PolitiFact picks its Lie of the Year while Time magazine celebrates truth-tellers

Posted at 10:43 PM, Dec 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 00:57:31-05

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

The Lie of the Year is…

PolitiFact had so, so many lies to choose from. But when it came time to determine 2018’s Lie of the Year, Angie Holan and Amy Sherman settled on the online smear machine that tried to discredit the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They recalled how “crisis actor” became a household term due to this disinformation campaign — and due to the surprisingly effective refutations by the students.

“The attacks against Parkland’s students stand out because of their sheer vitriol,” Holan and Sherman wrote. “Together, the lies against the Parkland students in the wake of unspeakable tragedy were the most significant falsehoods of 2018. We name them PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year.”

Now, the lie of the day…

So much of the debate about immigration and border security is built on misinformation and misconceptions. Politico Playbook was right in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s televised White House fight: “Conversations between Pelosi, Schumer and Trump are not really going to be terribly useful since they can’t even agree to stick to a basic sets of facts.” And let’s be clear: Trump bears most of the responsibility for that. As Anderson Cooper said on “AC360,” it was “hard to keep up with how many things about the wall and the border the president said that simply weren’t true.” Kirsten Powers added, “This sort of manufactured crisis about our country being invaded by undocumented immigrants — the entire thing is something that’s been manufactured to basically gin up support for a wall that we don’t need.”

I’m glad the cameras were allowed in for Tuesday’s meeting between Trump and the Dems. But it was troubling to see the sheer # of misstatements. Trump said “tremendous amounts of wall have already been built,” which is grossly untrue. Schumer called him out: “The Washington Post today gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios because they say you constantly misstate how much the wall is — how much of the wall is built and how much is there.” Trump scoffed at the Post, but the fact-checkers are right.

To me, though, the worst statement was when Trump claimed “we caught 10 terrorists over the last very short period of time.” Peter Bergen had one word for this: “Bogus.” Please read his fact-check here…

At the end of the day, three takeaways…

A partial government shutdown looks a bit closer than it did before. And Trump has a “new world” to figure out. Via Twitter:

— Edward-Issac Dovere: “The focus on today’s Oval Office meeting was on the clash, but it was more than that. Pelosi flipped the script on Trump: using TV cameras to perform, she was the confrontational one, daring him, tagging him w/a shutdown nickname, playing to her base & setting the media narrative…”

— Josh Dawsey: “White House and GOP Hill aides did not see Trump’s performance today as helpful. He gave away some of his leverage, even allies concede. It’s a new world for him…

— Amy Walter: “Trump has one speed. it’s always about drama and division. The problem is that only about 1/3 of Americans ‘strongly’ approve of the job Trump is doing. More than 45 percent ‘strongly disapprove…'”

Pair of Reuters reporters have been imprisoned for one year

Wednesday is the one-year anniversary of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s arrests. The two reporters were working on a Reuters story about a massacre in Myanmar. They were “arrested in a set-up” by police who were “intended to interfere” with the story, Reuters EIC Stephen J. Adler said in a new statement Tuesday night.

“The fact that they remain in prison for a crime they did not commit calls into question Myanmar’s commitment to democracy, freedom of expression and rule of law. Every day they continue to be behind bars is a missed opportunity for Myanmar to stand up for justice. The people of Myanmar deserve the freedoms and democracy they have long been promised, and Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo deserve to be returned to their families and colleagues immediately.”

Amal Clooney, who is representing Reuters and the reporters, says “their future is in the government’s hands, and the world is watching.” Case in point, Lone and Soe Oo are on the cover of Time…

“The Guardians”

The way the news cycle works these days, Time’s Person of the Year announcement came and went in an hour. But I want to draw attention back to it. I was predicting President Trump would be on the cover, and I was wrong. Time created four covers, all featuring journalists who have been targeted for their work. One of the covers shows Jamal Khashoggi, marking the first time that a deceased person is a Person of the Year. Another features the Reuters reporters. The third shows Maria Ressa of Rappler. And the fourth shows the surviving staff members from the Capital Gazette.

Time is onto something by spotlighting the “War on Truth.” As EIC Ed Felsenthal said on the “Today” show, “the manipulation and abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories. “That’s why “The Guardians” are so important…

Read Karl Vick’s cover story

It’s a thing of beauty about an ugly topic. “This OUGHT to be a time when democracy leaps forward,” but “instead, it’s in retreat,” he wrote. People have the ability to be more informed than ever, but threats to information sources are on the rise. And “the story of this assault on truth is, somewhat paradoxically, one of the hardest to tell,” Vick noted.

Ressa, for example, said she is not allowed to comment on the Philippines’ case against her. Speaking with CNN’s Kristie Lu Stout about the recognition, Ressa said “it’s bittersweet and it’s daunting. Look at the challenges we are facing.” She said it’s a “tough time to be a journalist, but what strengthens all of us is that there’s probably no better time to be a journalist, because this is when we live our values and we live our mission.”

The mag’s closing thought

Vick wrote: “There is urgent work ahead in shaping a communications system guided not by software but by the judgment of citizens, and the social contract implied in the First Amendment: facts matter.”

— There are also several excellent sidebar stories, like this one about the Capital Gazette staff…

Trump was the runner-up

Chris Cillizza commented that Time was sending a message to Trump by putting “The Guardians” on the cover while naming him the runner-up. Trump, after all, has a special place in his heart for Time mag. He had no public reaction on Tuesday. But notice this next headline…

Trump says he is still standing by the Saudi crown prince

In a Tuesday afternoon interview with Reuters, Trump said “that he stood by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince despite a CIA assessment that he ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and pleas from U.S. senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.”

More from the Reuters interview…

Trump claimed that lots and lots of people want to be his chief of staff, despite evidence to the contrary: “I have at least 10, 12 – 12 people that want it badly. I’m making a decision.”

The key quote: “Everybody wants it. Who doesn’t want to be one of the top few people in Washington, D.C.” Then he gestured to the three Reuters reporters. “I mean, you three guys would take it.”

Read more of Tuesday’s “Reliable Sources” newsletter… And subscribe here to receive future editions in your inbox…


— From CNN’s newest poll: “Half of Americans say they think it is likely that the Mueller investigation will implicate the president in wrongdoing…”

— NBC’s Craig Melvin snagged Nikki Haley’s first interview since she announced her departure from the Trump admin. The interview will air on Wednesday’s “Today” show…

— Don’t miss this big WaPo piece titled “Agents of doubt: How a powerful Russian propaganda machine chips away at Western notions of truth…” (WaPo)

— Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey responds to Myanmar criticism: “I need to learn more…” (CNN)