PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking project from the St. Petersburg Times, has selected their “Lie of the Year” from the hundreds that are dispensed annually by politicians and pundits. It must have been a grueling exercise, but their selection is more than deserving.
“PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections.”
The folks at PolitiFact cited several examples of this lie’s use by prominent by public figures and documented the basis for their decision. The phrase was coined by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and adopted by the Republican Party and conservative lobbying groups and think tanks like FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation.
The one criticism I have with PolitiFact’s analysis is that it doesn’t give sufficient blame to the media in general and Fox News in particular. Fox News acted as the PR agency for promoting this flagrant lie. There was even a leaked memo from Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor, that instructed Fox producers and reporters to refrain from using the more neutral “public option” in favor of “government-run.” So this lie, which was certainly on the lips of Republican politicians, was company policy at Fox News.
PolitiFact did report that the media had participated in disseminating the lie. However, they said that “an accurate tally was unfeasible because it had been repeated so frequently in so many places.” Did its use by Fox overload the PolitFact database servers? The report then went on to cite examples such as 79 occurrences of its use on CNN. Seeing as how Fox News incorporated the lie into their style guide, it would have been helpful to get an estimate of its use on that network. Suffice to say that it probably went into the hundreds, if not thousands.
In defense of PolitiFact, if they were to document every lie that is told on Fox News they would have to recruit an army of researchers that would rival the U.S. Infantry.