PolitiFact Announces 2010 Lie Of The Year

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PolitiFact.com rates the accuracy of political ads and comments by politicians. Editor Bill Adair talks to Steve Inskeep about the biggest lie of the year. Adair says it is the claim that the Democratic health care law is a government takeover of health care.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

One more time, before the end of this year we're going to hear from Bill Adair, who makes it his entire business to check facts. Adair runs PolitiFact.com. All through the year he has rated dubious or downright false statements by Democrats and Republicans alike, and now PolitiFact has named what it calls the lie if the year. Bill's back in our studios.

Bill, welcome once again.

Mr. BILL ADAIR (Editor, PolitiFact.com): Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Before we get to the dramatic lie of the year, let's talk about some of the political finalists here. Charles Rangel, Democrat of New York. I was surprised to see from your list here that he was exonerated on ethics charges.

Mr. ADAIR: This was quite a whopper. He said back in February that the report at that point, which was a preliminary report, had exonerated him. And we read the report. That just wasn't even close. We rated that Pants on Fire.

INSKEEP: This was an ethics investigation and they did find serious trouble with Rangel even then, and more trouble was to come.

Mr. ADAIR: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Okay. So that's one finalist. There was another one here. Michele Bachmann, another member of the House of Representatives. She is a Republican. What did she do to become a finalist on your list?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, she made a claim that Obama's trip to India - this was before he took it - was going to cost taxpayers $200 million a day, and there just was nothing to back that up. She pointed us to a - anonymous quote in a newspaper in India and we rated that False on our Truth-O-Meter.

INSKEEP: You also checked a claim made by Democrats all year long, numerous Democrats, having to do with Social Security. What was that claim?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, this was a big line from the Democrats, that Republicans want to privatize Social Security or dismantle Social Security. In some cases we found some truth to it. Indeed some Republican candidates do support a plan to privatize eventually, even if protecting current seniors.

But in many cases we found there was nothing to support it and they were really stretching the truth.

INSKEEP: And let's listen to one of the ads from the fall campaign.

(Soundbite of ad)

Unidentified Man #1: Some things are just bad ideas.

(Soundbite of explosion)

Unidentified Man #1: Whoa. Politician Reid Ribble has a worse idea. Ribble wants to phase out Social Security.

INSKEEP: Okay, Bill Adair. So those are some of the finalists for lie of the year as chosen by PolitiFact.com. Here we go. The drama is intense. What, in your view, is the lie of the year?

Mr. ADAIR: The claim that the Democratic healthcare law is a government takeover of healthcare.

INSKEEP: What's wrong with that?

Mr. ADAIR: Well, it's just ridiculously false. The plan relies on private insurance companies, and in fact private insurance companies are actually going to end up with more business because of the law, and yet it was a refrain we heard again and again. It was definitely the most pervasive falsehood of the year.

INSKEEP: Let's hear that phrase as used again and again in different ways by various politicians this year.

Unidentified Man #2: People don't want a government takeover of healthcare.

Unidentified Woman: Cradle to grave government takeover of the...

Unidentified Man #3: ...the government takeover, just as they are with other aspects of our economy.

INSKEEP: And let's clarify here. You can say that this is a dumb law, that it doesn't work, that it's going to cost more than the president claims. You can say that it increases government regulation. You can even say, as a federal judge did this week, that part of it is unconstitutional.

You're specifically saying, though, that it's wrong to say it's government takeover.

Mr. ADAIR: Exactly. There's no question that it increases government regulation. There's no question, as you said, that there is a mandate for individuals to have health coverage. But the phrase government takeover suggests a Canadian or a British-style system where the government runs the hospitals, employs the doctors. And of course that's the intent here.

The intent is to scare people about it and to make them think that the healthcare system is going to become this big bureaucracy. And that's not to say it's not that way now.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

Mr. ADAIR: But it is not going to be a government takeover.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about a refinement of this argument. We interviewed earlier this year Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was a fierce opponent of the healthcare law, and he referred to a government program, and we asked him to clarify what he meant. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of archived recording)

Governor RICK PERRY: (Governor, Texas): Forcing us all to buy health insurance from, you know, a Washington-devised program is - is faulty on its face and I think unconstitutional as well.

INSKEEP: Oh, you're referring to the healthcare law which eventually will require just about everybody to buy health insurance, most likely from a private company, correct?

Gov. PERRY: Yes. And I think it's set up to fail. The private companies will end up not being able to make a profit, and they will fail and the government will take over. I mean, I think that's the that's the template.

INSKEEP: Seems to be acknowledging it's not a government takeover, but he's making the slippery slope argument here.

Mr. ADAIR: And the slippery slope argument is a perfectly legitimate opinion. But what happened here was it became a shorthand, and that's where it became inaccurate.

INSKEEP: Bill Adair of PolitiFact.com, thanks for coming by all year long.

Mr. ADAIR: Thanks, Steve.

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