The subhead at Salon. The headline is: "How Times columnist Bill Keller aids Sarah Palin’s 'death panel' smear."
It's not a smear if it's true, but Salon's Brian Beutler asserts that "death panels" is "the single most contemptible lie about Obamacare."
What about the famous lie-of-the-year "If you like your plan you can keep your plan"? Must we have a contemptibility face-off between these 2 lies? Is the battle to be the most contemptible lie different from being the least true assertion of fact? Different from being the lie with the most clout in the political process? And if it's a contemptibility contest, who's the judge? Whose mind is feeling this contempt? Brian Beutler's?
More subtly, we need to distinguish the form of expression from the substance. "Death panels" was a hotly emotional way to express concern about something that was real — that there will have to be rationing and denials of expensive treatments to some older/sicker patients. It is contemned because of its power to replace close attention to the facts with instinctive, quick commitment to a political position — opposition to Obamacare.
"If you like your plan you can keep your plan" was a deliberately cool, seemingly unemotional way to assert something that was absolutely not true. It is contemned because it was an outright, knowing falsehood, and it reassured and pacified people who would have been lit on fire with opposition if they'd understood what was coming their way.