GOP fails to leverage PolitiFact’s misjudgment

A few weeks ago, PolitiFact made a serious mistake in selecting its “Lie of the Year.” As the editors of the political fact-checking website saw it, Democratic claims that House Republicans voted to “end” Medicare earned the ignoble designation, despite the fact that the Democratic argument is easily supportable.

It was easy to predict what would happen next. As part of the party’s 2012 campaign message, Democrats would run ads criticizing GOP lawmakers for their anti-Medicare vote, and PolitiFact, its dubious analysis notwithstanding, would offer Republicans a valuable weapon — GOP leaders would go to every station in the country, telling them not to run campaign commercials that include claims proven to be untrue.

That PolitiFact’s decision was ridiculous wouldn’t matter.

And sure enough, we’re already seeing this start to play out. Greg Sargent has the latest:

Earlier this week, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee aired a TV ad, timed to the GOP presidential debate, attacking GOP incumbent Rep. Charlie Bass for voting to “end Medicare.” The Bass campaign sent letters to two New Hampshire stations — WMUR and WHDH — demanding the ads be yanked. Crucially, the Bass campaign repeatedly cited PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year designation to bolster its case.

Both stations refused.

“Our lawyers looked at the ad and concluded it’s within the bounds of robust public debate,” Jeff Barlett, the general manager of WMUR, tells me. “If Charlie Bass and his supporters disagree with this, they’re free to create their own ad and tell their side of the story.”

The other station requested a minor tweak, but left the “end Medicare” charge intact.

This is a meaningful win for common sense. Had the New Hampshire stations balked, it’d be that much more likely other Republicans would have additional leverage targeting more ads later in the year.

Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly supported a plan to privatize Medicare and replace it with a voucher scheme. Voters deserve to know about this proposal, and there’s no reason PolitiFact’s misjudgment should stand in the way.