Media Matters has received an internal memo from Fox News Washington managing editor Bill Sammon urging journalists not to use the phrase “public option,” favoring “government option,” at the height of the national health care debates in 2009.
The idea apparently came from Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who, in an August appearance on Sean Hannity’s show, explained that people responded much more favorably to the former term.
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.”
Two months later, Sammon was issuing this friendly reminder to “not slip back into calling it the ‘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.
Sammon spoke with the Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz about the leaked e-mail, offering up this defense:
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.”
kstoeffel [at] observer.com | @kstoeffel