One of the most frustrating aspects of the media's coverage of politics is the way they treat deceptive factual claims. As I've often pointed out, these claims are often reported in a "he said," "she said" format that provides readers with no indication that the statement in question is misleading or false. And even when reporters do characterize these statements accurately, it rarely creates a lasting precedent within their news organization. Instead, these outlets typically suffer a sort of factual amnesia in which subsequent reports tend to revert to "he said," "she said" coverage.
Coverage of the "death panels" and euthanasia myths is a case in point. As I noted last year during the initial debate over the claim, both ABC News and the New York Times reverted to describing the facts of the matter as being in dispute after previously describing the claim as false. We saw the same pattern this past week after news broke that the Obama administration planned to fund voluntary discussion of end-of-life options between Medicare patients and their doctors (a provision that was mischaracterized as "euthanasia" or a "death panel" during the debate over the House health care reform bill last year). The New York Times, which previously called the "death panel" claim "false," managed only to call the claim "unsubstantiated" in an aside in the 22nd paragraph of its story on the regulation. And the Associated Press, which also previously described the claim as false, provided no indication that the claim was even in dispute.
The irony is that the media have elaborate policies about mundane consistency issues like how to spell various proper names, but getting the facts straight on one of the most important myths in contemporary American politics is apparently too difficult for anyone to bother.
Update 12/28 12:09 PM: To clarify per Rob's comment below, Sarah Palin's initial Facebook post coining the term "death panel" did not cite the end-of-life counseling provision and focused instead on (the imagined consequences of) rationing. However, Palin herself cited the end-of-life counseling provision as additional support for her claim only a few days after the initial statement. The two ideas quickly became intertwined in the public debate as opponents of health care reform suggested that seniors would be pressured to end their life sooner or have their treatment withdrawn (e.g. Chuck Grassley saying we shouldn't "pull the plug on Grandma") -- see my article on health care misinformation for more. As such, I think it's justified to use "death panels" as a shorthand for the way in which the end-of-life provision was mischaracterized.