What Fresh Hell Is This?

December 10, 2010

Here's Something We Knew All Along

From The Politico:
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.

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.”
And now the email itself (from Mediamatters):
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.
Of course they are. Unless it's something from Andrew Breitbart or Glenn Beck. But that's a story for another day.

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.

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."
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:
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.


EdHeath said...

And yet, if you tell J Random voter that he/she was manipulated by Fox News, he/she will overwhelmingly reply "no I wasn't". After all, Glenn Beck is one of the few people telling the "truth" on TV.

Pgh_Knight said...

I have always said I trust Fox News as much as I trust Mediamatters.

Personally, for my news, I listen to NPR and read the Economist.

For the local stuff, whatever news is on will do. I basically want the weather anyway.

EdHeath said...

Well, PK, I would trust FactCheck.org or Politifact somewhat more than either Fox News or Media Matters. Still since Fox News has essentially admitted they are pursuing a political agenda, while Media Matters claims to be doing no more than exposing inaccurate statements made by conservatives, you may be presenting us with something of a false equivalency.

No you will say I called you a racist, since I dared to question something you said.

Pgh_Knight said...

No Ed, I say you call me a racist, when... well... you call me a racist.

As for your statement on Mediamatter... the key word "claims".

Thanks for playing.

EdHeath said...

Ah PK, and you have specific evidence from clearly neutral sources that Media Matters is pursing an identifiable agenda?

Just curious.

Piltdown Man said...

Putting all that aside, isn't it fascinating to actually see this in print? I mean, we all know it goes on constantly, but to see the Goebbels-esque nature of it is chilling.

Speaking of which, why does anyone continue to grace Frank Luntz with the decidedly neutral term "pollster," when he is anything but. He doesn't just gather information, he shapes it....

Ed - To the notion of being manipulated by Fox News? Yes, and the beauty of it is that it is so subtle, a death by a thousand cuts. Works every time.... I firmly believe that far too many American's thrive on believing in gossip and enjoying other people's pain. It's why they love reality shows. I thought when "Queen For A Day" went off the air a million years ago that we'd never see such things again; but now our entertainment is almost always at the expense of someone else. BIzarre, sad and sick....

Pgh_Knight said...

that is my personal theory about Mediamatters's motivations for its behavior. Although I will say that the behavior of the Democratic party and commenters here (including yours) tend to make me think my theory is correct.

EdHeath said...

PK, fair enough, I can hardly argue with that, can I?

Christine Gallo said...

What I find most interesting is the success the GOP has at "framing the debate" as George Lakoff says in Don't Think of an Elephant. It seems to be something that the DEMs are congenitally incapable of grasping, much less utilizing.