PolitiFact also notes that seniors would still be offered some coverage and the program’s budget would grow as it ages. (PolitiFact’s point that the man in the ad would not be subject to the Ryan plan because he is not currently under fifty-five seems a bit much, as the ad could be read as featuring one of those under-fifty-fives twenty years from now. Though I am probably being generous, given that the DCCC is clearly baiting seniors with the ad.)

TPM’s Beutler—who comes at this with a definite point of view—takes issue with the PolitiFact assessment. In the lede to a piece on the PolitiFact story, Beutler asks: “If Democrats proposed to turn Medicare into a system that only provided free veterinary services to seniors, would Republicans be lying to say Dems wanted to ‘end Medicare,’ without including the caveat ‘as we know it’? Of course not. But that’s more or less the charge PolitiFact is leveling at Democrats over a new DCCC ad (below) which flatly charges Republicans with proposing to ‘end Medicare.’”

Err, not really. As already mentioned, Republicans did not, as the ad suggests, vote to end Medicare. Rather, they voted—in the lower house—for a plan that would change Medicare, were it to reach the president’s desk and be signed into law. Which it won’t. The ad mentions none of this, instead leaving its bold claim hanging like a piñata for PolitiFact’s batsmen.

Beutler also writes that PolitiFact’s analysis “elides the fact that Medicare currently guarantees specific services, which the private insurers won’t be bound to provide under the GOP plan. Indeed, the law President Lyndon Johnson signed in 1965 created a national health insurance system that entitled the elderly to have a defined array of health care services paid on their behalf by the government.” If Medicare isn’t really Medicare, then is it Medicare at all?

One can see where Beutler is coming from. If the Ryan plan that was voted through by Republicans were to become law, then Medicare as we currently recognize it would eventually cease to exist. So the gist is right, sort of, after a lot of “if”s and “were”s.

The question in this case seems to be if that is enough “if”s and “were”s to qualify the ad for PolitiFact’s harshest ruling.

Both sides of this argument have a point. Technically, the ad is not correct. That matters, and it’s thanks to the work of outfits like PolitiFact that we can pick truth from fiction on a number of issues. But PolitiFact’s “Pants on Fire” assessment still feels unduly harsh for some reason. What makes this, for instance, not simply “False”? Or, given that it is a missing phrase away from seeming quite reasonable, “barely true?” Or, if you don’t buy that—that the numbers are wrong and the vote is not binding is pretty damning—wouldn’t misleading be a more accurate description than “outright lie”? Perhaps not, but there is a debate to be had that exists outside the bounds of labels.

What might be really at issue here is the problem of a system like PolitiFact’s Truth-o-Meter, the project’s defining feature. After well-researched and nuanced analyses of often poorly researched, blunt political statements, PolitiFact is forced, by its design, to issue what amount to the kinds of colorful stickers an elementary school teacher might issue: “Half True!” “Pants on Fire!” Those labels are effective in setting tongues wagging and for offering the snappiest of snapshots to political web surfers, but they can also undercut the work that goes into arriving at them.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.