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THURSDAY HOT READ POLITIFACTS'S BIG LIE

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The Wall Street Journal weighs on Politifact's politi-fiction.

So the watchdog news outfit called PolitiFact has decided that its "lie of the year" is the phrase "a government takeover of health care." Ordinarily, lies need verbs and we'd leave the media criticism to others, but the White House has decided that PolitiFact's writ should be heard across the land and those words forever banished to describe ObamaCare.

"We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover," the editors of PolitiFact announce portentously. "'Government takeover' conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees," whereas ObamaCare "is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market." PolitiFact makes it sound as if ObamaCare were drawn up by President Friedrich Hayek, with amendments from House Speaker Ayn Rand.

This purported debunking persuaded Stephanie Cutter, a special assistant to the President. If "opponents of reform haven't been shy about making claims that are at odds with the facts," she wrote on the White House blog, "one piece of misinformation always stood out: the bogus claim . . ." We'll spare you the rest.

PolitiFact's decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and "facts," rather than differences of world view or principles. PolitiFact wants to define for everyone else what qualifies as a "fact," though in political debates the facts are often legitimately in dispute.

For instance, everyone can probably agree that Medicare's 75-year unfunded liability is somewhere around $30.8 trillion. But that's different from a qualitative judgment, such as the wisdom of a new health-care entitlement that was sold politically as a way to reduce entitlement spending. But anyway, let's try to parse PolitiFact's ObamaCare reasoning.

Evidently, it doesn't count as a government takeover unless the means of production are confiscated. "The government will not seize control of hospitals or nationalize doctors," the editors write, and while "it's true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers," they'll still be nominally private too.

ViewIn fact—if we may use that term without PolitiFact's seal of approval—at the heart of ObamaCare is a vast expansion of federal control over how U.S. health care is financed, and thus delivered. The regulations that PolitiFact waves off are designed to convert insurers into government contractors in the business of fulfilling political demands, with enormous implications for the future of U.S. medicine. All citizens will be required to pay into this system, regardless of their individual needs or preferences. Sounds like a government takeover to us.

PolitiFact is run by the St. Petersburg Times and has marketed itself to other news organizations on the pretense of impartiality. Like other "fact checking" enterprises, its animating conceit is that opinions are what ideologues have, when in reality PolitiFact's curators also have political views and values that influence their judgments about facts and who is right in any debate.

In this case, they even claim that the government takeover slogan "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." In other words, voters turned so strongly against Democrats because Republicans "lied," and not because of, oh, anything the Democrats did while they were running Congress. Is that a "fact" or a political judgment? Just asking.

As long as the press corps is nominating "lies of the year," ours goes to the formal legislative title of ObamaCare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. For a bill that in reality will raise health costs and reduce patient choice, the name recalls Mary McCarthy's famous line about every word being a lie, including "the" and "and."

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