Fox News VP: Don’t Call the Government-Run Health Care Plan by the Name People Like

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Photo: Courtesy of Fox News

Fox News vice-president Bill Sammon is getting heat from Media Matters (what else is new?) over a leaked memo that he sent to staff in October of last year, urging them to use the term "government-run health insurance" instead of "public option" when talking about the contested health-care issue. Of course, "public option" was the nomenclature used almost universally. But, as Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Sean Hannity on the air earlier that year, the phrase doesn't help the GOP cause. "If you call it a public option, the American people are split," Luntz said. "If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it." Hannity called this "a great point," and added, "From now on, I'm going to call it the government option, because that's what it is." Not surprising that Hannity would make that move: He makes no secret of his opinions on the show.

But Sammon's memo, reproduced below, was sent out to the the news staff. (Sammon is Fox News's managing editor for Washington, and a former reporter for the conservative Washington Times.) Fox makes a big fuss in claiming that their news coverage isn't deliberately slanted.

So was Sammon's memo an example of the network catering to GOP talking points? He's got decent cover: When he urged that reporters refer to the "public option" by the much less poll-friendly term "government-run health insurance," it made sense with regard to clarity. It's a much more precise way of describing the plan. And when Fox's SVP for News Michael Clemente chimed in, he urged that reporters refer to it as "The public option, which is the government-run plan," which is about as specific as you can get.

But another part of Sammon's memo is here:


When it is necessary to use the term "public option" (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier "so-called," as in "the so-called public option."

Is there a way to use "so-called" in a way that isn't patronizing or bitchy? Sure. Is there a way to do it on Fox News when talking about a policy that liberals are championing? Ehhhh ... Sammon himself phrased the Fox attitude well when he spoke with Howard Kurtz about the memo: "Who would be against a 'public' park?" Indeed — who would? And why would you want them to be, again?

Fox News' Spin Game [Daily Beast]


From: Sammon, Bill

Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:23 AM

To: 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers

Subject: friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the "public option"

1) Please use the term "government-run health insurance" or, when brevity is a concern, "government option," whenever possible.

2) When it is necessary to use the term "public option" (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation's lexicon), use the qualifier "so-called," as in "the so-called public option."

3) Here's another way to phrase it: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."

4) When newsmakers and sources use the term "public option" in our stories, there's not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.

Clemente's reply:

From: Clemente, Michael

To: Sammon, Bill; 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers

Sent: Tue Oct 27 08:45:29 2009

Subject: RE: friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the "public option"

Thank you Bill

#3 on your list is the preferred way to say it, write it, use it.

Michael Clemente

SVP-News