Taranto Offers Up Weak Defense Of Palin's "Death Panel" Lie

Blog ››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

In his February 2 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto celebrated a Florida judge's recent ruling against the health care reform law and credited his fellow News Corp. employee Sarah Palin with helping undermine support for reform efforts by coining the phrase "death panel."

Taranto then launched a weak defense of Palin's "death panel" lie and attacked PolitiFact for naming "death panels" its 2009 Lie of the Year.

You see, according to Taranto, Palin was "not lying" because she put "death panel" in quotes, which "indicate[s] that she was using it figuratively." In fact, Taranto argues, PolitiFact "was more vulnerable to the charge of lying than Palin was, for its highly literal, out-of-context interpretation of her words was at best extremely tendentious." Here's Taranto's defense:

In truth, PolitiFact was more vulnerable to the charge of lying than Palin was, for its highly literal, out-of-context interpretation of her words was at best extremely tendentious.


Palin put the term "death panel" in quotes to indicate that she was using it figuratively. She was not lying but doing just the opposite: conveying a fundamental truth about ObamaCare. Proponents were describing it as a sort of fiscal perpetual-motion machine: We're going to give free insurance to tens of millions of people and reduce the deficit! As a matter of simple arithmetic, the only way to do that is by drastically curtailing medical benefits.

"Health care by definition involves life and death decisions," Palin wrote. ObamaCare necessarily expands the power of federal bureaucrats to make such decisions, and it creates enormous fiscal pressures to err on the side of death. Whether it establishes literal panels for that purpose is a hair-splitting quibble. By naming this "lie of the year," PolitiFact showed itself to be less seeker of truth than servant of power.

But Taranto's argument that Palin merely used the "death panel" phrase figuratively to make a point about cost issues regarding Democrats' health reform plans is simply not true.

Palin's "death panel" claim specifically referred to a proposed "Advance Care Planning Consultation" that was intended to ensure that voluntary end-of-life care consultations would be covered if a patient requests it from a qualified care provider. Her claim that this would constitute any form of panel/board/committee that would decide who -- in Palin's words -- is "worthy of health care" is false, plain and simple.

How do we know this is what Palin was referring to when she made up the "death panel" lie? Because that's exactly what her spokeswoman said to ABC News at the time:

Asked specifically what the former governor was referring to when painting a picture of an Obama "death panel" giving her parents or son Trig a thumbs up or down based on their productivity, Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton responded in an email: "From HR3200 p. 425 see 'Advance Care Planning Consultation'."

Taranto also attacks PolitiFact for making a "highly literal, out-of-context interpretation" interpretation of Palin's claim. However, PolitiFact quotes Palin herself saying that her "death panel" phrase "should not be taken literally" while still specifically claiming that the bill makes it "evident that there would be a panel of bureaucrats who would decide on levels of health care."

"To me, while reading that section of the bill, it became so evident that there would be a panel of bureaucrats who would decide on levels of health care, decide on those who are worthy or not worthy of receiving some government-controlled coverage," she said. "Since health care would have to be rationed if it were promised to everyone, it would therefore lead to harm for many individuals not able to receive the government care. That leads, of course, to death."

"The term I used to describe the panel making these decisions should not be taken literally," said Palin. The phrase is "a lot like when President Reagan used to refer to the Soviet Union as the 'evil empire.' He got his point across. He got people thinking and researching what he was talking about. It was quite effective. Same thing with the 'death panels.' I would characterize them like that again, in a heartbeat."

Palin's claim of "death panels" comprised of bureaucrats deciding who is "worthy of health care" is simply false, regardless of whether she meant it literally or figuratively. Nothing even remotely resembling her suggestion was ever proposed; she simply invented it. Taranto's arguments over quotation marks or the real point Palin was trying to make won't change that.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
Wall Street Journal
James Taranto, Sarah Palin
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