THERE IS NO PENALTY FOR LYING.

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Howard Kurtz moans that the "death panels" wouldn't die in spite of journalistsic efforts to debunk the ridiculous notion, writing that "even when they report the facts, [journalists] have had trouble influencing public opinion" and calling the experience "a stunning illustration of the traditional media's impotence." Let me identify a problem that has helped create this impotence: a lack of follow-through.

Having identified Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Chuck Grassley, John McCain and, today, Michael Steele, as spreading falsehoods about health care reform even after they have been broadly discredited, will the journalists Kurtz mentions offer them any sanction? Or will these public figures continue to be extensively quoted in newspapers and on television?

Recall the 2000 narrative that sprung up around Al Gore, painting him as untrustworthy. For some reason I don't think Grassley et al. will face any questions about their honesty the next time they appear on Meet the Press. In fact, none of these people will. The next time some wild misinformation spreads about a public-policy issue, Kurtz will wring his hands about how no one trusts the press, and that's because the press is content to trust liars.

-- Tim Fernholz

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