Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Mailbag: Lie of the Year Readers' Poll edition

More than 14,000 people voted in our 2013 Lie of the Year Readers' Poll.
More than 14,000 people voted in our 2013 Lie of the Year Readers' Poll.

Now in its fifth incarnation, our "Lie of the Year" continues to gain popularity among our readers. This year, we received more votes and comments on our annual poll than ever before.

And while a lot of you commented on our winner -- "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" -- we also got comments on other entries that were thoughtful, perceptive and judicious. More than a few made us laugh.

One reader, for example, voted for the claim by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that the IRS will keep a database of Americans’ health secrets. Bachmann has announced she will not run for re-election in 2014, and the reader thought that merited special consideration: "Michele Bachmann should go out a winner."

Partisan divides

Many readers noted that eight of the 10 fact-checks on our ballot were from Republican lawmakers, conservative pundits or the right-wing blogosphere. Some of our right-of-center readers took issue with that.

"The interesting part is you really believe you are bipartisan," one wrote.

But a few of our lefty readers noticed the same numbers and got upset as well.

"The panel that chose these statements to be voted on was either incredibly stupid or deliberately devious. There are six separate misstatements from Republicans regarding the (Affordable Care Act), but only one from a Democrat. Thus, Democrats are likely to distribute their votes across the six, while every last Republican will choose the one. And wow — look at that — the Democratic statement got the most votes."

We’ll note here that President Obama’s "If you like your health care plan" comment received 59 percent of the vote. Meaning, even if we hadn’t "stacked the deck," as some readers alleged, his claim likely would have still finished on top.

And then there are those who felt we should have presented a more balanced ballot for other reasons: "Are you watching the same politicians? One thing in D.C. is bipartisan lying is 50/50."

Health care fact-checks

Several astute readers picked up on a trend toward health-related claims. "Seven out of 10 statements relating to Obamacare," a reader wrote. "That is a statement in itself."

One of the most egregious of those claims was a chain email that claimed Muslims were exempt from Obamacare. We rated that a Pants on Fire and our readers took particular issue with it.

"Muslims are exempt? That's both hilarious and false. Sounds like someone wanted to call the president a Muslim again, as if it's some sort of insult."

"I voted for ‘Muslims are exempt from Obamacare’ because this statement is just pure fear and hate mongering. I am sick of it.  Let's move on."

But many people said it shouldn’t have made the list, along with another Internet-based claim that Obamacare will result in home inspections, because they come from less accountable and unreliable sources.

"If someone believes the ‘facts’ of a chain email, then please send me your email address. I know this Nigerian prince who would like your help with a financial transaction."

Genocide, the NSA

Some readers voted for a statement from Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who claimed the U.S. "never stood by and seen innocent people slaughtered" to justify a military strike on Syria. We rated that Pants on Fire. There were many passionate replies that invoked Darfur and other global atrocities.

"Darfur leapt to mind," said one voter who picked Chambliss’ comment. "We don't mind genocide in Africa. As a white person in America, I know the lies we tell ourselves are the most dangerous, and many of them are about race."

Similarly, Obama’s claim that the NSA is transparent (Pants on Fire) generated animosity from civil liberty advocates.

"At least ‘If you like your health care, you can keep it’ stemmed from a half-truth, and anyone understanding the bill could have seen it coming. But the FISA courts being transparent? Shadow courts that give rubber stamps to covert actions and secret agencies are transparent? The president should enter a poker tournament with bluffing skills like that. Heck, he could use the winnings to pay down the debt!"

Zombie claims

Other readers picked claims that they were tired of seeing promoted as talking points.

"‘Congress is exempt from Obamacare’ is definitely the lie of the year because it just. won't. die!"

"This lie (‘The United Nations is coming for your guns’) gets my vote because of its longevity; I first heard it back in the mid-60s. It's also so absurd given the generally toothless nature of the U.N."

Dozens of readers mocked the absurdity of conservative pundit Ann Coulter’s claim that "No doctors who went to an American medical school will be accepting Obamacare."

"Ann Coulter has no journalistic credibility whatsoever. Giving her this award will make this official."

But others had a more personal beef with her statement.

"I have an exceptional gripe with this statement given I will be graduating from an American medical school this year, and the number of falsehoods about the ACA on both sides has been quite staggering.  I find myself confused from this bill and also find the patients I've spoken with are both quite confused and quite convinced of these falsehoods that are spread.  I appreciate your methods of establishing the background for how to understand the various statements that politicians or pundits make.  Thanks for working hard to educate all of us!"

Words of praise

Easily, one of the most common threads was how difficult it was to vote for just one. Some folks asked PolitiFact to allow readers to rank the options or send in a list of their top three.

"I have been reading your page for the last few years, and I will say this is the most difficult year to choose Lie of the Year."

Finally, we appreciate your thanks, along with the many kind notes we received from readers — and the witty ways they expressed them.

"Thank all of you for your work. I know you must have a lot of fun sometimes with these, but it is still work."

"Thank you for holding both parties accountable for their words. I wish you guys had a TV show!"

"If you repeat a lie often enough to a large enough audience, pretty soon the lie will become common wisdom. PolitiFact plays such an important role in bringing the truth to light. Thank you all."