A look back at PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year

Who will win PolitiFact's Lie of the Year?
Who will win PolitiFact's Lie of the Year?

Today at 4 p.m. ET, we’ll announce PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year for 2014. So it seems like a good time to look back at the past five years of "winners." PolitiFact’s editors and reporters award the Lie of the Year to the most significant falsehood or exaggeration of the past 12 months.

2013: 'If you like your health care plan, you can keep it'

This statement was said by President Barack Obama and other Democrats when talking about the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The statement was most often made when the legislation was being drafted in 2009; it was definitively proved wrong in the fall of 2013 when people started getting cancellation notices.

From our story:

Boiling down the complicated health care law to a soundbite proved treacherous, even for its promoter-in-chief. Obama and his team made matters worse, suggesting they had been misunderstood all along. The stunning political uproar led to this: a rare presidential apology. …

Obama’s ideas on health care were first offered as general outlines then grew into specific legislation over the course of his presidency. Yet Obama never adjusted his rhetoric to give people a more accurate sense of the law’s real-world repercussions, even as fact-checkers flagged his statements as exaggerated at best.

Instead, he fought back against inaccurate attacks with his own oversimplifications, which he repeated even as it became clear his promise was too sweeping.

2012: Mitt Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China

During the 2012 presidential campaign, the campaign for Mitt Romney unleashed an ad in the critical swing state of Ohio suggesting that Jeep was pulling out of Ohio for China. But the Ohio Jeep plants were going about business as usual; the moves in China were to expand into the Chinese auto market.

From our story:

It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep's parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.

And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.

2011: 'Republicans voted to end Medicare'

Democrats pounded Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives for voting for a conservative, cost-cutting budget resolution promoted by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who would go on to serve as Romney’s runningmate in 2012. Ryan never proposed ending Medicare; instead he wanted to bring more private insurers into the program. Democrats later modified their talking point to say Republicans wanted to end Medicare "as we know it."

From our story:

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, head of the DCCC, appeared on cable news shows and declared that Republicans voted to "terminate Medicare." A Web video from the Agenda Project, a liberal group, said the plan would leave the country "without Medicare" and showed a Ryan look-alike pushing an old woman in a wheelchair off a cliff. And just last month, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent a fundraising appeal that said: "House Republicans’ vote to end Medicare is a shameful act of betrayal."

After two years of being pounded by Republicans with often false charges about the 2010 health care law, the Democrats were turning the tables.

PolitiFact debunked the Medicare charge in nine separate fact-checks rated False or Pants on Fire, most often in attacks leveled against Republican House members.

2010:  'A government takeover of health care'

While the health care law was being finalized, Republicans couldn’t stop repeating their mantra that the law was a government takeover of health care. It wasn’t.

From our story:

"Government takeover" conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market:

• Employers will continue to provide health insurance to the majority of Americans through private insurance companies.

• Contrary to the claim, more people will get private health coverage. The law sets up "exchanges" where private insurers will compete to provide coverage to people who don't have it.

• The government will not seize control of hospitals or nationalize doctors.

• The law does not include the public option, a government-run insurance plan that would have competed with private insurers.

• The law gives tax credits to people who have difficulty affording insurance, so they can buy their coverage from private providers on the exchange. But here too, the approach relies on a free market with regulations, not socialized medicine.

2009: 'Death panels'

This claim was first made by Sarah Palin but repeated by others often: that the health care law included "death panels."

Palin, the former GOP vice presidential nominee,  put it this way on her Facebook page: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's ‘death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."

It wasn’t hard to fact-check. There were no death panels in the law. But the words drove debate anyway.

From our story:

Two independent polls showed that about 30 percent of the public believed death panels were part of health care reform, both the week after Palin made the comment and a month later.

Yet seniors were no more likely to believe it than other age groups. The polls showed a closer correlation by party, with Republicans more likely to say that death panels were part of the plans pending in Congress. It's not clear whether Palin's comments swayed anyone who was undecided or unsure about health care reform.

"It touched a nerve of anxiety, and then there was a big response from the press and from experts that assured people that euthanasia wasn't anywhere near this debate," said Robert Blendon, a Harvard University researcher who studies public opinion on health care. "Most people, at the end of the day, did not believe it was being proposed."