Sarah Palin wins: 'Death panels' declared 'Lie of the Year'

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 22, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's claim about so-called "death panels" has landed her on the political equivalent of Santa's naughty list: PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year."

Palin earned the dubious honor last week for her Aug. 7 assertion on Facebook that people would face "death panels" under the health care overhaul bill as proposed by the House of Representatives this summer.

It was such a falsehood that the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking Web site gave it a "Pants on Fire" rating on its Truth-O-Meter in August. And this week, Palin's truth stretching was seconded as "Lie of the Year" by an overwhelming 61 percent of PolitiFact readers who cast votes on the editors' pick.

At the time, Palin wrote: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care.

"We agree with Palin that such a system would be evil," PolitiFact's editors wrote at the time. "But it's definitely not what President Barack Obama or any other Democrat has proposed."

Palin's claim about death panels -- although disproven and widely derided -- came to define the health care debate in the pivotal month of August. That's when lawmakers were home for their summer recess, facing constituents who showed up at raucous town hall meetings with questions about what’s in the health care legislation being debated by Congress.

The provisions Palin referred to in the legislation gave Medicare patients the ability to seek paid-for counseling for end-of-life issues, such as living wills. Nothing was mandatory about the counseling provision, which Medicare previously had not covered.

Although she has been rebuked repeatedly as a liar for her remarks, Palin this week continued to repeat the assertion that health care legislation might include “death panels.” On the Twitter account she’s using to promote her new memoir, “Going Rogue,” Palin wrote on Tuesday that it was important people pay attention to the legislation.

She used the social networking Web site’s vernacular to bring up the topic again: “merged bill may be unrecognizable from what assumed was a done deal: R death panels back in?” Palin wrote from her Blackberry.

The Senate is set to pass its version of a health care bill on Thursday morning; next month, the House and the Senate will begin working next month on combining their two versions of the bill.

Palin's falsehood did have a few runners-up. They include an assertion about the H1N1 virus by the man who landed the job Palin wanted last year: Vice President Joe Biden. In a April 30th interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, Biden claimed that "when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft."

Not so, said PolitiFact, which talked to scientist Tony Overfelt of Auburn University. The particles from a sneeze "might travel a row or a couple of rows or something like that," Overfelt told them. "They're really not going to travel up and down the airplane as our vice president said."

Ultimately, though, only 1.7 percent of PolitiFact readers thought Biden's germaphobic claim worthy of "Lie of the Year."

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