Mailbag: Lie of the Year edition

Falsehoods about Ebola are PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year. (Reuters)
Falsehoods about Ebola are PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year. (Reuters)

We found a few complaints about our choice for Lie of the Year -- which we awarded to exaggerations about Ebola -- but a number of national media commentators applauded our choice, including Doyle Mcmanus of the Los Angeles Times and Timothy Egan of the New York Times, and other outlets noted it approvingly, including Mediaite.

Here’s a sampling of recent reactions to the 2014 Lie of the Year.

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Noah C. Rothman at the conservative blog Hot Air took issue with our Lie of the Year choice.

"Some of these assertions (that collectively earned the Lie of the Year) were misleading, but PolitiFact’s central thesis – ‘when combined, the claims edged the nation toward panic’ – is unfalsifiable. In the absence of any questioning of the federal response to the Ebola epidemic, an unlikely prospect given the government’s poor performance, PolitiFact cannot prove there would have been no broader apprehension about the deadly African hemorrhagic fever. In fact, to make that claim would be laughable.

"In response to Ebola, Sierra Leone literally canceled Christmas. In Britain, returning health care workers who may have had contact with an Ebola patient will have a lonely holiday as well. They will be forced by government mandate to isolate themselves for the duration of the 21-day incubation period, despite the protestations of health care workers. If Ebola ‘panic’ exists, it is certainly not limited to America and is not the fault of exclusively conservative lawmakers. … PolitiFact embarrassed itself again today, but I guess that’s hardly news."

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Meanwhile, on the liberal side of the spectrum, the Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins agreed with much of our analysis but argued that we let the real villains -- cable news -- off easy.

"The actual culprit behind the Great Ebola Lie: a media -- especially a cable news media -- that went out of their way to amplify whatever Ebola nonsense came along. If anything, the media gets off very lightly in PolitiFact's retelling of the Ebola scare. But make no mistake, it was the media that turned ‘being obviously wrong about Ebola’ into an airborne, infectious disease. Without them, this is a story about isolated idiots being incorrect in the privacy of their own homes.

"It's a pity that this only gets glancing mention in PolitiFact's round-up, but that's probably the nature of things. PolitiFact exists to police what is true and what is not on a case-by-case basis, not necessarily to criticize the means by which wrongness becomes transmissible. And taken as a whole, our brief interaction with Ebola in 2014 did feel like we were swimming upstream in a river of misinformation -- and we're lucky that we didn't pay a higher price for being so misinformed. Still, it's strangely unsatisfying to have a ‘Lie Of The Year,’ that points its harshest finger at the idiots and the dupes, and not at an actual liar."

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Brian Darling, senior communications director for Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., wrote to criticize our inclusion of Paul’s claims that Ebola is "incredibly contagious," "very transmissible" and "easy to catch," which we rated Mostly False when we originally looked at it.

"Sen. Paul’s statement was based in fact. Ebola is ‘incredibly contagious' as evidenced by the fact that workers need masks, goggles, gowns, gloves and a chlorine bath when treating people thought to be infected with the virus. The fact that people are supposed to stay three feet away from infected individuals is something recommended by the CDC. PolitiFact deserves a ‘Pants on Fire’ for lumping in Sen. Paul with those other pronouncements."

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Other readers argued that presidential falsehoods would have been more appropriate selections for Lie of the Year, given the gravity of the White House podium. Obama was the recipient of the 2013 Lie of the Year for his claim that under his health care law, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

One reader said we should have chosen a presidential claim about Obama’s ability to overhaul immigration. A related claim was one of two by Obama that made our list of 10 Lie of the Year finalists -- that "my position hasn’t changed" on using executive authority to address immigration issues. (We rated it False.)

"In terms of lies with large impact on large amounts of people, this is the Lie of the Year, hands down. To award it to anything else smacks of pure politics."

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Another reader touted Obama’s claim that his prior comment about extremists being a JV team "wasn’t specifically referring to" Islamic State. This was also a Lie of the Year finalist and earned a rating of False.

"I respect a significant portion of your work, but this is a real weak and surprising decision. … My own view is that if a president tells a significant lie, you really need a powerful alternative to go somewhere else. … The claim about ISIS being a JV team would have been a much better call.  The president made a big mistake and then lied bald-facedly about it."

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We did receive one email from a reader who had recently been to Ebola-wracked Sierra Leone and appreciated our efforts to dispel myths about the virus.

"One area you didn’t touch on, perhaps appropriately, was the related one of fake cures. Bitter kola, blessed salt, nano silver/colloidal silver, homeopathic medicine (with rattlesnake venom), essential oils, food supplements, ozone therapy and the like are all being touted as cures, and sometimes as cure-alls for every conceivable disease. Most of them appear to originate in the U.S."