What Politifact is, really, is just a blog written by some people at the St. Petersburg Times. But since it calls itself Politifact and assigns ratings that you can just glance over, it undeservedly becomes a irresistible cudgel to use against your political opponents. Politifact! It’s a portmanteau of “politics” and “facts,” so it can’t be wrong. And it just labeled your top party message “PANTS ON FIRE,” the worst rating imaginable! Too many writers, editors and cable news producers love these easily digestible judgments that they can use, cheaply, when pretending to inform their audiences. And I’d bet top dollar that when Krugman or Benen see Politifact label the next major right wing myth “PANTS ON FIRE,” they’ll forget all about today’s unforgivable crime and tell their readers, Look what Politifact said — PANTS ON FIRE!
This is why I stopped citing Politifact altogether this year, even on the numerous occasions when I think they’re right. Why should St. Petersburg Times bloggers’ opinions — no offense to them! — carry authoritative power to make final judgments? They’re imperfect humans who fact-check political claims, just like every other asshole on the Internet. But people have bought into their branding gimmick, their ratings.
Dave Weigel does a good job of summarizing why it isn’t a lie to say that the Ryan plan would indeed end Medicare:
In reality, it is an end to Medicare as we know it. Let’s be fair — as Ramesh Ponnuru pointed out the other day, any substantive change to a program “ends the program as we know it.” When you’re fundamentally changing a program from the way it was designed 45 years ago, you’re ending it as people know it.
Democrats weren’t the first to make this characterization. The Wall Street Journal’s reporter Naftali Bendavid did, writing that the Ryan plan “essentially ends Medicare.” Democrats, in their ads and attacks, cited that story to make their claim. I covered the NY-26 race on the ground, and I remember seeing it in the mailers and ads, but anyone can check it. The Bendavid story has never been corrected — corrections are what editors typically do if facts have been misstated.
I’m curious as to whether the St. Petersburg Times political bloggers will go the full Fox now. Politifact has likely lost all credibility with liberal readers, so it seems like it would be a sensible thing for them to do.