In naming as its 2011 "Lie of the Year" a statement that is, at worst, arguably true, Politifact has inadvertently said more about itself and the media's failure to adequately combat the lies and deception that act as a cancer on American democracy.
Politifact's assertion that it is a lie to say "Republicans voted to end Medicare" -- and that this is the most important lie of the year -- suffers from some basic flaws: Republicans did, in fact, vote to end Medicare; and Politifact overlooked actual lies that have had and continue to have a profound and debilitating effect on the nation's attempts to come out of lingering economic troubles.
Politifact's "Lie of the Year" announcement provides little in the way of actual evidence that the claim is a lie, instead referring readers to previous efforts for its substantive case, such as it is. The weakness of Politifact's ruling that the House GOP budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not "end Medicare" can be seen in its April 20, 2011, explanation:
One of the its major features is dramatically restructuring Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for those 65 and older. Right now, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals set fees for the care beneficiaries receive. [...] In 2022 [under the GOP plan] new beneficiaries would receive "premium support," which means they would buy plans from private insurance companies with financial assistance from the government. [...]the Republican plan would be a huge change to the current program, and seniors would have to pay more for their health plans if it becomes law. [...] Both Republicans and Democrats would no doubt agree that Ryan's plan for Medicare is a dramatic change of course. But we don't agree with the ad's contention that the proposal ends Medicare.
So, according to Politifact, the House Republican plan constitutes a "dramatic restructuring" of Medicare, a "huge change to the current program," and a "dramatic change of course" by ending the direct payment of fees for service and replacing it with a voucher program. In its "Lie of the Year" write-up, Politifact again concedes the GOP plan "dramatically changed the program [for people currently under age 55] by privatizing it and providing government subsidies." That's ending Medicare, just as replacing the armed services with government vouchers for private bodyguards would be ending the U.S. military. As Igor Volsky wrote earlier this month, "closing the traditional fee-for-service program, and forcing seniors to enroll in new private coverage, ends Medicare by eliminating everything that has defined the program for the last 46 years."
But Politifact concluded in April that "we don't agree [...] that the proposal ends Medicare." That should set off some alarm bells: As fact-checks go, "we don't agree" is remarkably weak tea. As justification for naming something the "Lie of the Year," it's an embarrassment.
Paul Krugman and Dan Kennedy and Steve Benen and Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias and David Weigel, among countless others, have debunked Politifact's ruling, which holds that as long as something called "Medicare" has something to do with health care for the elderly, it's a lie to say the program has ended, no matter how "dramatic" the "change of course" has been. Even Robert VerBruggen of the conservative National Review has written that Politifact "does not make a good case" and that the Democratic claim does not "rise to the level of 'lie,' much less 'Lie of the Year.'"
The incoherence of Politifact's ruling is driven home by its repeated statements that the claim "end Medicare as we know it" is significantly different from -- and more justifiable than -- the statement "end Medicare." This is nonsensical hair-splitting. Medicare isn't a broad concept; it's a specific, concrete program. Ending it "as we know it" is ending it. Otherwise, ending it would require ending it as we don't know it, which would be a neat trick. (Revealingly, Politifact has been confused by their own hair-splitting: After having declared "as we know it" a crucial qualifier on multiple occasions, they shifted course and claimed "the GOP proposal does not 'end Medicare as we know it.'")
I've been pretty critical of Pat Buchanan over the years, mostly due to his ongoing and enthusiastic bigotry. But despite Buchanan's almost unbelievable dislike of Nelson Mandela and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most remarkable thing about him might be who he praises, not who he hates. Throughout his career, Buchanan has demonstrated a remarkable ability to find something nice to say about the most despicable people imaginable.
Take Adolf Hitler, for example. You could give me all week, and I wouldn't come up with anything good to say about Hitler. But not Pat Buchanan: He's ready to offer praise for Hitler at the drop of a hat. You don't even have to challenge him to do so -- he'll just leap to Hitler's defense on his own.
Then there's John Demjanjuk, convicted earlier this year of complicity in the murder of tens of thousands of Jews while serving at a Nazi death camp. Not many people would defend such a person, but Pat Buchanan has, even employing the discredited arguments of Holocaust deniers in order to do so.
Buchanan's kind words aren't reserved for Nazis, though. He praised Klansman David Duke for his staunch opposition to "discrimination against white folks" -- though Buchanan did get a bit peeved when he concluded that the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan had been "stealing" his ideas.
Then there's Nixon Supreme Court nominee Harrold Carswell, whose outspoken belief in "white supremacy" cost him a seat on the court. Most people wouldn't defend such a man, but Pat Buchanan will.
And just this week, Buchanan argued that Anders Behring Breivik -- the monster who murdered scores of people in Norway last week -- might've had a point.
Again and again, Buchanan has found something to praise or defend about some of the most widely reviled people in history. It's an astonishing track record of providing aid and comfort to mass murderers and white supremacists.
While some people may chafe at the Washington Post's tendency to provide a forum for bigots, uncritically pass along right-wing smears, and publish an opinion section that passes Richard Cohen off as a liberal, it's worth noting that the paper is getting some positive reviews. Here's Newsmax chief Washington correspondent Ronald Kessler:
Besides cutting costs, as outlined in my story Washington Post Has Become a Model for the Media, [publisher Katharine] Weymouth has turned the paper into a fair and balanced publication under Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli. Conservatives have taken notice. Readers now get a report they can trust. That has to be helping to improve circulation.
Given Kessler's praise of the Post as "fair and balanced," you may wonder about his standards for fairness and balance. Well, as it happens, we know what his model is: Fox News.
Looks like the Washington Post's absurd pandering to the likes of Andrew Breitbart is paying off. Must be a proud day in the Post newsroom, to have a right-winger like Ron Kessler praise the Post the same way he praises Fox News.
The Atlantic's Jefferson Morley begins a piece on politicians and baseball with one of the dumber, but more persistent, smears of Hillary Clinton:
More than a few baseball fans scoff when Hillary Clinton pretends to be a Yankee fan.
Unless Hillary Clinton began pretending to be a Yankees fan as a child in Illinois just in case she one day decided to run for Senate from New York, and kept that pretense alive across several decades while living in Arkansas and Washington, DC, she does not "pretend" to be a Yankees fan. She is a Yankees fan.
Jefferson Morley either knows this, in which case he is intentionally misleading his readers, or he does not know this, in which case he is remarkably ignorant of the topic about which he writes.
Of all the bigoted arguments the Washington Post promotes via its On Faith microsite, the most consistently infuriating are John Mark Reynolds' disingenuous attempts to co-opt the language of tolerance and to accuse those whose rights he wishes to limit of trying to impose their values on him.
I've previously noted that Reynolds has used the platform granted him by the Post to accuse gays (and those who believe in the legitimacy of gay relationships) of "the deepest form of sexism," to compare gay rights advocates to racists, call them "the hateful," and refer to support for gay rights as "prejudice."
Despite these nonsensical, up-is-down complaints, the Post keeps inflicting Reynolds upon its readers, and endorsing him as a distinguished panelist engaged in "respectful" and "intelligent" conversation. Reynolds' latest post:
Republican voters must find a candidate who would restore to states the right to ban abortion. We should not have a system where the values of some states are imposed on states that reject them.
[S]tates should be allowed to define marriage as they see fit without forcing the entire nation to embrace the values of the other states.
Reynolds never explains why he thinks states are the appropriate level for codifying values, leaving the reader to conclude that it is simply because he believes they are the level at which he can win. In any case, it's dizzyingly absurd for Reynolds to complain about imposing values on others in the course of arguing in favor of states doing exactly that to their residents. Why is it acceptable -- desirable, even -- for people in one county to "impose" their values on residents of a neighboring county, but unacceptable for the same to happen among states? Reynolds doesn't explain; he simply treats it as a self-evident matter of principle.
To be clear: I don't think the problem is that Reynolds has failed to recognize the inconsistency of his position, or to articulate why state government is the level at which values should be codified in law. I think the problem is that John Mark Reynolds is willing to say things he does not actually believe. See, I doubt John Mark Reynolds actually believes that "states should be allowed to define marriage as they see fit." I find it hard, if not impossible, to believe Reynolds would accept a state's decision to define marriage as a union between two men, or two women, but not between a man and a woman. It seems obvious that Reynolds does not really believe "states should be allowed to define marriage as they see fit" -- and that, instead, he believes states should be allowed to define marriage as he sees fit.
The Post's stated desire to host a respectful and intelligent discussion among people of diverse viewpoints is a laudable goal -- but it isn't served by promoting the disingenuous claims of someone who says supporting gay rights is like sexism and that those who seek marriage equality are imposing their values on those who wish to tell gays they cannot marry.
It's actually kind of impressive how quickly Michael Reagan accelerates from zero to crazy in his latest anti-Obama diatribe.
Under the remarkably unremarkable headline "Obama's So-So Presidential Speech," Reagan begins with a series of run-of-the-mill complaints: The president's Libya speech left viewers "in a state of confusion" and seemed ambiguous about the president's "ultimate goal in Libya." And, of course, there's a boilerplate passage on President Obama's insufficient belief in American "exceptionalism." Then, out of the blue, Reagan suggests America will not "survive intact" the remaining two years of Obama's term:
As I have said previously, Gadhafi must go. But to make that happen in a way that will benefit America, President Obama needs to have a coherent plan, and he must be able to communicate the "big picture" to the American people.
One is forced to wonder if this nation can survive intact for the final two years of his term in office.
In Latin, the word is "oremus" — it means "Let us pray."
Wow. From "so-so presidential speech" to dire warnings of the end of America in fewer than 600 words. Like I said: Michael Reagan needs a vacation. Or at least a nap.
CNN's Erick Erickson on Libya:
Using the same rationale George W. Bush used to go into Iraq, Barack Obama has now gone into Libya.
Erick Erickson, just four sentences later:
Whether you think he lied, was misled, or was right, George W. Bush did make a case to Congress and the American people prior to going into Iraq that Iraq was training Al Qaeda and, given its weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, was an imminent threat to the United States.
Maybe I just missed it, but I don't remember Barack Obama claiming that Libya's weapons of mass destruction constitute an imminent threat to the U.S. I haven't seen any members of his administration warning of a "smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud." The administration and its allies haven't been suggesting that Libya was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks.
So, no, Barack Obama isn't "using the same rationale George W. Bush used to go into Iraq." Erick Erickson is just lying. And he's doing it incompetently -- he can't even make it three paragraphs without accidentally debunking his own nonsense.
When the New York Times reported that General Electric paid no federal taxes -- and in fact claimed a $3 million tax benefit -- on $14.2 billion in worldwide profits, $5.1 billion of which came from operations in the U.S., I figured some conservatives would defend GE's ability to avoid paying taxes on billions of dollars in profits. But I must confess some surprise at one response to the story: Mona Charen's argument that GE's tax-free billions somehow demonstrate that corporate taxes in the U.S. are too high.
a responsible company will seek to minimize costs and maximize profits. That's how companies are able to provide jobs. The corporate rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, among the highest in the industrialized world. Even "spread the wealth around" Barack Obama has recommended reducing it so that some of those dollars (and jobs) currently hiding out abroad can be repatriated.
It takes an impressive amount of audacity to use a column about GE paying no federal income taxes as an opportunity to complain that the corporate tax rate is too high. A more honest column would have noted that the effective corporate tax rate in America is much lower -- after all, Charen was writing about a company that paid no taxes on more than $5 billion in US profits.
Even when Charen grudgingly concedes that there may be reason to be dismayed at GE's ability to avoid taxes, she doesn't seem to think there's any problem, in and of itself, with GE not paying taxes:
The Times is clearly scandalized -- and perhaps it should be. After all, at least some of the tax breaks GE has been able to take advantage of were the result of aggressive lobbying.
This is like complaining that burglars pried open a window, rather than that they stole everything in the house.
I wonder how long someone who claimed in March of 2003 that President Bush had manufactured the Iraq war in order to win re-election would have remained employed as a CNN contributor?
While you think about that, check out current CNN contributor Erick Erickson's "working theory on Obama in Libya":
There is not in any way, shape, or form any rational explanation for the United States engaged in Libya to do nothing except for one I can think of — Barack Obama's re-election.
Suddenly Obama can look Presidential again — all through manufacturing the need for American involvement where there was no need. Barack Obama wants to be re-elected. The best playbook for his re-election is that of Bill Clinton. But Clinton had a government shutdown and Kosovo. In the absence of either, Barack Obama must manufacture them.
And he has.
Hey, it's just a theory.
During the March 21st broadcast of his radio show, Erickson elaborated: "Is Barack Obama trying to get in good with defense contractors before the 2012 election?"
Here's another Erickson theory about Libya, also from the his March 21 radio show:
ERICKSON: By the way, it's the women's fault. … It's, apparently, the women in the Obama administration who have decided we needed to go to war in Libya. … This is typical. This is so typ-- i'm mean, I'm going to bring my inner sexist out I'm afraid tonight, some of you are going to be very upset with me. But this is like women drivers. We're going to war in Libya, we have no plan, we have no map, even if we have a map of war, um, it wasn't going to get read, they were going to pull over and ask the French apparently for help, or at least make the guy pull over and ask the French for help. This is crazy.
ERICKSON: This is just silly. I mean, back-seat driving by the women, and they're gonna get Barack Obama lost. What is it with Barack Obama caving to the women? I mean, now we know who rules his personal life. I guess Michelle is firmly in charge as well, if Barack Obama is going to cave that easy to three women in his administration over what to do with Libya.
And even more:
ERICKSON: It took the women to get him involved, and the women apparently went in without a clear plan. No shopping list.
Remember: CNN hired this third-rate Limbaugh-wannabe to be a contributor, and used him as an analyst for its State of the Union coverage.
Townhall Finance Editor John Ransom is the latest right-wing media figure to compare labor unions to terrorists:
That wasn't merely an overheated headline: Ransom reiterated the comparison in the body of his post:
If they can't get what they want at the negotiating table, the UAW will now try the economic equivalent of a suicide bombing of the economy. Never mind that they already destroyed the US automakers and their employees.