Memo highlights how Fox News skews its coverage

MEMO HIGHLIGHTS HOW FOX NEWS SKEWS ITS COVERAGE…. Fairly early on in the debate over health care reform, proponents found that a public insurance option that would compete with private insurers was one of the more popular provisions. Republicans were intent on changing that.

In August 2009, GOP pollster Frank Luntz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the “public option” polls well, but “government option” does not. Those hoping to kill the proposal should avoid the former and stress the latter.

Soon after, as Media Matters reports this morning, Fox News employees received a memo from their boss.

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.

Sammon’s email had a subject line that read, “friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option.'” He urged the network’s on-air staff to “use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible. He added that if it’s “necessary” to refer to the public option by name, Fox News staffers should “use the qualifier ‘so-called,’ as in ‘the so-called public option.'”

And since Sammon’s edict was a “reminder” to the staff, it seems likely Fox News employees had been told about using Republican-preferred rhetoric before.

Media Matters’ report added, “Fox executives regularly defend the network by claiming that the right-wing propaganda on Hannity and its other opinion shows is entirely separate from its news programming, which they insist is objective. But Sammon’s email gives credence to allegations that news from Fox’s Washington bureau is being deliberately distorted to benefit conservatives and the Republican Party.”

Yep, it sure does. Indeed, just to be clear here, Sammon’s marching orders were sent to the network’s news division, not its opinion shows.

What’s more, it worked. After the memo, Fox News employees did as they were told, and stuck to the GOP-friendly script.

Howard Kurtz had a good report on this, and asked Sammon for an explanation. The Fox News editor said the poll-tested phrase preferred by Republicans was “a more neutral term,” which is why he sent the directive. Sammon added that he didn’t know Republicans were pushing the same phrasing.

To a certain extent, this is about as surprising as a sunrise — of course Fox News slants its coverage deliberately. Of course it’s a partisan propaganda outlet. Of course its Republican editors tell their so-called journalists to stick to GOP talking points. Anyone surprised by these revelations hasn’t been paying attention.

That said, when memos like Sammon’s come to public light, it helps add additional weight to the larger indictment. As proof like this gets added to the larger argument, the pretense of professionalism and Fox News “standards” gets buried that much deeper.