Sunday, December 21st, 2014

The most interesting reactions to the 2013 Lie of the Year

We awarded the 2013 Lie of the Year to "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it."

Updated on Thursday, December 19th, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

Last week, we unveiled our 2013 Lie of the Year, President Barack Obama’s statement, "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it," making the announcement live on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and simultaneously publishing an in-depth story on our website.

The reaction was virtually instantaneous. Both @politifact and #LieoftheYear began trending on Twitter in Washington.

On the right, the Republican National Committee asked supporters to "Retweet if you agree w/ @PolitiFact that @BarackObama’s "Keep your plan" promise was the biggest #LieOfTheYear." The GOP in Gwinnett County, Ga., opined, "For once we agree with @politifact." The National Republican Senatorial Committee "congratulated" Obama and linked him with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., who’s in a tight race for re-election. (It also created a fake instagram photo of Obama holding an award certificate.) In New Hampshire, the Republican state committee whacked Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for making similar claims.

In the days after we unveiled the selection, the RNC went so far as to have trophies made and delivered to Democratic lawmakers who had repeated Obama's line. The website BuzzFeed pointed out that the trophies were made in China.

A report from the National Journal, meanwhile, noted that Republicans seem to have changed their minds about PolitiFact, considering we gave past Lie of the Year awards to GOP lines about "death panels" (2009) and the health care law being "a government takeover of health care" (2010).

"Today, however, Republicans suddenly find PolitiFact's ratings credible and worthy of using as a cudgel against Democrats," wrote Alex Seitz-Wald. "Is PolitiFact still in the tank for Obama if it calls him the year's biggest liar?"

Some conservatives still complained about our work, saying either the decision was too little, too late or I told you so. Many complained that we weren’t revising our ratings from 2009 and again in 2012, when we rated Obama’s statement Half True.  "Where were you when it mattered?" asked @mesquito84 on Twitter.  

We had defenders on Twitter, too, like David Podhaskie, a legal editor. "Maybe people are getting mad at @Politifact because they haven't actually read their entries on Obamacare?" He linked to a few. "If a fact-checking site is making both sides mad, it's doing its job." Another reader pointed out that Half True isn't a positive rating, tweeting that Benjamin Franklin said that half a truth is often a great lie. (Did Franklin really say that? Yes, he did!)

Journalists used the Lie of the Year designation to hold administration officials to account. When asked if Obama was concerned about the selection, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "You know, end-of-the-year categorizations like that are always fun even when they don't jibe with past characterizations of the very same statement." U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, on the other hand, said nothing.

In print, the Lie of the Year was on front pages of the Tampa Bay Times, the Miami Herald, the Wisconsin Journal Constitution and the Austin American-Statesman. It was featured in a Gary Varvel editorial cartoon in the Indianapolis Star.

On TV, the Lie of the Year was the peg for The Late Show with David Letterman’s own Top 10 Lies of the Year list, with entries such as "I am a Congressman, of course I’ve read the Constitution!" and "Yes, I am a trained sign language interpreter."

On Fox News, our announcement was the breaking news lead for Fox New's The Kelly File. Also on Fox, Juan Williams called us "a clearly credible source" that does "a good job," while Rich Lowry of National Review called our selection "a very good choice for Lie of the Year."

From the left, Ed Schultz of MSNBC’s The Ed Show, called us pretenders in a segment called, "Correcting the politi-junk and lies of 2013," adding that we were more like "PolitiFrauds." Over at the website Daily Kos, Joan McCarter said our Half True rating showed the selection was a cave to conservative pressure. "What exactly has changed in the past year, other than a Republican-fed media frenzy? Nothing. And nothing has changed with PolitiFact either, which is still picking and choosing its own ‘facts,’ " she wrote.        

Other Democrats declined to defend the old talking point. "It was a terrible mistake for him to say what he did," former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said on ABC News’ This Week.

At the Mother Jones website, Kevin Drum said the choice made sense because none of the other Lie of the Year finalists were as notable. Runners-up included false claims about Congress being exempt from the health care law and the Internal Revenue Service keeping a database of health care secrets.

"With competition like that, is there really any doubt that a very big, very public, very broken promise from the president of the United States would end up the winner?" he asked.