Why PolitiFact Doesn’t Use the Word ‘Lie’—Except Once a Year
You might expect a website that fact-checks American politics to use the word “lie” a lot. But at PolitiFact, we don’t.
We use the word lie once a year, when we consider a year’s worth of fact-checking and pick one falsehood that we consider the most egregious. We call it the Lie of the Year, and we’ve named one every December since 2009. This year’s Lie of the Year was the online smears against the Parkland students.
The rest of the time we avoid the word lie. That’s because of the tricky issue of claiming to know a person’s intention. Fact-checking is about precision in language — reporting what we know to be true or false as best we can tell. That can be straightforward, but intention is a grayer, less certain. How do we know that the person speaking knew it wasn’t true? Sometimes, right or wrong, the speaker really believes it to be accurate. And sometimes there are reasonable differences over the substance of a claim and what it means.