As the debate over the health-care public option heated up, a Fox News executive told staffers to change the way they talked about it. Howard Kurtz on the memo that echoed a GOP talking point.And guess how (and why) they shaded the "way they talked about it." The "why" first:
As the health-care debate was heating up in the summer of 2009, Republican pollster Frank Luntz offered Sean Hannity some advice.And now the email itself (from Mediamatters):
Luntz, who counseled the GOP on how to sell the 1994 Contract With America, told the Fox News host to stop using President Obama’s preferred term for a key provision.
“If you call it a public option, the American people are split,” he explained. “If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.”
“A great point,” Hannity declared. “And from now on, I'm going to call it the government option, because that's what it is.”
From: Sammon, BillOf course they are. Unless it's something from Andrew Breitbart or Glenn Beck. But that's a story for another day.
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.
Fox's vice president for news, Michael Clemente, in a response email, agrees that #3 is the way to go. Mediamatters continues:
Sammon's email appears to have had an impact. On the October 27 Special Report -- unlike on the previous night's broadcast -- Fox journalists made no references to the "public option" without using versions of the pre-approved qualifiers outlined in Sammon's and Clemente's emails.Of course the defense of Fox News gets it wrong. First the strawman of it being a "ban" on the term "public option". Look back at Sammon's email. No ban. No one said "ban". Execpt Kate Pickert when defending Fox. Hmm. Here's what she says:
Reporting on health care reform that night, Baier referenced the public option three times. In each instance, he referred to it as "government-run health insurance" or a "government-run health insurance option" -- precisely echoing the first wording choice laid out by Sammon.
On the same show, correspondent Jim Angle referred to "a government insurance plan, the so-called public option"; "a government insurance option"; and "a government insurance plan."
Here's what Kurtz and Media Matters fail to note: Most Americans did not understand what the “public option” was. The term, in fact, seemed almost intentionally non-descriptive. Scores of journalists asked me during the health care debate to explain to them what the public option was – and these were folks interested in the news and paying attention to the issue.And then after going through an explanation of what the "public option" would have been she concludes:
There's nothing wrong with saying “government-run plan.” That's what the public option would have been.Thus missing the point. It wasn't about what Fox called it. But why. Look back at what Luntz told Hannity. Calling it "the public option" people were split on it. Calling it "the government option" and people are overwhelmingly against it. By telling his staff to change the way they called it, he was framing the discussion. Away from supporting something the GOP didn't want supported.
This is the news service that tells its audience "We report. You decide."
With the Sammon email, we can now respond, "Yea, right.