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Internal Memos Reveal Effort To Spin Health Care Debate At Fox News

Over at The Daily Beast, Howard Kurtz writes about what some might consider a smoking gun in support of the contention of many on the left that Fox News Channel bends its news coverage to support a particular ideology:

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.”

On Oct. 27, the day after Senate Democrats introduced a bill with a public insurance option from which states could opt out, Bill Sammon, a Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor, sent the staff a memo. Sammon is a former Washington Times reporter.

“Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance,’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible,” the memo said.

Sammon acknowledged that the phrase “public option” was “firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon,” so when it was necessary to use it, he wrote, add the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.” And “here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’”

The exception was when newsmakers used “public option”: “There’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.”

And for the most part, Sammon’s instructions were followed by Fox’s hosts:

On that night’s Special Report, the Washington newscast, anchor Bret Baier began by teasing “a look at the fight over government-run health insurance in the Senate reform bill.” Chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle referred to “a government insurance plan, the so-called public option.”

On the previous night’s program, Baier had repeatedly referred to the “public option,” as did conservative panelist Charles Krauthammer.

Anchor Neil Cavuto, a pro-business commentator, teed up an interview that day with House Republican Leader John Boehner by saying: “My next guest says name it what you want; it is still government-run.”

After hearing a clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the provision the “consumer option,” Boehner said: “They are worried about it because whether you call it the government option; whether you call it the consumer option; whether you call it a co-op or an opt-out or an opt-in, these are all just terms about their big government takeover of our health-care system.”

In all honesty, I don’t think anyone is all that surprised that Fox News leans Republican, emphasizes stories that support Republican talking points, and generally spin the news in a Republican direction. This happens both on their “opinion” shows which typically air starting at 5pm on weekdays, and in a  good deal of their news coverage. Quite frankly, it’s a business model that obviously works for them, and the First Amendment says they have the absolute right to do whatever they want so I’m loathe to criticize them, or to be all that sympathetic to complaints from the right about media bias at other outlets. If you don’t like what you hear on Fox or MSNBC, change the channel. If enough people make that choice, they might just change their ways.

In any case, if you didn’t know it before, you know it now, Fox News is a Republican/conservative news network. Also, the sky is blue.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    >”Also, the sky is blue.”

    Not here. Today it’s gray.

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  2. Stickeenotes says:

    I imagine the left, if not the white house itself, will use this to further the notion that FNC should not be treated like a news organization. FNC is clearly biased, but it sticks out like a sore thumb in TV news, and the broader news media, because there is clear bias in the opposite direction everywhere else you look. They repeat democratic talking points, they use the terminology employed by democrats, which has been chosen as a result of extensive polling & focus group testing. Hell after 2004 there was talk within democratic circles that branding and language would be the key to reversing their fortunes (as told to me by a long time pollster for the Democrats). I long for a world where everyone openly admits their biases and we can then debate from there. Instead the left persists in pushing the lie that left leaning network news is objective in the effort to push the center to the left.

    The media establish a mainstream “objective” narrative. The media is dominated by democrat supporters, as surveys have shown. Therefore, the mainstream “objective” narrative the media establishes is going to be within a democratic leaning framework. Objectivity is a myth and those who persist in perpetuating that myth are suppressing the truth.

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  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Two things. How did MSNBC spin it and isn’t ‘government option’ the more accurate term? We do want accuracy don’t we?

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  4. DADT is awesome says:

    The Daily Beast ???????

    Also, the sky is blue.

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  5. matt says:

    Reality has a liberal bias….

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  6. DADT is awesome says:

    In any case, if you didn’t know it before, you know it now, CNN/MSNBC are Democrat/liberal news networks. Also, the sky is blue.

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  7. DADT is awesome says:

    Is it time for an “I hate Sara Palin” thread?????

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  8. Vast Variety says:

    No its certainly not surprising that they are a GOP Propaganda machine just as MSNBC is a Democratic Propaganda machine. The difference between the two is that at least MSNBC doesn’t lie about their bias and try to pass themselves off as being “Fair and Balanced” when they most certainly are not.

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  9. G.A.Phillips says:

    Gullibility has a liberal bias…..

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  10. DADT is awesome says:

    “The difference between the two…”

    I’d say about 20,000,000 viewers a night

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  11. sam says:

    @Plunk

    “How did MSNBC spin it”

    Olbermann spent hours beating the crap out of Obama because of the lack of a public option.

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  12. Scott says:

    How dare Fox refer to a government run health insurance plan as a government option. The nerve.

    It’s not like every single news organization on the planet would refer to tax increases, which is what would happen if the current tax law expires, as tax cuts. There’s certainly no media manipulation going on there, huh?

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  13. Brian Knapp says:

    It’s not like every single news organization on the planet would refer to tax increases, which is what would happen if the current tax law expires, as tax cuts. There’s certainly no media manipulation going on there, huh?

    The current tax law is not the permanent rate. Therefore, although maybe too technically, they are tax cuts. Expiration of the Bush tax rates is a return to normalcy, not a tax increase according to law.

    Although, to most of us, it would certainly seem that way for all practical purposes.

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  14. Wayne says:

    Doesn’t that mean all the media that use the term “Public option” used the left spin and leans left?

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  15. mantis says:

    Doesn’t that mean all the media that use the term “Public option” used the left spin and leans left?

    No, public option was what it was called by the industry and on the hill. Fox decided to come up with a new name for it in order to drive down support (that’s what Luntz does for a living). The rest were just reporting, Fox was propagandizing.

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  16. matt says:

    “How did MSNBC spin it”

    Well Joe and Chris Matthews were spinning it like Fox news while Oblermenn and Rachel were spinning it from a left perspective (aka beating Obama and the democrats up over the lack of a public option etc which is something Fox would never do to republicans)..

    It blows my mind that people try to equate MSNBC as being the left version of Fox. Have you ever watched MSNBC? The morning and most of the day is dedicated to Morning Joe a former congressional Republican and Chris Mathews who quite frankly is a democrat in name only (not to mention some of his completely bizarre behaviour). The only real lefty view that is pushed is at night when Olbermann comes on (he’s potentially annoying even to my lefty friends). Rachel is to the right of Olbermann and I’m still not sure where to put Lawrence. MEanwhile on Fox news you have the republican talking points being pushed ALL day from opinion to news. So like vast said at least MSNBC isn’t trying to pass itself off as being “Fair and balanced” like Fox..

    DADT : Yeah and Jackass cranked out the rating too…

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  17. TG Chicago says:

    “In any case, if you didn’t know it before, you know it now, CNN/MSNBC are Democrat/liberal news networks.”

    If you can show where CNN or MSNBC took talking points from the DNC, please do. Otherwise, you are making a false equivalence.

    Clearly things like this should indicate that politicians have every right to limit access to Fox’s propaganda network. Press conferences don’t need to include them (though if they’re including the HuffPo as well, which they are, then there’s no basis on which to exclude Fox), and presidential debates should not be hosted by them.

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  18. Wayne says:

    Mantis who came up with the term “Public option”? It was the Democrats. They use the term because it was appeasing and could be spin in a positive light to drive up support. Just because the MSM repeating the left Spin doesn’t make it any better or that it is any less propagandizing.

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  19. John Personna says:

    MSNBC is not nearly, and does not aspire to be, a Fox antethisis. See recent suspensions.

    Fox is unique, and uniquely deplorable.

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  20. mantis says:

    Mantis who came up with the term “Public option”? It was the Democrats.

    The term was around long before the health care debate of 2009. The word “public” has been used to describe all manner of government projects and services, officially and colloquially, such as “public roads,” “public assistance,” “public schools,” and on and on. Sammon of Fox noted that “the phrase “public option” was “firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon.”” That’s not because Democrats came up with it, but because is a pretty standard way to describe such a thing, and has been for a very long time.

    They use the term because it was appeasing and could be spin in a positive light to drive up support. Just because the MSM repeating the left Spin doesn’t make it any better or that it is any less propagandizing.

    Sorry, no. Fox hired Luntz to poll for them to find the term which those polled found most objectionable, and replaced the vernacular with that term for the explicit reason of driving down support for the initiative. That’s propagandizing.

    The equivalent would be if Fox decided to oppose a highway project, but instead of calling them public roads, they called them “socialist roads.” And it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they did something like that.

    When a news organization uses the term that everyone uses for something, it’s reporting. when a news organization hires someone to come up with new terms for things in order to influence public opinion about them toward that news organizations ideology, that’s propaganda. It’s not hard to understand, unless you’re a wingnut.

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  21. Tlaloc says:

    “Fox News is a Republican/conservative news network”

    No, the problem is they are *not* a news network. They have shown no interest in reporting news. They are opinion merchants selling a preconceived world view to a certain market. That’s not news, it’s not journalism, and that’s the point. Fox should be shown to be exactly what they are.

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  22. progcivlib says:

    @mantis – in regards to the whole ‘public option’ phrasing – when the entire media was referring to the increase in troops in iraq as ‘the surge’ they were similarly biased to the right? Nobody was jockeying to call it the “Iraqi Occupation Plan” or the “Sunni Payoff Plan” – they just kept repeating ‘the surge’. so obviously cnn and msnbc are right-wing outlets now, right?

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  23. ponce says:

    “They have shown no interest in reporting news.”

    I’m not a fan of Beck & Co., but Fox News ain’t that bad.

    Check out its website: http://www.foxnews.com/

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  24. mantis says:

    @mantis – in regards to the whole ‘public option’ phrasing – when the entire media was referring to the increase in troops in iraq as ‘the surge’ they were similarly biased to the right? Nobody was jockeying to call it the “Iraqi Occupation Plan” or the “Sunni Payoff Plan” – they just kept repeating ‘the surge’. so obviously cnn and msnbc are right-wing outlets now, right?

    Huh? The military called it a “surge” and the media reported on it. How is this a relevant analogy? No news organization hired a pollster to come up with a more, or less, attractive name in order to support or oppose the surge, that I know of.

    In short, what are you talking about?

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  25. progcivlib says:

    Oh yes yes.. The military (who is the at the heart of objectivity dontchaknow) coined the terms operation iraqi freedom and the troop surge. My mistake. What am I talking about indeed. How foolish of me to assume it might have had something to do with the commander in chief at the time.

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  26. mantis says:

    What difference does that make? Do try to make some sense.

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  27. Jim Treacher says:

    The current tax law is not the permanent rate.

    There’s no such thing as a permanent rate.

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  28. John425 says:

    “…at least MSNBC doesn’t lie about their bias and try to pass themselves off as being “Fair and Balanced” when they most certainly are not.”

    Isn’t MSNBC the channel that runs prison documentaries? I didn’t think that qualified them to be called a news organization.

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  29. Tlaloc says:

    “I’m not a fan of Beck & Co., but Fox News ain’t that bad.”

    Did you actually read the original post? Yes, fox news is just that bad.

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  30. ponce says:

    “Did you actually read the original post? Yes, fox news is just that bad.”

    I’d agree they try to bias some news but most news isn’t…biasable.

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  31. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Hey, I don’t know if you noticed Doug, but Seans program is not a news program. It is opinion. It is ok, you do not have to thank me for the edification. Fox news is far and balanced unlike most of those who’s comments are listed here but no where else. Mantis is lost his balance long ago and Ponce has no idea what fair is.

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  32. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anyone who states obtusely or directly that the public option was not a way to get to single payer health care is a liar. The goal is to socialize healthcare. A large government take over. Read the document (or in Doug’s, Mantis, Ponce, etc case have it read to you by someone who reads and understands English) health care is not the job of government.

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  33. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Doug, just what is the public option if it is not the government option. Who f ing pays for it? Talk about spin. You are kind of like NASCAR Doug, down the straight and turn LEFT.

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  34. Tano says:

    “…public option…. single payer……health care is not the job of government.”

    Neither the public option, nor single payer, are examples of government health care. They are both cases of government health insurance – insurance with which to buy private health care.

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  35. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Right Tano until government regs drive private insurance out of business by demanding they cover things they can not cover at the cost they are forced to cover them at. You are either a true believe or so gullible you will believe anything. The public option has always been the pathway to government funded, single payer healthcare. You do not have to all them death panels either, but when bureaucrats decide your treatment is too expensive, that is exactly what they are. I wish you and your ilk would just stop lying to us. Tell us what you want so we can reject it, get rid of you and go on our way.

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  36. I think entertainment networks are not supposed to make allies in the political field because it will affect the way they deliver their reports.

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  37. matt says:

    So government bureaucrat deciding that your treatment is too expensive = death panel

    CEOs of your insurance company deciding your treatment is too expensive so they drop you = ??????

    CEO’s of your hospital decide that your treatment is too expensive for you to afford = ??? Freedom to die??

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