Fox News' Washington managing editor has been caught red-handed.
As the health care debate was reaching a high point last year, a leaked e-mail shows Bill Sammon asked his news department to refer to the public option as the "government run option."
Later that evening, Fox News flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier, used the very phrase Sammon had requested.
The e-mail, obtained by the liberal watchdog Media Matters, indicates that Sammon sent the request after Republican pollster Frank Luntz said that polls show the "government option" was opposed by the public.
According to the report at Media Matters, in August of 2009 after Fox News' Sean Hannity used the term "public option," Luntz encouraged him to say "government option" instead.
"If you call it a 'public option,' the American people are split," Luntz said. "If you call it the 'government option,' the public is overwhelmingly against it."
"It's a great point, and from now on, I'm going to call it the government option," Hannity replied.
Luntz also claimed that the "government option" would be "sponsored by the government." In fact, the proposed public option bills would have funded the program with the fees paid by those who enrolled in it.
Only a day before Sammon sent the e-mail, Brett Baier had referred to the "public option" as well as the "government-run option."
An e-mail titled "friendly reminder: let's not slip back into calling it the 'public option'" was sent to Baier and other Fox News reporters the next morning.
"Please use the term 'government-run health insurance' or, when brevity is a concern, 'government option,' whenever possible," Sammon wrote.
"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,'" he continued.
"Here's another way to phrase it: 'The public option, which is the government-run plan,'" Sammon said.
That night, Baier and Fox News reporter Jim Angle followed Sammon's script. Baier referred to the public option as "government-run health insurance" and "government-run health insurance option."
Angle called the proposed program "a government insurance plan, the so-called public option" and "a government insurance option."
Fox News has repeatedly said that Special Report with Bret Baier is an objective news program.
"Fox argues that its news hours — 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays — are objective," The New York Times reported. Other hours of the day feature opinion shows like Glenn Beck and Hannity.
"The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page," Michael Clemente, the channel’s senior vice president for news, was quoted as saying.
The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz asked Sammon to comment on the leaked e-mail.
"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?'" Kurtz wrote. "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," Sammon said.
Prior to becoming Fox News' Washington managing editor, Sammon was the White House correspondent for The Washington Times where he was often thought of as President George W. Bush's favorite reporter.
"Six-foot-seven inch Bill Sammon–nicknamed 'Superstretch' by President Bush–enjoys more access to the commander-in-chief than any other journalist," Sammon's bio bragged. "Sammon has spent hours with Bush in the Oval Office, aboard Air Force One–even in the President's sprawling Texas ranch. As Senior White House Correspondent for the Washington Examiner, Bill Sammon travels with Bush wherever he goes and was with him on September 11, when his presidency was utterly transformed by the terrorist attacks."
In October, sources told Media Matters that since joining Fox News, Sammon's pressure to "distort" and "slant news" had made some in the newsroom uncomfortable.
"Since Bill Sammon assumed the role of Washington managing editor and vice president of news at the beginning of the Obama Administration, pressure from Fox management to produce stories that lean toward a conservative agenda, and distort news in some cases, has found its way into coverage, the sources said."
Text of Sammon's leaked e-mail follows:
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.