Editorial Control…

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz writes about a set of internal FNC memos that were leaked to Media Matters which are going to cause some discomfort in FNC’s D.C. Bureau…

The memos were obtained by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters. The public option—an alternative insurance exchange for those who could not get health coverage from their employers—would in fact have been run by the Health and Human Services Department. (The provision was eventually dropped before Congress passed the legislation.) 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.

Sammon said in an interview that the term “public option” “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. It’s simply an accurate, fair, objective term.”

Other news organizations periodically described the plan as government-run or used the terms interchangeably, but not as part of any edict. While news executives routinely offer guidance about proper wording in news stories, the semantics in this case were clearly favored by the Republicans.

Related: Slate’s Jack Shafer defends FNC…

The call to refer to the program as the government option instead of the public option came from Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Media Matters and Kurtz report. But this shouldn’t disqualify the new term from the Fox News stylebook. Government option is superior to public option in that it emphasizes that the government—and thus the taxpayers—will be footing the bill. As a modifier, public has many nongovernmental uses, as in public appearance, public figure, public display, public-key cryptography, public editor, public enemy, public storage, and public opinion.

But when government is used as an adjective, there is no such confusion. Does that make Fox News’ semantic solution superior? I’ve always thought that Social Security should be renamed Government Ponzi Scheme. I’d also like the Export-Import Bank to be renamed the Government Subsidy Depot—but that’s another column.

That Sammon issued a memo directing Fox News reporters to use a phrase he considers more accurate hardly constitutes “spin,” as the headline to Kurtz’s piece has it. If government option is spin, isn’t public option spin, too?

“Government Ponzi Scheme”? Nice…and accurate.

54 Responses to “Editorial Control…”

  1. imnotblue Says:

    Kurtz really goofs himself in this one.

    He demonstrates that the term “government option,” is more negatively charged than “public option.” He demonstrates that FNC wanted its people to use the term, “government option,” instead of “public option” alone.

    But what he fails to demonstrates is that they’re wrong for doing so. There is an assumption that because it was seen more negatively by the public, that it must have been “bad” or “right-wing” to call it that. However, is the phrase inaccurate? Does it state something untrue? And what about “public option,” does that better describe the plan? Did it more accurately convey what it really was?

    Kurtz stops short of answering those questions, and winds up just parroting Media Matter’s perpetual anger… inaccurate and unfocused as it is.

  2. Big deal – as if this is going to make a difference in how any one views the plan that was passed. There were enough other “options” out there through TV, radio or web (maybe even their own employer) for any person who wanted to get information about the health care plan that was being proposed. After all, it took up close to 18 months to get he dang thing passed – so if a news listener heard “public option” 50% of the time and the “government run option” the other 50% of the time – they thought it was garbage then and still do.

  3. Josh Kaib Says:

    Many people on the left supported the public option without knowing what is was beyond being “public” like their much-loved public radio. This editorial decision is no different than NBC calling the Iraq War a “civil war” and then quietly dropping it without explaining when the “civil war” ended.

  4. It’s bias, pure and simple. They went for a “government bad” term instead of the common one everyone else was using. It’s propaganda.

  5. imnotblue Says:

    ^ What wasn’t it “propaganda” to use “public option.” It seems that that was the term the White House and Democrats prefered… so isn’t that too evidence of bias and “propaganda?”

  6. lonestar77 Says:

    Sammon instructed people to call Govt run healthcare, Govt run healthcare. Wow, what a conspiracy. Kurtz basically makes a fool of himself with this piece. He shows his bias by concluding that calling govt run healthcare what it is, is bad while calling it whatever the administration wants to call it is good.

    Also, in his efforts to paint Sammon as someone with a history of right-wing bias, he fails miserably. His examples include Sammon stating that the MSM hates the tea party, that Obama’s “stimulus” bill was a public relations nightmare, and pointing out that the left wasn’t really anti-war, they were anti- Bush.

    I suppose Kurtz’ next example could have been that Bill Sammon once said “water is wet”.

  7. lonestar77 Says:

    “It’s bias, pure and simple. They went for a “government bad” term instead of the common one everyone else was using. It’s propaganda.”

    Everyone else calling it a “public option” is bias and propaganda. Who’s not for a “public option”? The government is attempting to take over health care and you think it’s more appropriate to call that a “public option” as opposed to “government-run healthcare”? That’s insane.

    Kurtz is typical of the left-wing media. The left-wing bias is so predominant and popular within the MSM that it’s what’s acceptable. Any deviation from left-wing spin is considered “bias”.

  8. Congressional bills ate generally called what the proponents call them. Everybody knew the public option was an option the government would offer in competition with private for-profit services. FNC feeds an audience that feels the government shouldn’t run anything, so “government-run” is a dog whistle meaning “We don’t like this”.

    At least Pam was honest enough to accept the propaganda and say “who cares”.

  9. Gee, FNC uses disparaging terms on air to denigrate Democratic initiatives. I thought everyone knew this was how FOX operated. After all it is the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. What would you expect?

  10. It’s more of the same shyte: A conservative network that considers its beliefs The One True Way, then presents them as “fair and balanced” because it’s The Truth. And their acolytes circle the wagons in the face of any criticism.

    Fox News is not a news organization. It’s a religion that does some news. A more news-oriented CBN. And their “believers” know it. You guys don’t support the propaganda because it’s “fair”. You support it because you know it’s “true”.

  11. So, the gist of the complaint is that FNC used a term that you figure would upset some of the audience. Now, sure the term was technically correct, but that’s not the point. And sure the other available term was more Democrat-friendly, but that’s also not the point.

    The point is that FNC used language that the left didn’t approve of (because it didn’t help their cause), and therefore FNC’s the bad guy. Had they just fallen in line like the other networks, and used the DNC language… it would have been “acceptable” bias, right?

  12. Blue, you have to call “something” “something”. GM calls the Volt a Plug-In Hybrid. If Fox decided to call it a “government-supported hybrid”, it may be technically correct, but would both not be the name it was given, and would express an obvious bias against it. “Government-run” from a network that blasts “the government wants to take over your lives” – including in its promos – night and day is clearly an editorial position landed on top of a news item.

    It’s propaganda, and you’re fine with it because you agree with it. The ability for you Fox Believers to deflect all criticism is mindboggling.

  13. I prefer when news organisations use labels that accurately reflect the topic. “Public” is the opposite of “private” and is not necessarily synonymous with “government”. “Publicly-traded” stocks have nothing to do with the government, for example. Thus, the use of “government-run” is the more proper and accurately descriptive terminology.

    Bill Sammon is absolutely correct and there’s a reason the proponents of the healthcare legislation attempted to use confusing terminology.

  14. Liberals want government guaranteed healthcare for everyone – a laudable goal – but complain if it’s called “government healthcare”?

    And as IMB notes, why isn’t it biased to call it the “public option” since that’s the term favored by proponents?

    How about a third one: state or national healthcare?

    FNC is indeed biased but on the list of examples this is, for me, a pretty weak one.

  15. Language semantics are all about selling your idea. MSNBC uses semantics just as does Fox as dos CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS. And Joe – I’m sure you do this to get our goat – but FOX is a news organization. No matter how many times you say it, it isn’t true and you know it. (At least I think you are really smart enough to know that?!)

    Just like the “tax cuts” are semantics. Actually, it is keeping rates what they have been for 10 years! It really is not a tax cut. Saying these tax cuts are going to “cost” so many billions of dollars is semantics – it is just that the government is going to be able to “take less” of what we make.

    Just like a “cut” in spending for the fools in government is that you don’t give them the full increase they wanted.

    It appears that more folks in the country are getting tuned into the language semantics that all media are using and that is a good thing- anytime you understand the bias of people you are choosing to listen to is a good thing.

  16. “State” or “national” is better. I don’t insist on the proponent’s title, but I object to a title that clearly represents opposition.

    I agree with Pam that the semantics around the “tax cut” have sometimes been deceiving, but don’t agree that “tax cut” was one of them. It was specifically a temporary tax cut, and calling it the “current rate” implies a permanence that wasn’t intended ten years ago. It’s not the current rate; it’s not a tax increase. It’s a temporary tax cut that should be extended until the economy improves.

    I used to watch a lot of religious programming. I know a religious network when I see one. FNC has a POV that permeates the organization, and is considered “right”..therefore it’s ok to present that bias as “fair”. Fox does more news than CBN, but they both present most of it from their “right” way of thinking. Shep and Special Report are the exceptions, although Bret Baier has his “right” moments, too. OTOH, Election Night was excellent.

    Fox is brilliant, and I watch a lot of it, but I know what I’m watching. As long as I keep a little distance, and avoid the more egregious crap from Beck and Hannity, it has a lot to offer. Fair and balanced, it is not.

  17. lonestar77 Says:

    The left controlled the message for a looooong time but that time has ended. That’s what this is about. Liberals want to call government run healtchare a “public option” because that term sounds nothing like what the program actually is. FNC refused to toe the left-wing line so liberals are upset. Plain & simple.

    From 2001 through 2008 when referring to the “Bush Tax Cuts”, many in the media referred to them as “tax cuts for the wealthy”. I would imagine there were a lot of people out there who actually thought the Bush tax cuts were only for the wealthy. I would bet that very few people knew that those tax cuts dropped the lowest rate from 15% to 10%. Howard Kurtz, Joe, and the others happily played along with this lie. Now, these same people are upset because FNC, instead of toeing the liberal line, called Obamacare what it is.

    The WH could have called it “the apple pie option” and Kurtz and the others would have played right along. If FNC chose not to call it that, they would be hammered as being biased because they refused to toe the line. That’s how the MSM works.

  18. joeremi Says:
    December 9, 2010 at 10:19 am

    If Fox decided to call it a “government-supported hybrid”, it may be technically correct, but would both not be the name it was given, and would express an obvious bias against it.

    What if it (the car), was called “The best car ever, you need this and should buy it right now.” Would it still be responsible journalism to call it that?

    “Government-run” from a network that blasts “the government wants to take over your lives” – including in its promos – night and day is clearly an editorial position landed on top of a news item.

    So because FNC (allegedly) talks about government wanting to “take over your lives,” they’re prevented from talking about the government actually attempting to take over an important element of your life? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    It’s propaganda, and you’re fine with it because you agree with it. The ability for you Fox Believers to deflect all criticism is mindboggling.

    No, I’m fine with it because it’s accurate… and I’m not going to fault a network for being accurate.

    Conversely, the left didn’t seem to have a problem with NBC made an editorial decision to call the Iraq war a “civil war,” and I don’t remember a lot of folks on the left saying, “Coming from a network that frequently says the Iraq war was a bad idea, this expresses obvious bias.” Of course, that was an OPINION about the war, issued from NBC HQ… so it’s not exactly the same. No, it’s much more obvious institutional bias… yet, received little complaint. Why do you think that is?

  19. LS, I can’t debate with you when you start on the “they would have” stuff. You’re not debating..you’re “telling me the truth”. I can’t hear you.

  20. lonestar77 Says:

    Fine, Joe. Kurtz looks like a fool with what he wrote. Calling Obamacare “gov’t run healthcare” is a heck of a lot more accurate than calling it a “public option”. Liberals are mad because FNC didn’t wrap it up in a pretty red bow and present it as the greatest gift to mankind like the other networks did. Can ya hear me now?

    I think they should have called it a “heaping pile of shitcare” but that’s just me.

  21. lonestar77 Says:

    Fine, Joe. Kurtz looks like a fool with what he wrote. Calling Obamacare “gov’t run healthcare” is a heck of a lot more accurate than calling it a “public option”. Liberals are mad because FNC didn’t wrap it up in a pretty red bow and present it as the greatest gift to mankind like the other networks did. Can ya hear me now?

    I think they should have called it a “heaping pile of shiitecare” but that’s just me.

  22. What if it (the car), was called “The best car ever, you need this and should buy it right now.” Would it still be responsible journalism to call it that?

    Thanks for playing, Blue, but as a matter of fact I’m not interested in being talked to like I’m 12. You non-debating “let’s all tell each other how superior we are” Believers have fun..I’ve got work to do. Tootles.

  23. ^ Anyone want to put bets on how many more posts Joe puts up before he actually leaves? “Gotta go ride my bike now, bye.” And then back in 4 minutes with another post, and a “Now I’ve had enough” ending. But 10 minutes later… ugh. Come off it, Joe… we’ve heard the, “I’m taking my ball and going home,” line before. You’re not going anywhere.

    But to what you said… I honestly wasn’t trying to talk down to you like that. My point is that if you insist only reporting the name the government (or any organization) gives you, you’re only going to be repeating THEIR propaganda, since they’re the one’s trying to sell you something.

    Let me ask you this, did you go for Bush’s “Operation Enduring Freedom” or whatever? Isn’t that the same thing? Not even FNC went with that goofy name… but by your rules, you believe they should have.

    Is that what you really believe?

  24. Actually, smart guy, my smartypants phone let’s me yak whenever the hell I want..INCLUDING bike rides. A convenience I don’t necessarily consider a GOOD thing. But at this moment I really am busy, and really tired of this endless-loop topic. See ya.

  25. Y’now, the solution would simply have been to instruct the reporters to give both names. I.e., “What supporters call the public option and others call government run healthcare.”

    Yeah, a bit more wordy and unwieldy but it “fairly” gives both sides’ views and with “balance”.

    Fair and balanced…..

  26. As for the ongoing debate on extending the Bush tax cuts (which Democrats derided for eight years claiming it “favoured the wealthy”), most FNC reporters have been careful to call it exactly that – an “extension”. For purposes of debate, however, it’s also acceptable to claim that not extending those would be “effectively a tax increase”. Brett Baier and Megyn Kelly have done this several times recently, but always with the qualifier of something like, “it’s really an extension”.

    If you make $40K/yr and the extension doesn’t pass, you’ll feel it as an “increase” when your January paychecks drop by about $100/week. Ouch.

  27. -“What supporters call the public option and others call…”-

    I hear exactly that on Fox all the time.

  28. If government option is spin, isn’t public option spin, too?

    Sure, if editors for organizations instructed the reporters to use “public option”, then it smacks of spin (can spin smack?).

    If, however, reporters sloppily or unthinkingly used the term, it’s not spin.

    Poor reporting vs. tendentious reporting.

  29. This is absolutely stupid. A public option is government run, what do you want it called, unicorns and rainbows galore? I’m sorry, there is a better argument for people who call it socialized medicine, this is just nitpicking gone haywire.

    fritz3 Says:
    December 9, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Fritz, how about some ACTUAL insight heh?

  30. tinafromtampa Says:

    This is typical of Howie, makes a fool out of himself without even knowing it. I presume he will carry this to his (un)reliable sources show on Sunday. Go away Howie, your credibility is shot.

  31. savefarris Says:

    Funny, I don’t remember Howard getting worked up when all the media’s stylebooks stopped using “pro-life” and ‘pro-abortion” and started using “anti-abortion” and “pro-choice”.

    This is just MMFA trying to stir up a sh%^storm for anyone who’ll bite as a way to distract from the shellacking Obama’s taking on the tax issue. Howard just bit first.

  32. Josh Kaib Says:

    How could anyone be against the rainbows and unicorns galore plan?!

  33. I’ve always thought that Social Security should be renamed Government Ponzi Scheme.

    Well, that’s a triumph of misinformation right there. No wonder he doesn’t have a problem with “government option.”

    Fox News is not a news organization. It’s a religion that does some news.

    You do have a point. Some of their supporters get a little cult-like; you’d think Fox never did anything wrong and was perpetually being wronged and persecuted.

    As far as “public option,” the term was in common use and used by news organizations. People knew what it was and the term worked just fine. So I’d want it called “public option.”

  34. And furthermore Obama wasn’t even in favor of the public option. It’s not like we liberals had a scheme to help Obama pass his plan by hyping the public option. We wanted a different plan than what Obama and the Senate put together. The debate over the public option didn’t do the supporters of Obama’s plan a lot of favors, it actually helped to demoralize the liberal base because Obama didn’t fight for the public option.

  35. -Social Security & Ponzi Scheme-

    If the exact methodology that is used to pay out and fund the social security programme was duplicated for any private venture, federal prosecutors would have little trouble obtaining a felony conviction. The only difference being that promises made under the Social Security Act (and subsequent amendments) are backed by the full faith a credit of the USA.

  36. jimtreacher Says:

    If government is good, and health insurance is good, why is saying “government-run health insurance” bad?

  37. Funny, I don’t remember Howard getting worked up when all the media’s stylebooks stopped using “pro-life” and ‘pro-abortion” and started using “anti-abortion” and “pro-choice”.

    That’s the biggest pile of revisionist crap I’ve heard in a while. The terms have been “pro-life” and “pro-choice” for as long as I can remember..long before anybody had heard of Howard Kurtz.

    If government is good, and health insurance is good, why is saying “government-run health insurance” bad?

    I explained that. FNC promotes ad nauseum the concept that “government is bad”.They injected “government-run” into a debate that wasn’t using that particular phraseology to make a point, and appease their audience. This isn’t rocket science.

  38. bushleaguer Says:

    FNC’s assertion would have some validity (that “government” or government-run” was more accurate) if they are willing to stay consistent and rename the following –

    1. Don’t refer to “public schools versus private schools” anymore….instead use “government schools versus private schools.”

    2. Don’t refer to “public parks” anymore. Instead, call them “government parks.”

    And so on…

  39. lonestar77 Says:

    “FNC promotes ad nauseum the concept that “government is bad”.”

    That’s completely incorrect. Some of the hosts may promote the concept that BIG govt is bad or they may be concerned that the govt is currently over reaching.

    I haven’t heard anyone promote the idea that govt is bad.

  40. Josh Kaib Says:

    TREACHER!

  41. I haven’t heard anyone promote the idea that govt is bad.

    Bull. “Big government”, “less government”, “government out of our lives” are the only references to government you hear on Fox. “The only good government program is a dead one.”

  42. -public schools-

    In most (if not all) states the public school systems are distinct and separate entity from the state or local governments. Where I live, in fact, the public school district boundaries have no correlation to city or county boundaries. Also, they are largely funded through taxation that doesn’t filter through the local or state governments, and have their own elected boards.

    Strictly speaking, public schools are not “government schools”.

  43. If the exact methodology that is used to pay out and fund the social security programme was duplicated for any private venture, federal prosecutors would have little trouble obtaining a felony conviction.

    This is a terrible argument. The government is so unlike a private venture. I suspect prosecutors would obtain a conviction against a private venture that tried to levy taxes. Social Security is a highly successful and extremely efficient program, with very low administrative costs, and it’s kept millions of older people out of poverty. This “Ponzi Scheme” talking point is an attempt to dupe people into thinking they won’t collect Social Security, even though people have collected benefits for many many decades. But the GOP would prefer to give more tax cuts to the wealthiest 1% and cut Social Security benefits for everybody else, frankly.

    Joe is right about Fox’s general take on government. Government programs accomplishing anything positive? You won’t hear it on Fox. They’re only interested in certain kinds of stories about government.

  44. harry1420 Says:

    fox watchers are full of kool aid and dont wanna face the truth that fox is nothing more than GOP tv….and anything about NEWS!

  45. The government is so unlike a private venture

    Would probably be wise for you to read and comprehend the rest of what I wrote.

  46. Harry, I appreciate that you sorta see things my way, but ya gotta admit..it sounds a little no capitals dot dot dot exclamation point screechy.

  47. Jack Shafer pretty well nails it. Someone who refers to the ‘MSM’ as a ‘centrist monopoly’ say this is BS, and that’s good enough for me. Not that my opinion was ever in doubt. 😉

  48. ^ We disagree. Not that that was ever in doubt. FNC came up with an opinion-tinged new moniker because they felt that ‘public option’ was ‘opinion-tinged’ the other way. They were wrong. ‘Public option’ was a generic title for ‘government program’ that everyone understood. But FNC needed a ‘fair and balanced’ term that leaned right. It’s what they do. Keep some distance; understand where they’re coming from; and you can enjoy the many salient and interesting points they make at times.

    Fox leans right, MSNBC leans left. But MSNBC are amateurs. Fox will show you how it’s done..

  49. I don’t think anyone fully understood what “public option” meant. And by “anyone” I’m including members of Congress who had to decide how they were going to vote on it.

  50. Of course, ‘keeping some distance’ means approaching them with a preconceived-notion of why they do what they do. That means focusing on the words that confirm the bias, and overlooking those that don’t. I.E., freaking when they refer to tax increases as ‘tax increases’, but overlooking all the times when they specify ‘extending tax cuts’.

  51. ^ Nope. ‘Distance’ means knowing their schtick, but appreciating the brilliant work they do, too. True Believers walk in lockstep; True Haters give them no credit. I’m not a True Either.

  52. ^ Btw, this applies to MSNBC, as well. Righties have a tendency to only watch Fox, and disregard anything that happens on MSNBC. That’s so closed-minded. Give them a proper distance; understand their particular POV; and you might find nuggets of Truth there, too. This crap where we only listen to Our Side is ridiculous. Challenging our POV is good for us.

  53. I don’t get why everyone is so upset at Kurtz. All he’s doing is reporting the story.

    That Fox News gets it’s talking points refined by Frank Luntz is no big secret. Heck, we just discussed an interview with Roger Ailes a few days ago where he admitted that he told his on air staff what to say.

    It does explain somewhat why Major Garrett sounds so much more relaxed in interviews than his often stilted appearances on FNC.

    I can’t remember if Shep fell in line with the other FOX talent in how he referred to the public option; did he get with the program or go rogue?

  54. […] Someone at FNC has it in for its DC Bureau Chief Bill Sammon. I can see one embarrassing leaked email coming out as a random thing not necessarily indicative of anything. But two; both of which wind up […]

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