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.
Journalists on the network's flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier, appear to have followed Sammon's directive in reporting on health care reform that evening.
Sources familiar with the situation in Fox's Washington bureau have told Media Matters that Sammon uses his position as managing editor to "slant" Fox's supposedly neutral news coverage to the right. Sammon's "government option" email is the clearest evidence yet that Sammon is aggressively pushing Fox's reporting to the right -- in this case by issuing written orders to his staff.
As far back as March 2009, Fox personalities had sporadically referred to the "government option."
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." Luntz explained that the program would be "sponsored by the government" and falsely claimed that it would also be "paid for by the government."
"You know what," Hannity replied, "it's a great point, and from now on, I'm going to call it the government option."
On October 26, 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the inclusion of a public insurance option that states could opt out of in the Senate's health care bill.
That night, Special Report used "public" and "government" interchangeably when describing the public option provision.
Anchor Bret Baier referred to "a so-called public option"; the "public option"; "government-provided insurance coverage"; "this government-run insurance option"; the "healthcare public option"; and "the government-run option, the public option." Correspondent Shannon Bream referred to "a government-run public option"; "a public option"; "a government-run option"; and "the public option."
The next morning, October 27, Sammon sent an email to the staffs of Special Report, Fox News Sunday, and FoxNews.com, as well as to other reporters and producers at the network. The subject line read: "friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the 'public option.' "
Sammon instructed staff to refer on air to "government-run health insurance," the "government option," "the public option, which is the government-run plan," or -- when "necessary" -- "the so-called public option":
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.
Fox's senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, soon replied. He thanked Sammon for his email and said that he preferred Fox staffers use Sammon's third phrasing: "The public option, which is the government-run plan."
This morning on Fox & Friends, The Daily Caller's Tucker Carlson discussed the potential repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell with host Brian Kilmeade and former DNC finance chair Robert Zimmerman. When Zimmerman asked Carlson what his excuse was for "not moving" on a repeal of DADT, Carlson explained that he is not opposed to repeal, but views it as "totally a sideshow issue" and a "stupid issue." Carlson also mocked the idea that it was "central to American national security."
Zimmerman explained that the US has a "shortage of Arabic translators," and that many have been dismissed under DADT, prompting Carlson to say "spare me."
Kilmeade, confused as always, chimed in with the question "if we repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, we'll have more Arabic translators? Most of them are gay?"
"Most translators are gay," Carlson joked, "and flamboyantly so." Watch:
Contrary to the smug dismissiveness of Carlson and Kilmeade, dozens of Arabic linguists have reportedly been dismissed from the military under DADT, in addition to more than 13,500 other service members. So, to answer Kilmeade's question: Yes, if we repeal DADT, we will have more Arabic translators.
Based on his website's editorial standards, Carlson's treatment of the issue on Fox this morning isn't much of a surprise. Last week, The Daily Caller published an odious column from Joe Rehyansky that included the "sarcastic comment" (since removed) that the military should allow lesbians - but not gay men - to serve in the military in order to give "straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream."
Yesterday, Fox Business host and Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones' radio show and joined Jones in pushing conspiracy theories about the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Napolitano announced that "twenty years from now, people will look at 9-11 the way we look at the assassination of JFK today. It couldn't possibly have been done the way the government told us."
In the past, we've noted that Napolitano has lent his credibility -- and, by extension, Fox News' -- to Jones' show by helping Jones promote bizarre anti-government conspiracies. Jones is widely recognized as one of the leaders of the "9-11 Truth" movement. He also, among many other outlandish theories, believes a "New World Order" is going to exterminate 80% of the world's population.
While Napolitano's appearances with Jones have been problematic in the past, his foray into pushing 9-11 Truth conspiracies should - but, based on the network's refusal to reprimand on-air talent, likely won't - spell the end of Napolitano's Fox News career.
Did you know that Barack Obama and liberals hate America and don't understand why it is the best country ever?
I had never heard such groundbreaking analysis until I cracked open Sarah Palin's new book, but it's true - and Palin can even egregiously crop a comment by Obama to prove it.
In a chapter titled "America the Exceptional," Palin claims that "many of our national leaders no longer believe in American exceptionalism," and instead think that "America is just an ordinary nation and so America should act just like an ordinary nation."
They don't believe we have a special message for the world or a special mission to preserve our greatness for the betterment of not just ourselves but all of humanity. Astonishingly, President Obama even said that he believes in American exceptionalism in the same way "the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Which is to say, he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism at all. He seems to think it is just a kind of irrational prejudice in favor of our way of life. To me, that is appalling. [America By Heart, pg 69]
A few pages later, Palin laments Obama's "global apology tour" and yearns for a time when America was led by people that "are not embarrassed by America, who see our country's flaws but also its greatness."
The dishonesty of Palin's assessment of Obama's views on American exceptionalism is really staggering. Let's return to the half-sentence Obama quote she uses to prove that he views American exceptionalism as "just a kind of irrational prejudice in favor of our way of life."
Obama's remark that he believes in American exceptionalism in the same way "the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism" came in response to a question by Ed Luce of the Financial Times in April of 2009 about whether Obama subscribes to American exceptionalism.
While Palin quotes Obama's first sentence, she leaves out the rest of the statement in order to lie about Obama and contrast him with Presidents Reagan and Kennedy.
Earlier this year, Fox News televangelist Glenn Beck spent several months making a mockery of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
In the build-up to his 8-28 Restoring Honor rally, Beck repeatedly tried to co-opt King's legacy and portray himself and his followers as the true torchbearers of King and the civil rights movement.
In her new book America by Heart, Sarah Palin continues this shameful tradition by using MLK's words to attack Obama for seeking a "fundamental transformation" of our country. After (approvingly) citing then-candidate Obama's speech on race during the 2008 presidential campaign, Palin writes:
My only wish is that President Obama would follow through on this hopeful view of America. To want a better and brighter future for our country does not mean a rejection of our founding or a "fundamental transformation" of who we are. Instead it means following, in part, the wisdom of the most powerful American voice for civil rights of the twentieth century, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Famously, Dr. King called not for a rejection of America's founding principles, but for America to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed." [America by Heart, pg 32]
In a rare moment in which Palin and I agree wholeheartedly, she claims on the next page "it's a shame that not everyone wants to quote Dr. King these days."
Aside from repeatedly quoting King's "I Have a Dream speech" - while removing it from the historical context of the culmination of a march on Washington by civil rights and labor leaders not only to combat racial injustice, but also calling for massive federal intervention in the economy to fight economic injustice - conservatives like Palin and Beck like to ignore the balance of King's writings and speeches.
First of all, Palin spends much of her book railing against big government and spending, joining Beck in decrying people who want "handouts." King, on the other hand, spent much of his life explicitly calling for the government to fight poverty by redistributing our nation's wealth; called for an economic bill of rights guaranteeing a job to all Americans; wanted the government to ensure a "guaranteed national income"; and called for our country to "place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind."
Surely by coincidence, three of the people most often listed as likely candidates for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination - Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich - have been spending some time in Iowa lately. Huckabee was in the state this past weekend, Palin is visiting Des Moines to promote her book this week (on News Corp's dime), and Gingrich swung by the state last week.
As we've noted, all three have benefited from their platform as Fox News employees, using their employment at the network to position themselves for possible presidential runs.
And a fourth Fox candidate, Rick Santorum, was interviewed by National Review Online last month about his increased presence in Iowa, during which he told the magazine that his role on Fox has "been big," and "helped folks remember who I am...it's a great platform, being able to talk about the current issues of the day."
In recent weeks, as likely 2012 candidates have begun to slowly transform into actual candidates, Fox finds itself in yet another ethical mess. While the network has claimed it will immediately end the contract of any employee that officially declares their candidacy, it's quite clear based on the actions of Santorum, Huckabee, Palin, and Gingrich, that they are at least dipping their toes in the 2012 pool - a reality acknowledged by Fox itself, which has admitted that Palin "certainly sounds like" she is running.
Now Mike Huckabee is joking to the Des Moines Register about wanting fellow Fox employee Sarah Palin's endorsement if he decides to run. If Fox had any concerns about ethics, they would immediately suspend the contracts of their employees that are exploring presidential runs.
But they don't, so they won't.
During an interview with Howard Kurtz, Fox News exec Roger Ailes lashed out at NPR executives over their firing of Juan Williams, saying they are "Nazis" that have a "Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism."
Politico reports that Ailes has apologized to the Anti Defamation League for his comments, saying he was "ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word":
"I was of course ad-libbing and should not have chosen that word," Ailes wrote in a letter to Abe Foxman, ADL's national director. "but I was angry at the time because of NPR's willingness to censor Juan Williams for not being liberal enough."
Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, replied: "I welcome Roger Ailes apology, which is as sincere as it is heartfelt. Nazi comparisons of this nature are clearly inappropriate and offensive. While I wish Roger had never invoked that terminology, I appreciate his efforts to immediately reach out and to retract his words before they did any further harm."
According to NPR's David Folkenlik, an NPR spokeswoman says that Ailes has not apologized to NPR directly for his comments.
And of course, Ailes' comments are entirely in character Fox News. If he agrees that Nazi comparisons are inappropriate, he should have a word with his employees that regularly use Nazi and Holocaust imagery to smear Democrats and progressives.
Michael Calderone has the text of the full letter Ailes sent to the ADL, as well as Foxman's response. Ailes says he should have called NPR execs "nasty, inflexible bigot[s]" instead, and defends Beck's Soros attacks:
I'm writing this just to let you know some background but also to apologize for using "Nazi" when in my now considered opinion "nasty, inflexible bigot" would have worked better. Juan Williams is a good man and like you a friend. And my friends never have to worry about me sticking up for them--even if I'm occasionally politically incorrect I never leave any doubts about my loyalty.
Last night, Fox News' Sarah Palin told ABC News that she thinks she could beat Obama in 2012 and is currently "looking at the lay of the land" and trying to decide if she will run for president.
Continuing their foray into heretofore unimaginable ethical quandaries, the Fox media empire is currently aggressively promoting Palin's comments.
Here's the front page of Fox Nation from earlier this morning:
And the front page of FoxNews.com:
On America's Newsroom this morning, host Martha MacCallum described the interview as a "bombshell," and said that Palin "certainly sounds like she's planning on running." MacCallum also pointed out that it's "not too early for folks to be declaring":
Last April, during an appearance at the National Press Club, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch displayed his trademark cluelessness about Fox News by pointing to Greta Van Susteren as an example of someone on the network who is "certainly close to the Democratic Party." As we noted, this was especially comical at the time, because Van Susteren was in the middle of turning her show into the official platform for Republicans trying to overturn the recently passed health care reform bill.
Today, Van Susteren showed her closeness to the Democratic Party by coming up with an almost unfathomably nitpicky reason to chide President Obama for being insufficiently "bipartisan."
Van Susteren announced on her blog that she thinks yesterday may have represented "a missed opportunity for President Obama" because it would have been a "grand gesture" for Obama to appear at the groundbreaking for George W. Bush's presidential library. Of course, as Van Susteren herself noted, Obama was a bit busy yesterday awarding the Medal of Honor, and she agreed that it was "a very important day for the nation" and that he "had to be there." (I guess he was supposed to be in two places at once?)
She also noted the obvious, which is that she has no idea if Bush actually invited Obama to the ceremony.
So, Van Susteren laments Obama's "missed opportunity" because he didn't attend an event that he may not have been invited to that took place while he was busy awarding the Medal of Honor.
Had Obama actually gone to the ceremony, he could have enjoyed the atmosphere of bipartisanship created by former Vice President Dick Cheney taking jabs at him.
In an interview with The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz, Fox News chairman Roger Ailes addressed Keith Olbermann's recent suspension from MSNBC.
As we noted at the time, Fox mostly avoided touching the story (since any report criticizing Olbermann would have made them seem like huge hypocrites). Kurtz reported that "Ailes had sent word to the troops that it wasn't much of a story." Kurtz also quotes Ailes as saying, "It isn't like we don't know the guy supports left-wingers."
Ailes proceeded to explain what Fox's supposed standards are when it comes to political donations:
Ailes says he bars his hard-news journalists from making political contributions, but merely discourages the practice for commentators and talk-show hosts. It can "disrupt the appearance of integrity. You have a responsibility not to make your colleagues look like a horse's ass."
He draws the line at donating to a candidate while also putting that person on the air, as Olbermann did in the case of Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva. But Hannity did the same thing in giving $5,000 to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and also interviewing her on his program.
Ailes doesn't defend the move, saying only: "I don't think there's any doubt about what Sean Hannity is." Last April, an obviously annoyed Ailes ordered Hannity to cancel a show at a Cincinnati Tea Party event for which the organizers were charging admission.
So, to recap: Ailes discourages opinion hosts and commentators from making political contributions because it might "disrupt the appearance of integrity" and claims that Olbermann's suspension "wasn't much of a story." However, he added that Olbermann's donating to a candidate while also interviewing them on-air was over the line. When Kurtz pointed out that Fox's own Sean Hannity had done the exact same thing, Ailes basically shrugged.
Essentially, Ailes pretended to have standards, was told that one of his primetime hosts had violated those standards, so he discarded them.