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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of March 6-12

This week, readers sent us more letters about Democrats’ claims that Republicans want to “end Medicare,” and the difference between “lies” and “whoppers.”

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


‘End Medicare’ Claims, Again

I follow you guys religiously, and ordinarily love what you do, but I am amazed that you are doubling down on your claim that the Ryan proposal does not “end Medicare” as we know it [“Democrats’ ‘End Medicare’ Whopper, Again,” March 6].

Of course, there will still be a program CALLED Medicare, but regardless of all the “ifs” and “buts,” the stark fact is that the Ryan proposal changes Medicare from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution “support” program that will surely increase costs for those 55 and under. This business of assuring us “seniors” that we will not be affected seems to callously assume that we are not concerned about the next generation. I am astonished that you include that in your analysis.

“Fixes” are necessary and are available, and I do chastise many of the Democrats for opposing them. But they can, and should, occur within the present defined benefits program. Otherwise, we are opening the door to the predators on the one hand, and the Social Darwinists on the other.

Would you be happier if “as we know it” was tagged on to each statement declaring the proposals to be the “end of Medicare”?

Burton Klinger
North Greenbush, N.Y.

FactCheck.org responds: It would be better to qualify any such claim with the words “as we know it,” which is literally true. Strictly speaking, any change to the current system, however slight, would “end” Medicare “as we know it” now. But we would still object strongly when such claims are used in television ads featuring images of persons who are clearly too old to be affected, and sometimes even accompanied by ominous music and sound effects. These are designed to frighten seniors into thinking that their benefits were targeted, which is false.

It would be perfectly legitimate to show 50-something workers worrying that their future Medicare benefits might not be adequate. But claiming that Medicare would “end” — especially for today’s seniors — is wrong. The debate is not over whether Medicare will exist, but in what form. Such “end Medicare” ads simply poison that public debate, for crass political ends.


‘Whoppers’ and ‘Lies’

Thanks for your wonderful site!

I’m writing because it has occasionally been mentioned on the site that you avoid the word “lie.” For example, in response to a message in the latest mailbag [“FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Feb. 28 – March 5], you write:

We also generally avoid labeling any false statement as a “lie,” for two reasons. First, we think of a “lie” as a false statement that is made deliberately, and with knowledge that it is false. … The second reason is that the word “lie” carries a great deal of emotional freight. …

I think these are excellent reasons. But you very often use the term “whopper,” which to me carries these same connotations. The following are definitions of “whopper” from various dictionaries:

  • a gross untruth
  • a big lie
  • a gross untruth; a blatant lie
  • a lie
  • an extravagant or monstrous lie
  • anything uncommonly large: applied particularly to a monstrous lie.
  • a gross or blatant lie
  • a great lie

Especially since “whopper” is such an informal word, I can readily believe that it might have different connotations to different people in different places. You clearly find it more palatable than “lie,” but I think that many people will understand it differently from how you intend it. So, in my opinion, you should avoid it, for the same reasons that you avoid “lie.”

Ran Ari-Gur
Solon, Ohio

FactCheck.org responds: We agree that we are dealing with fine shades of meaning, and it’s possible that some may not read “whopper” to mean what we intend. So we welcome this opportunity to make our intentions clear.

We use “whopper” in the sense of “a gross untruth,” the first definition you cited. In our judgment, most readers take the word to mean something between a deliberate “lie” and a fanciful “tall tale.” We don’t believe the term “whopper” necessarily impugns the personal character of the person responsible in the way that words like “lie” and “liar” do. And we reserve it generally for those false statements that are particularly extravagant or constantly repeated.