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."
From the August 30 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:
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Fox News' Jim Angle baselessly suggested that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Dr. Donald Berwick wants "government bureaucrats" to make end-of-life care decisions instead of patients. In fact, Berwick has urged doctors to work with patients and families to make those decisions.
Both America's Newsroom and On the Record falsely suggested that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the health care reform law worsens the long-term budget outlook. In fact, CBO said that since the law reduces deficits, it slightly improves the budget outlook.
On tonight's Special Report, Fox News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle reported on what he called "dire warnings today from the director of the Congressional Budget Office." Angle claimed that federal deficits are projected to "hit 62 percent of GDP this year, and if Congress adds to spending as it now plans to do, the deficit would climb to almost 90 percent by 2020."
That would be dire. In fact, it would be jaw-dropping.
Lest there be any doubt just how massive the deficit problem is, Fox News provided a chart:
Par for the course this week, Fox got the chart wrong. Jaw-droppingly wrong.
Consider, for a minute, that the Bureau of Economic Analysis recently pegged U.S. GDP at $14.6 trillion. Based on Angle's report, CBO predicts that the deficit will reach $9.05 trillion this year. That would be up exponentially from estimates in January.
What CBO director Doug Elmendorf actually testified was that the overall national debt might reach 62 percent of GDP this year and could reach 90 percent by 2020.
Alas, the only thing jaw-dropping here is Fox News' continued failure to create charts and graphs that are anywhere close to accurate.
Fox News' Jim Angle quoted Karl Rove criticizing energy reform legislation without noting that Rove's group, American Crossroads, recently accepted $1 million from an oil and gas executive.
On both "opinion" and "straight news" programs, Fox News has channeled the GOP talking points that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis and are "getting a free pass" because they are not overhauled by Democrats' financial regulatory reform legislation. But Fox repeatedly ignored that the Obama administration has initiated a separate effort to reform the housing finance system, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and have warned against moving too quickly on this front given the fragility of the housing market. Moreover, economists reject the notion that Fannie and Freddie were the root cause of the financial crisis.
As participants in today's health care summit took a lunch break, Fox News' Bret Baier brought on Jim Angle to perform what Baier described as a "fact check." But Angle's analysis came up short on a central fact that completely undermines his conclusion that health care reform will raise premiums -- namely, that the very bill Angle analyzed includes subsidies to offset premium costs.
Angle purported to fact check a back-and-forth at the summit between President Obama and Sen. Lamar Alexander about whether the Senate health care bill would increase premiums for people who buy health insurance on the individual market, rather than through their employer. Angle's bottom line: "rates would increase by 10 to 13 percent." He even repeated it to make it official:
ANGLE: Now, what the CBO -- and I can show you a chart here. CBO did a chart on what would happen to rates in individual, small-business, and large-group markets. And you see, in the non-group market -- that's the individual market. If you'll show -- the CBO found that after bringing in all sorts of people -- younger people, healthier people -- after all factors are considered, the bottom line is that rates would increase by 10 to 13 percent. Ten to 13 percent. That is what Senator Alexander was saying.
The president disputed that number, saying, "Well, no, it's a different thing." He came back after being handed a piece of paper by an aide and said, "Well, yes, in fact, the reason I'm paying 10 to 13 percent more is because I'm getting better insurance." Actually, the CBO found that that would cost 30 percent more, up to 30 percent more, but that after you take everything out, the net increase for individuals would be 10 to 13 percent. The president has now essentially embraced that number and seems to have confirmed that Senator Alexander was right; he was not -- with the one stipulation that it'd be different, better insurance, because it may be required by the federal government.
Actually, the bottom line on this topic is that the Congressional Budget Office concluded that the bill would reduce premiums for most policies purchased on the individual market. Angle only reached his "bottom line" after ignoring one of the bill's most important components -- substantial subsidies that would help many people in the individual market pay for their insurance. The CBO estimated that the federal subsidies would cover two-thirds of the premium costs and reduce premiums for most people purchasing insurance on the individual market. PolitiFact.com explained it well:
People who have to go out and buy insurance on their own (the individual market) would see rates increase by 10 to 13 percent. But more than half of those people -- 57 percent, in fact -- would be eligible for subsidies to help them pay for the insurance. People who get subsidies would see their premiums drop by more than half, according to the CBO. So most people would see their premiums stay the same or potentially drop.
The very on-screen chart Angle referred to specifically noted that the "10 to 13 percent" figure didn't take the effect of subsidies into consideration:
As we here at County Fair have said before, so much for zero tolerance.
From the December 18 edition of Fox News' Special Report:
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On Fox News, Martha MacCallum claimed that "U.S. corporations overall face an average combined tax of about 39%," adding that this was "the second highest rate among all industrialized countries." Fox News Washington correspondent Jim Angle later added that U.S. taxes "punish savings and investment more than the Europeans do in all sorts of way" and that China has "a 25% corporate tax rate, well below the U.S. rate of about 40%."
From the December 1 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk:
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In a report about Republicans' opposition to the inclusion of a public option plan in the health care reform bill, Jim Angle reported only GOP criticism of the public plan without noting supporters' responses to those arguments.
Reporting on Dick Cheney's speech, Jim Angle repeated the debunked claim that the use of harsh interrogation techniques helped thwart an attack on the U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.
Four evening news programs uncritically aired discredited claims Dick Cheney made suggesting that detainees provided information after -- and only after -- "enhanced interrogation techniques" were used.
Adopting the GOP's emphasis on what Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, some in the media have ignored evidence that the Bush administration began using the tactics before briefing Democrats, and that upon learning of them, Rep. Jane Harman unsuccessfully expressed concerns to the CIA.