Politics & Policy


The website PolitiFact is going to be truth-squadding the Republican convention speakers this week, delivering verdicts on which claims are “mostly true” and which deserve a “pants on fire” rating. Our advice: Pay no attention to those ratings. PolitiFact can’t be trusted to get the story right.

Its recent rulings on Medicare have demonstrated the point thrice over. PolitiFact said that Romney’s comment that Obama had “robbed” Medicare of $716 billion to pay for Obamacare was “mostly false.” Among its reasons: “The money was not robbed in any literal sense of the word.” So if Romney led anyone to believe that Obama had held Medicare at gunpoint and ordered it to hand over its wallet, they can now rest easy, because PolitiFact is on the case.

PolitiFact’s other arguments are that Medicare spending will continue to rise and that Obama’s spending reductions are “mainly aimed at insurers and hospitals, not beneficiaries.” Leave aside the economic naïveté of that argument, and focus instead on the irrelevance. Romney said that Obama had taken money that was going to be spent on Medicare and instead spend it on Obamacare, and suggested that this was a bad thing. In other words: an absolutely true claim, and an opinion based on it. If PolitiFact disagrees with that opinion, let it publish its views under a different name.

PolitiFact zinged Paul Ryan (“mostly false”) for saying that Obama “puts a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats in charge of Medicare who are required to cut Medicare in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.” Those bureaucrats aren’t “unaccountable,” says PolitiFact, because they can be removed for “malfeasance in office” — which obviously isn’t what Ryan was getting at. “Their recommendations can be rejected by Congress,” it continues. Sure. But their recommendations can also become law without any congressional action: a process that can reasonably be described as lacking the accountability some people find worthwhile in lawmaking. PolitiFact complains as well about “bureaucrats”: “They become members of the bureaucracy by definition once they join the board. But they won’t all start that way.”

Confronted with a real falsehood, however, PolitiFact gets soft. An Obama ad had claimed that Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan could raise costs for senior citizens by $6,400 — and PolitiFact rated it “mostly true,” and then backed down to “half true.” It is wholly false. Ryan’s most recent plan was designed so that seniors will never have to pay more for Medicare than they would under Obama’s budgets. PolitiFact claims that Obama is giving an accurate characterization of an older version of Ryan’s plan. It justifies Obama’s attack on this outdated plan because the Congressional Budget Office has not evaluated the new one. Yet no evaluation by the CBO is needed to reject Obama’s attack. Ryan’s plan guarantees that seniors would always have at least one insurance option that will cost them no more than Medicare does, and at least one option that will leave them ahead.

PolitiFact sometimes rates Democratic claims as false and Republican ones as true, and Republicans on those occasions are often tempted to cite the organization in their defense. They should resist the temptation, or at least preface any comment with an acknowledgment of PolitiFact’s limited credibility. (As in, “Even PolitiFact saw through the latest Obama ad.”)

PolitiFact has just introduced a new “Settle It!” app which it calls, with amazing gall, an “argument ender.” Maybe it’s liberal bias that explains PolitiFact’s blown calls. Whatever the reason, it is no good at distinguishing between truth and falsehood, which is to say at its professed mission. It should therefore give itself a “pants on fire” rating and shut itself down. 


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