BUSTED: Fox News Memo Reveals Coordinated Bias

In August of 2009, while the debate over health insurance reform was in full swing, GOP pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s program and advised Hannity and other Republican operatives to stop using the term “public option.” As a result of his own polling Luntz discovered that…

“…if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split, [but] if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.”

Luntz is a Republican pollster who specializes in language. His web site, The Word Doctors, sports the motto “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.” He is responsible for introducing rhetorical distortions such as the “death tax” into the public discourse. He truly does have a gift for doctoring words.

Two months after Luntz’s appearance with Hannity, Bill Sammon, Fox News’ Washington managing editor, issued a memo to Fox producers ordering them cease the use of the term “public option.” Media Matters published the memo today:

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.

This is about as clear a demonstration of institutional bias at Fox News as you’ll ever see. The evidence of their bias has always been apparent on the air, but this shows that it isn’t merely the opinions of the presenters, but that it is a coordinated policy embraced and enforced from Fox News’ executive suites. It is also contrary to an earlier memo Sammon distributed disingenuously asserting that, “We do not cheerlead for one cause or another.” However it is perfectly aligned with Sammon’s ideology as expressed in his books:

Bill Sammon Books

  • The Evangelical President: George Bush’s Struggle to Spread a Moral Democracy Throughout the World
  • At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election
  • Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats, and Confounding the Mainstream Media.
  • Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the White House
  • Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, Media Bias and the Bush Haters

In an interview on The Daily Beast. Howard Kurtz got Sammon to respond to the email flap:

“The term public option, he said, ‘is a vague, bland, undescriptive phrase,’ and that after all, ‘who would be against a public park?’ The phrase ‘government-run plan,’ he said, is ‘a more neutral term,’ and was used just last week by a New York Times columnist. I have no idea what the Republicans were pushing or not,’ Sammons says. ‘It’s simply an accurate, fair, objective term.’

If you believe that you’re probably already a loyal Glenn Beck viewer. Sammon’s complaint that “public option” is vague and bland is actually an endorsement of its neutrality and makes it more appropriate for unbiased reporting. Sammon knows full well that “government-run” is a loaded phrase. It certainly would have an impact on the anti-government Tea Party that is the foundation of both his network and the Republican Party.

His claim that he has no idea what Republicans were pushing is utterly implausible. If it were true it would mean that he is an incompetent manager and an uninformed journalist. How could he not know the GOP preference for “government-run” when it was broadcast on the second highest rated Fox News program? Does he expect people to believe that Frank Luntz could conduct polling on the phrases and report the results to Sean Hannity, without him having any knowledge of it? And was he entirely oblivious to the fact that only Republicans ever used the term “government-run”? His defense forces us conclude that he is either a liar or an idiot.

When Sammon objected to accusations that he was biased, Kurtz correctly pointed out a number of incidents that supported the accusations. He also mentioned a couple of Sammon’s books. However, I can’t let this little escape from reality go without comment:

Kurtz: “The significance of the marching orders is that they were issued to the news division, which aims to be fair and balanced and is run separately from the opinion side, populated by the likes of Hannity and Glenn Beck.”

I would like to see Kurtz provide any evidence that the news division at Fox is run separately from the opinion side. Or that they aim to be fair and balanced. The significance of the marching orders is that they were marching orders. An ethical network would not impose such constraints, even on their editorial commentators. The only sort of enterprise that would do so is one that is focused, not on news, but on propaganda; one that has an agenda and seeks to maintain ideological purity in their messaging. In other words: Fox News.


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