Political Animal


December 20, 2011 11:25 AM Stuffing the ballot box didn’t matter

By Steve Benen

Following up on an earlier item, I’ve seen some suggestions that PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” competition was skewed — House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stuffed the ballot box. In some ways, I wish that were true, since it would make PolitiFact’s mistake easier to understand.

It’s accurate to note that Ryan did use his notoriety to try to influence the process. As Jamison Foser explained a couple of weeks ago, the right-wing lawmaker sent out an email to supporters, urging them to vote at PolitiFact’s website for the Democratic Medicare argument as the Lie of the Year. (Ironically, Ryan lied in his email.)

And while the congressman’s lobbying may have had some impact, we saw the results of the reader survey this morning:

1. The economic stimulus created “zero jobs.” — The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republicans (24% of the vote)

2. Abortion services are “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.”- Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. (17% of the vote)

3. “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” — The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other Democrats (16% of the vote)

So, PolitiFact’s audience voted for two actual lies for Lie of the Year, but PolitiFact’s editors ignored this and awarded the dubious honor to a claim that happens to be true.

And why did the fact-checking website do this? I can’t say with certainty what the editors were thinking, though Paul Krugman makes a compelling case: “[T]he people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear ‘balanced’ — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.”

Again, I’m not going to claim to read the minds of PolitiFact’s editors, but there is a larger context to consider. In 2009, the Lie of the Year was a Republican lie. In 2010, the Lie of the Year was a different Republican lie. In 2011, a majority of the Lie of the Year nominees came from Republicans, and the top two vote-getters in its reader surveys were both Republican lies.

If PolitiFact had chosen another GOP falsehood for this year’s “award,” the website would have been condemned by the right for being partisan. So, coincidentally or not, PolitiFact avoided the conservative pushback by picking a Democratic argument.

Unfortunately for the fact-checking website, it chose a lie that happens to be true.

If PolitiFact was eager to create partisan “balance,” the least it could have done was choose a Democratic claim that was false.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • stormskies on December 20, 2011 11:31 AM:

    How about this lie: PontiFact is not corrupt .......

  • c u n d gulag on December 20, 2011 11:37 AM:

    When did it become PolitiBalance?

    Fact's is fact's, and it's well known that FACT'S have a well known Liberal bias.

  • Kevin on December 20, 2011 11:49 AM:

    I second stormskies' nomination for lie of the year: "PolitiFact is not corrupt"

  • T2 on December 20, 2011 11:54 AM:

    Krugman is on target...as usual. Once PolitiFact went mainstream (and profitable) they started to water down their results. At this point, as a poster said earlier, they are just filler in the daily paper, like cartoons and the Letters to the Editor.

  • withay on December 20, 2011 12:04 PM:

    time to check out The Center for Public Integrity: http://www.iwatchnews.org/about

    PolitiLies is more like it....

  • dj spellchecka on December 20, 2011 12:07 PM:

    i'd suggest you also send your comments here


  • Grumpy on December 20, 2011 12:07 PM:

    I would have chosen another runner-up: Romney's lie about how Obama "went around the world and apologized for America." It scored 8% in the reader poll, but there's a good chance it'll be a contender for Lie of the Year next year, too.

  • SYSPROG on December 20, 2011 12:15 PM:

    So...THE LIE OF THE YEAR goes to Politifact. PANTS ON FIRE!

  • Rick Massimo on December 20, 2011 12:40 PM:

    To not give the Lie of the Year award to a statement that the guy who said it later referred to as "not intended to be a factual statement" is pure cowardice and stupidity. Nothing but.

    Krugman is exactly right. They were afraid of conservatives being mad at them.

    And now they think that that's not going to happen anyway. That Republicans are going to think Politifact is AOK. That the next time Politifact calls out a GOP lie, they won't get screamed at.

    That might be even more stupid.

  • billyblog on December 20, 2011 12:42 PM:

    Here's a Democratic lie you can hear every day when the Senate is in session.

    SENATOR REID: My dear friend, Senator McConnell ...

  • Dr. J on December 20, 2011 12:53 PM:

    Bobby Knight tells the story of complaining to the ref that they have called 8 fouls on his team and only 2 on the other team. The ref replies, "Well, tell your team to quit fouling so much!" An analogous response to the Republicans would be appropriate from Politifact, but I don't think they have the political courage to stand up to the right in this manner.

  • TCinLA on December 20, 2011 12:57 PM:

    Ever since 1882, when the "Good Government" types "professionalized" the civil service - with the ultimate result that civil service from local to national is actually run by idiots, since the actual intelligent people never get promoted since they would show up their incompetent bosses, who are only able to keep their jobs because of civil service protection (I say that from hard and direct experience), every "good government" reform has actually made things worse in terms of actually delivering something worthwhile.

    Why can't these people stick to eating their cucumber sandwiches and tut-tutting each other? It's the only thing they're any good at.

  • Josh on December 20, 2011 1:16 PM:


  • Joe on December 20, 2011 1:17 PM:

    I sense that a "Person of the Year" style explanation will be forthcoming:

    "Yeah, we know this is crack-headed, but it created a heated discussion and therefore it's totally awesome even though it is crack-headed."

    Time Magazine has used this to great effect over the years, where "great effect" equals "a descent into irrelevancy".

  • kevo on December 20, 2011 1:47 PM:

    The simple fact about politics is that it is quite difficult to take anything in the political arena as fact when so many lies are bantering around under the guise of factual statements.

    Set up language readying our ears for lies include the following:

    The American people

    The job creators

    American taxpayers

    Some experts (or people, or just "some") think

    I never had sex with that woman

    Majority of women haven't charged me with sexual harassment

    and so on! When Politifact reworks its mission statement to include the truth, then I'll consider it a cut above other sites who claim to be impartial.

    Until then, Politifact will not be one of my desktop boodmarks! -Kevo

  • CK MacLeod on December 20, 2011 2:15 PM:

    Politifact's Lie of the Year a top contender for Lie of the Year.


  • Lit3Bolt on December 20, 2011 2:18 PM:

    The Lie of the Year is that this isn't anything but an attempt to drum up traffic and get eyeballs on ads, I mean stories and headlines.

    American journalism has never been about art, or ethics, or public good. It's a business. Treating it as anything other than that is foolish.

  • ManOutOfTime on December 20, 2011 3:18 PM:

    The lie of the year is that the Ryan plan would NOT end Medicare as we know it. I am sure PolitiNotReallyFact will be issuing a clarification any moment now ...

  • RockBiter on December 20, 2011 3:49 PM:

    I've got news for you, Republicans already thought PolitiFact was partisan. They think facts have a liberal bias.

  • sherifffruitfly on December 20, 2011 4:41 PM:

    Anti-Obama so-called "progressives" maintaining the lie that "Democrats are the same as republicans" are guilty of precisely the same.

  • DougN on December 20, 2011 5:31 PM:

    Politifact has lost it's reason for existence. I'll no longer give it the time of day.

    I think the key point to all of this is that in order to speak the truth, media outlets have to expect to lose audience, and most media outlets can't afford to lose market share, so they lie.

  • BuzzMon on December 20, 2011 10:40 PM:

    "It's still called Medicare...."

    So if I take your gold ring and hand you back a circular, yellow-green turd, you still have a gold ring, right?

    Makes as much sense as Politi-"Fact" did this time.

    Colbert & and "A Few Good Men"-
    Facts have a liberal bias, You can't handle the truth!

  • John Mills on December 21, 2011 2:32 PM:

    It's only bias if the facts are twisted to give the appearance of a particular leaning. Clearly the facts speak for themselves. Anyone defending Politifact is a biased fool who's not interested in the truth or being enlightened. Their only interest is being "Right"...both literally and figuratively.

  • H.A. H.A. H.A. H.A. H.A. Jack Myswag on December 24, 2011 12:47 AM:

    Whats more, their defense to this is not an actual defense, it's the typical, cowardice, independents position: Echo chamber!?!? REALLY?? They say:
    "And yet, for many of our readers, the love for PolitiFact has always been conditional. They love us when we confirm their views that the other side is wrong � and they hate us when we don't."
    Wow, they really make the mistake of interpreting what people think!

    They say that they've looked into all the criticism, and that you can go fuck yourselves, they're still right, neh neh nuh neh neh.
    And to their discredit, they don't actually have an argument as to WHY "Repubs ending medicare" is such a false claim. They arrogantly claim they are right, and that's final.

    Oh well.


    Factchecking PolitiFact

    They give Romney 20 "True" statements, 3 of which are about the exact same thing: how mccain switched on taxes for the rich. So that one could go down to 18.

    They also rate Romney's C claim about how Obama increased the debt more than the previous 43 presidents combined as Mostly True, because 2 out of 3 measurements on that debt say that.
    The kicker? those 2 measurements are about either a LONGER period, or one which Obama wasn't actually influencing the deficit.
    End of fiscal 2008 - end of fiscal 2012
    Obama inauguration - end of fiscal 2013
    The fairest measure would be:
    end of fiscal 2009 - end of fiscal 2013
    in which Obama's deficit is NOT more than the previous three combined, by their own admission.

    So, I rate PolitiFarts claim as Mostly False