Politifact.com is a website affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times. The website purports to do “fact-checking” on statements about public officials and public figures.
One of Politifact’s main claims to fame is the designation of a “Lie of the Year.” This year’s winner of the Politifact Lie of the Year award is President Obama, for his statement “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” The award has gotten a lot of attention — which I suppose is the whole point.
I’ve got no problem with skeptical coverage of public statements and careful reporting on whether the declarations of our leaders are at variance with the facts; that’s just good journalism. Still, there’s something about announcing a “Lie of the Year” that makes me a bit uncomfortable, because it seems to be a tangible bid for news coverage about the award itself. Journalists become corrupted when they move from reporting on the news to trying to make the news. In the latter context there is every incentive to become more and more sensational, and sensationalism is rarely consistent with solid, objective reporting.
There used to be a line in the world of journalism. Reporters reported on the facts and let the readers draw their own conclusions about things like whether politicians were lying. Thanks to the Lie of the Year and other, similar journalistic contrivances, that line has been hopelessly blurred, if not erased entirely. It’s not a good development for the profession.