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FactCheck Mailbag, Dec. 27 – Jan. 2

During our break for the holidays, readers sent us their objections to our year-end “whoppers” article.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.


Whoppers Feedback

I’ve unsubscribed from your mailing list, and I wanted to express my reason. Your sense of “balance” has troubled me almost from the beginning, particularly your tendency to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt when you could find any wiggle room to do so, while holding Democrats to a higher (the correct) standard. Today’s “fair and balanced” round-up of 2011 whoppers [“The Whoppers of 2011,” Dec. 20] was just beyond the pale, with its forced (and patently false) equivalence between left and right.

It’s not a secret that the lies are bigger, bolder, and far more numerous on one side than on the other. It’s not necessarily your job to point this out, but you shouldn’t be using editorial manipulation to cover it up, either. Your assertion that phasing out the current Medicare program and replacing it with a voucher system that will also be called “Medicare” is somehow different than “ending” Medicare, is a juvenile position you should be ashamed to have twisted yourself into.

Imagine making that same argument if all the facts were the same except that the voucher system wouldn’t be called Medicare. You didn’t even mention the fact that “ending Medicare” is a popular idea among Republican legislators, an important piece of context, and the sort of thing you would certainly have included if you were talking about Democrats. But I suppose you had cover on that one from PolitiFact.

Dan Barnes
Thousand Oaks, Calif.


Your citation of Democratic claims that Republicans voted to end Medicare as one of the “Whoppers” of 2011 is really more of a partisan spin than a “fact check.”

You can — and should — cite exaggerations with parts of the claim — yes, the Republican plan would only have ended Medicare for those currently under 55, and yes, it would have replaced Medicare with an (entirely different) “Obamacare”-type private insurance scheme. But it most certainly would have eventually ended Medicare.

I am not a Democrat, but it seems to me that you increasingly measure Democratic claims by the standard of Republican spin, not by the facts, as you did in this case.

Holle Conley
New York, N.Y.

I found it disgusting that your organization would claim “Republicans aren’t proposing to ‘end’ Medicare.” Vouchers dispensed to future seniors to obtain health care will not keep pace with ever rising health care costs. The current system covers fees for services rendered for all eligible participants. There’s no guarantee of this type of coverage in the future, and therefore, Republicans ARE proposing to “end” Medicare as it has been known over the decades.

I find it reprehensible that your organization included this item as a whopper of 2011, and your having done so will only add more muddle to the health care discussion than the Republicans have already. Also, this only gives the Republicans your official imprimatur of this being a whopper told by Democrats.


Dennis Freeman
Carmel, Ind.

FactCheck.org responds: We received many angry messages like these, mostly inspired by a blog post by liberal columnist Paul Krugman of the New York Times, and a follow-up piece heavily promoted by the Huffington Post and other liberal and partisan advocates. Those attacked our friends at PolitiFact.com for choosing the “end Medicare” claim as the “lie of the year” for 2011. Acting independently, we had already written up the same claim as one of several “Whoppers of 2011” for a year-end article we posted that morning.

We’ve read and considered these complaints, and it has not changed our judgment. Democrats who claim that the House-passed plan to alter Medicare would “end” it are on a par with Republicans who claim that the new health care law constitutes a “government takeover” of health care. And when these claims appear in TV ads and campaign material targeting senior citizens, they are simply trying to frighten those voters into thinking that their benefits could be taken away (in the case of Democrats) or rationed (in the case of Republicans). It’s our core mission to hold politicians accountable for precisely those kinds of crass political deceptions.

In support, we’ll just quote a little of what another liberal blogger, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones magazine, said about this:

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, Dec. 20: [Were Democrats] justified in describing the Ryan plan as “ending” Medicare? I know we all have our tribal loyalties here, but come on. There’s no question that this is intended to mislead people into thinking that medical coverage for seniors will literally go away entirely. But it wouldn’t.

… Democrats shouldn’t say that Ryan’s plan “ends” Medicare. It doesn’t, and there are plenty of short, punchy ways of making the same point more accurately.

We couldn’t say it any better.

One more thing: We differ with PolitiFact to this extent; we seldom use the word “lie.” It’s inflammatory, presumes bad motives, and gets in the way of rational discussion. Usually it’s enough to say a claim is “false.”

We also don’t attempt to single out one false claim as the worst of the year. People can have honest differences of opinion about the importance of any false claim, even if all agree that it’s not true. That’s why we present a selection of “Whoppers” in our annual year-end wrap-up, and leave judgments about which is worst to our readers.