We have come to the end of another year, and so it is once again time for PolitiFact to tell us what the 2012 "Lie Of The Year" is. For me, it's pretty obvious. The 2012 Lie Of The Year is, "Trust me, this pumpkin ale tastes great."
But that wasn't deemed a serious enough falsehood by the fact check industry, and so PolitiFact has instead chosen a winner from a list of untrue things that politicians and pundits said, with a special emphasis on the 2012 campaign season -- which is why "we are winning/succeeding in/going to win/going to succeed in that War in Afghanistan" did not make the cut.
This year, PolitiFact has singled out Mitt Romney's campaign ad that made an untrue claim about President Barack Obama, Chrysler, and jobs building Jeeps being sent to China. "It was a lie," says PolitiFact, "told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign."
In case you missed the controversy, PolitiFact offers a recap:
It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep's parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.
In political media circles, the process described above is also known as "weekdays." But what perhaps set this occasion apart, PolitiFact says, is the fact that the Romney campaign stood by the ad "even after the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false."
A big reason reporters expressed outrage is because the Romney campaign had baited them almost a year earlier. After they expressed some alarm that a Romney ad from the fall of 2011 was entirely based on a hysterical lie, a Romney operative said that the campaign absolutely intended to keep lying in its ads, because that was the entire point of them:
First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.
PolitiFact took up the adjudication of Romney's Chrysler ad toward the end of October, when it began airing in the Buckeye State. At the time, it gave the ad a "Pants On Fire" rating, and summed up the matter thusly:
The ad miscasts the government’s role in Fiat’s acquisition of Chrysler, and it misrepresents the outcome. Chrysler’s owners had been trying to sell to Italy-based Fiat before Obama took office. The ad ignores the return of American jobs to Chrysler Jeep plants in the United States, and it presents the manufacture of Jeeps in China as a threat, rather than an opportunity to sell cars made in China to Chinese consumers. It strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture.
This ad's main contribution to American life was the panic it instilled in auto workers, who thought that they were actually going to lose their jobs. Chrysler's chief executive eventually had to put out a statement in order to settle the matter. It was, essentially, a hot mess.
What it wasn't, however, was the most egregiously deceptive ad of the cycle. The super PAC ad that essentially accused Romney of killing a woman was much worse, as was Romney's "They just send you your check" welfare ad. And when it comes to a falsehood that got out into the mainstream consciousness and even fooled the media, you can't beat the Romney campaign's suggestion that Obama sincerely believed that "you didn't build that."
So how does the Chrysler ad stand out in the field of political deception? To my mind, it's about the desperation involved. Faced with few options at the tail-end of a campaign, and needing to move the needle, somehow, in Ohio, the Romney campaign shot for the moon with an ad so howlingly false that it could only succeed or fail in spectacular fashion. It's the "Lie Of The Year" not because it was especially intricate or clever or difficult to penetrate or "game-changing." Rather, it's because it was so obvious and audacious a falsehood. The "Lie Of The Year" recognition is basically PolitiFact thumbing over in Romney's direction and saying, "This guy! Can you believe this guy?" (Spoiler alert: No.)
This 2012 "Lie Of The Year" is a return, for PolitiFact, to selecting winners that are actually lies, as opposed to saying that 100 percent true things are lies, like they did last year. So that's an improvement.
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