And the Winner is…

In their annual roundup of factually incorrect stories of 2010, Politifact.com, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winning project set-up by the St. Petersburg Times, offered this example from Fox News’ Glenn Beck.

“On his Nov. 22 radio show,” Politifact reports, “Beck told the story of Wilmington, a town of 13,000 people in Southwest Ohio that lost about 8,600 jobs when DHL Express, its largest employer, pulled out in 2008. In Beck’s version of the story, its residents pulled together to save the town through self reliance and prayer. What makes the Wilmington really special, he continued, is that Wilmington refuses government assistance.

“‘It went from the No. 1 most up-and-coming city, and a city everybody wants to live in, to ground zero. And this town hasn’t taken any money from the government. They don’t want any money from the government,’ [Beck] said on his show.

“But PolitiFact Ohio quickly found Beck’s story full of holes. The city of Wilmington itself has received federal assistance, including money from the federal stimulus bill that Beck often rails against. Government and social service agencies that serve residents of Wilmington and surrounding Clinton and Clark counties have received state and federal money…

“The surrounding county even received $7,009,811 in stimulus money through September, including aid to the Wilmington city schools, the Clinton County Department of Jobs and Family Services and the Clinton County Community Action Group, a non-profit organization that aids the poor in the region and provides free weatherization to residents…

For his recklessness with the facts, Beck earned a Pants on Fire false rating, the bottom of the barrel from the organization.

I’ve talked about Politifact before. The web site is my go-to fact-check source on both issues and people related to politics. This year, Politifact gives its top prize, Lie of the Year, to…“a government takeover of healthcare.”

“In the spring of 2009,” Politifact reports, “a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan to overhaul America’s health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a ‘government takeover.’

“‘Takeovers are like coups,’ Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. ‘They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.’

“The line stuck. By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the ‘public option’ concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan…

“PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen ‘government takeover of health care’ as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections.

“Readers of PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times’ independent fact-checking website, also chose it as the year’s most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin. (Their second-place choice was Rep. Michele Bachmann’s claim that Obama was going to spend $200 million a day on a trip to India, a falsity that still sprouts.)

However, the organization reports, “By selecting ‘government takeover’ as its Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy. The phrase is simply not true.

“‘Government takeover’ conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the law Congress passed, parts of which have already gone into effect, relies largely on the free market:

• Employers will continue to provide health insurance to the majority of Americans through private insurance companies.

• Contrary to the claim, more people will get private health coverage. The law sets up ‘exchanges’ where private insurers will compete to provide coverage to people who don’t have it.

• The government will not seize control of hospitals or nationalize doctors.

• The law does not include the public option, a government-run insurance plan that would have competed with private insurers.

• The law gives tax credits to people who have difficulty affording insurance, so they can buy their coverage from private providers on the exchange. But here too, the approach relies on a free market with regulations, not socialized medicine.

“PolitiFact reporters have studied the 906-page bill and interviewed independent health care experts. We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers.

“It’s true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.”

In difficult times, responsible citizenship requires us to do our homework when it comes to both the issues and people in government regardless of what political ideology we embrace.

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