You buy a hamburger from me and I give you a piece of hard black leather on a bun. You protest and I say, no, I’m still calling it a hamburger, so you got what you asked for. You start running around telling everyone I sell leather as hamburgers, and I get my local fact-checking organization to criticize you, because I clearly call the leather on a bun I sold you “hamburger.” They call you the liar of the year.

That’s basically what happened today, when Politifact named as their “Lie of the Year” the Democratic contention that the Paul Ryan budget ends Medicare. But of course, it does end Medicare. It turns the traditional fee-for-service, single-payer system into a coupon for seniors to go out into the private market and purchase their own health insurance. That bears no resemblance to Medicare in any way, shape or form. But because Ryan still calls it “Medicare,” any claim to the contrary is a lie. In fact, it’s the “Lie of the Year.”

Politifact’s other charge is that people 55 and over would be grandfathered into the old fee-for-service program, so for them, Medicare wouldn’t change, so you can’t say that Medicare will go away for old people. Yes, Ryan added a self-serving addendum to protect his party with baby boomers. But of course, their Medicare service would degrade over time, under the old Ryan plan (this has nothing to do with Ryan-Wyden, where fee-for-service Medicare remains as a choice, along with premium support). If new 65 year-olds aren’t coming into the system, the risk pool both shrinks and gets older and sicker year after year. That would necessarily raise the costs of Medicare, and the changes that would need to be made to the program to adapt to that would change it irrevocably. But you know, lie.

I think Paul Krugman’s going to go to the Politifact offices with a switchblade after this one:

The new scheme would still be called “Medicare”, but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors.

How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the “Lie of the year”?

The answer is, of course, obvious: the people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear “balanced” — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.

This new mania for “fact-checkers” in the media makes the implicit assumption that the fact-checkers are neutral arbiters that couldn’t possibly be swayed by outside forces. Of course, the fact that Ryan sent out encouragement to his supporters to contact Politifact and make the Ryan budget claim the Lie of the Year, and voila! it becomes Lie of the Year, should put an end to that. But what Krugman says above is also correct. Politifact is just as susceptible to false equivalence as everyone else in the media. Their track record, especially now, does not hold them up to any claim of being keeper of the facts.