen.

Posted by: despondent outsider on December 17, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

This misuse of propaganda simplified is just another of the weak links in sustaining a complex system. Considering the monumental consequences this may have in so many critically important areas including the ecological integrity of the planet, then these abuses of the public trust via concerted propaganda amount to weapons of mass destruction in this war of world views. The Republicans unfortunately have a very fertile field to work in exploiting the complexity of modern life which fewer and fewer people have any grasp of understanding.

Posted by: lou on December 17, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

oh that the truth had such skilled defenders as the lies.

the Dems can't agree on a message, wont deliver the same message, and wont actually speak the message in public lest they may offend someone.

yes, the media is in the tank for the Republicans. but the Dems make it easy for the media to ignore the Democratic position because there is no consistency, there is no attention to getting it to a simple sound bite, there is no outrage to force the issue.

Dems have had years to get used to this surreality. Their ability to get the truth out has not improved a bit. Until it does, the right will win over and over and over. And most of it is simple stubborness: the Dems refuse to use the tactics for good that the Republicans use for evil, even though they can see day in and day out that the tactics work.

Posted by: zeitgeist on December 17, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

I have noticed that Steve linked to the 2009 version to the "Lie of the Year". The link to this year's article is


I noticed this after listening to the NPR Morning Edition piece that brought up as a lie the idea that the Republican party wants to privatize or dismantle Social Security.


Posted by: tomk on December 17, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

My 80 year old father is recovering from a fall and a hip replacement. He has a Medicare Advantage policy which means his coverage is through a private insurance company. Dear god, one hand didn't have the slightest idea what the other is doing through out this whole process. I was begging for a "bureaucrat between his doctor" and him. His "private" insurance company has proved they aren't any good.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on December 17, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am sorry. I just read the first line of the article. In my haste to figure out what NPR was talking about regarding the lie that Republicans want to dismantle SS I clicked on the 2009 link to find the list of finalists without noticing that it was for the 2009 article. When the thing that NPR called out as a lie wasn't on the list for what I thought was 2010 article I was confused. Steve's article is accurate and I screwed up.

However I thought that Republicans do want to dismantle SS. Maybe I am wrong about that too.

Posted by: tomk on December 17, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Republican rape camps.

Republican rape camps.

Just keep saying it over, and over, and over. Don't explain what it means. Just keep saying it.

Republican rape camps.

Posted by: John on December 17, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

A swift, aggressive counterattack by whoever is in charge of Democratic messaging would have helped, but sadly no such effort was made. The GOP may get the Lie of the Year, but it sure worked for them. The Democrats deserve their own award: the worst political messaging ever

Posted by: Ameshall on December 17, 2010 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Since almost everything that came out of the mouths of Republicans this year was a lie, why can't the Lie of the Year simply be the Republican Party?

Excellent comment!

Posted by: June on December 17, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

and don't forget who won last year...

PolitiFact's Lie of the Year - 2009:

"Death Panels" - GOP Sarah Palin

GOP: Restoring Honor By Lying...

Posted by: mr. irony on December 17, 2010 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Considering that the MSM apparently is now nothing more than the Republicans' stenographer, it puts the attempts to two-tier the Internet into perspective, doesn't it?
You want the latest missing blonde story? There you go! You want factual information? That'll take an extra 30 to 60 minutes; you pay X amount of dollars and we'll have it there right away...

Posted by: Doug on December 17, 2010 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

I noted this in a Twitter post I made a few weeks ago:

"It seems the more liberals you get, the more complicated the message gets. The more conservatives you get, the simpler the message gets."

I don't mean 'simpler' in a good way. It's more like a resonant frequency where your car starts rattling when you go a certain speed. But complicated is, well, complicated. Americans were good at complicated 50 years ago; then TV came around.

"Liberal" media is so completely defeated it's very un-funny. Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and the rest are exciting to watch and listen to. They're fired up! Whatever they're saying is so important they've got to yell and scream about it. Never mind it's all lies and distortion, it's short, simple, loud, and most of all entertaining.

On the face of it, it's so sadly ironic. A fox has been used throughout history as a symbol of cunning deviousness and trickery. They started out humbly enough as an outsider, but now half the nation has taken a fox as their advisor. So far, our nation has wound up in a terrible mess, but... listen to the fox - the fox knows just how fix it! And be sure to buy some of those special gold coins, because you'll be rich!

What do the liberals have as a counter to this? Complicated explanations and 'reasonable' spokespeople with all the pizzaz of a metronome.

The worst part is, to compete with them, we've got to be just like them: bogus buzzwords, boldface lies, senseless soundbites, and naked projection, all packaged in a glitzy, noisy, captivating stage production. The reason the left has so utterly failed is because they are unwilling to become what the opposition is, to win. Congratulate ourselves, because it's actually a mark of integrity, not real failure. The army of dittoheads are the real failures.

If the left ever could hit a resonant frequency, an effective strategy might be to ask simple questions. We've got to figure out how to make people start thinking again, instead of just accepting what they are told.

How many jobs did rich people create, today?

Posted by: h4x354x0r on December 17, 2010 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

A song addressing those lies
"Stand" URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3MxZcls24o

Posted by: majorshadow on December 25, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK



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