Thursday, December 09, 2010


Least surprising exposé ever, from Media Matters:

LEAKED EMAIL: Fox boss caught slanting news reporting

At the height of the health care reform debate last fall, Bill Sammon, Fox News' controversial Washington managing editor, sent a memo directing his network's journalists not to use the phrase "public option."

Instead, Sammon wrote, Fox's reporters should use "government option" and similar phrases -- wording that a top Republican pollster had recommended in order to turn public opinion against the Democrats' reform efforts.

Try to contain your amazement.

The e-mail went out on October 27, 2009, after Foxsters were heard using the conservatively incorrect phrase on air, rather than phraseology that had been approved by pollster Frank Luntz. After the e-mail, that mistake wasn't repeated:

On the October 27 Special Report [with Bret Baier] -- unlike on the previous night's broadcast -- ... 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." ...

Funniest thing about this? The fact that the people at Fox were actually worried about the possibility that a public option would actually become part of the health-care law. (Sammon has a hell of lot more faith in the ideological purity of elected Democrats than is actually warranted.)

Second-funniest thing? The fact that this might actually be surprising to readers of, say, Howie Kurtz, who devotes a Daily Beast column to carefully examining the evidence pro and con, in order to determine whether the charges of bias are, in fact, valid:

Some Fox staffers are concerned about Sammon’s role because he leans right in his on-air analysis and is the author of such books as Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Democrats, Outwitting Opponents and Confounding the Mainstream Media, and At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election.

Hmmm ... suggests possible media bias ... however ...

Sammon said in the interview that he was a newspaper reporter for 25 years and his record demonstrates that he hasn't favored either side. "Have I said things where I take a conservative view? Give me specifics," he said.

See? Maybe it's debatable!

Kurtz actually takes Sammon's challenge literally and provides several Sammon soundbites with a clear ideological bent. Boy, I bet that took a lot of digging, don't you?

What is wrong with our political culture that we still have to debate this? It's like debating whether a well-used, infrequently emptied Porta-Potti in the desert in July smells bad.

One detail I find interesting: a few months prior to Sammon's memo, Luntz himself discussed the issue with Sean Hannity on Hannity's show:

Two months prior to Sammon's 2009 memo, Republican pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity's August 18 Fox News program. Luntz scolded Hannity for referring to the "public option" and encouraged Hannity to use "government option" instead.

Luntz argued that "if you call it a 'public option,' the American people are split," but that "if you call it the 'government option,' the public is overwhelmingly against it." ...

"You know what," Hannity replied, "it's a great point, and from now on, I'm going to call it the government option."

This shows how thoroughly trained the Fox audience is. Not only do they respond to the day-to-day propaganda with Pavlovian predictability, but they'll also sit and happily watch as these guys openly discuss the very techniques used to keep them stupid.

(Via Steve Benen.)

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