PolitiFact: Review leaves Palin zombie claim in shambles

This article was edited for length. To see a complete version and its sources, go to www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2014/may/28/sarah-palin/sarah-palin-federal-government-spending-tax-money-/.

“As unbelievable as it sounds, your tax dollars are funding the federal government’s Zombie Apocalypse Plan. I kid you not.”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in a Facebook post May 22

Sarah Palin’s Facebook page is a popular venue where her 4.2 million fans can track her political endorsements, follow her reality TV appearances and join in on her outrage about how the country is being run.

Recently, the former GOP vice presidential nominee and Alaska governor made an “unbelievable” connection between the abuse of tax dollars and zombies.

“As unbelievable as it sounds, your tax dollars are funding the federal government’s Zombie Apocalypse Plan. I kid you not,” Palin wrote May 22. “(Google it; it really is the strangest thing. It’s not like government isn’t trillions in debt and wasting billions of your dollars everyday … but I digress.)”

We took her advice and did some digging.

After a few Internet searches and some interviews, we found this: The government does not have a plan for the zombie apocalypse. We repeat: There is no zombie apocalypse plan.

That’s probably not all too surprising given the lack of real-life zombies.

But since Palin was so matter-of-fact about the plan being real, we’ll explain where she got her information.

Palin’s claim is based on a public outreach strategy developed in 2011 by the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials aimed to grow the audience of their annual message about preparing for hurricanes and other disasters by connecting it with a zombie apocalypse, like the one depicted in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (which PolitiFact Georgia dutifully fact-checked).

CDC officials created a tongue-in-cheek blog post from Dr. Ali Khan, an assistant surgeon general and director of the CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. Khan wrote:

“The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder ‘How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?’

“Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too!”

Khan advised people to build emergency survival kits before a zombie outbreak that include water, nonperishable food, a battery-powered radio, tools, medications, cleaning supplies, vital documents and a first-aid kit — supplies that are key to surviving the aftermath of a hurricane or tornado.

And Khan advised families to create an emergency plan detailing where to go and who to call if zombies show up, though “you can also implement this plan if there is a flood, earthquake or other emergency.”

Reading the screed makes clear that Khan was having fun with the zombie fascination and that this wasn’t an actual government plan to fend off walkers. The CDC, however, does offer real tips for preparing for and responding to explosions, nuclear blasts, smallpox, anthrax, earthquakes and other hazardous situations.

Most people realized the joke. The Atlantic bemoaned the lack of meaningful advice for effective zombie-killing weapons, hot-wiring cars, figuring out the best time of day to travel, “or really any worthwhile strategy for keeping zombies out of your house.”

As a PR stunt, it was pretty effective. The CDC expected a week’s worth of attention, but it stretched over a year, leading to an elaborate graphic novella generated within the agency and a “CDC Zombie Apocalypse Team” T-shirt produced by the CDC Foundation that benefited disaster and health programs. It earned a spotlight in national media, including The New York Times, CNN and Fox News, where host Bill O’Reilly dubbed the campaign one of the “dumbest things of the week.”

Most CDC blog posts get between 1,000 and 3,000 hits, according to a case study of the campaign for the University of Southern California. But the zombie post crashed the server after getting tens of thousands of hits, and it generated more than 4.8 million page views in the two years after its launch. A chunk of the online traffic came from the agency sharing the blog post on Twitter.

Palin attacked the zombie apocalypse plan as wasting tax dollars. But this doesn’t appear to be a story about wasted stimulus grants or $16 muffins or Internal Revenue Service “Star Trek” parodies.

The CDC says the campaign did not require outside contractors and did not take much time. Essentially, the project cost the hours that it took to produce it by its in-house staff. We asked for more specifics but did not hear back by our deadline.

Stock images of zombies cost the team $87, but there were not many initial expenses because the project was based on social media sharing, according to the USC case study, co-authored by the CDC staffer who drafted Kahn’s original blog post. When the campaign became Internet gold, the CDC spent $20,000 on posters, postcards and copies of the graphic novella for libraries, schools and Scout troops, the report says.

The CDC retired its zombie attack campaign, but it remains online to accommodate public interest, a spokesman told us.

Our ruling

Palin wrote on Facebook, “As unbelievable as it sounds, your tax dollars are funding the federal government’s Zombie Apocalypse Plan. I kid you not.”

People who worry about the zombie apocalypse will not be comforted to hear this, but there is no plan.

The CDC played off the zombie craze as a way to pass along real information about preparing for emergencies that don’t involve zombies. They wrote up a tongue-in-cheek blog post, which successfully generated plenty of attention.

Palin’s claim is False.