MEDIA
12/09/2010 09:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fox News Boss Ordered Staffers To Echo GOP Talking Point About Public Option In Health Care Coverage

Media Matters has obtained leaked emails that show how a top Washington editor at Fox News directed his journalists not to use the phrase "public option."

Instead, Bill Sammon, Fox News' Washington managing editor, told staffers to use the phrase "government option." This happens to be the exact phrase that Republican pollster Frank Luntz had advised Republicans to begin using to describe the public option -- on Sean Hannity's show, no less.

Speaking to Hannity in August 2009, Luntz said 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."

Media Matters obtained an email that Sammon sent the day after Harry Reid introduced the health care bill in the Senate. The bill included a public option. In Sammon's email, sent on Oct. 27, 2009, he reminds journalists not to use the term:

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.

The directive was echoed by Michael Clemente, senior vice president for news, who urged people to use the third option when describing the plan.

Whereas before, journalists had often used the terms "public option" and "government option" interchangeably, Media Matters found that, the evening after Sammon's email, all journalists on "Special Report" only used the "government" phrase.

The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz spoke to Sammon about the emails. Sammon did not deny sending them, and he also said he was merely trying to use accurate language:

The term public option, he said, "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," Sammons says. "It's simply an accurate, fair, objective term."