Public Option or Government Option? A Fox News Channel Memo Comes Under Scrutiny

By Alex Weprin 

A leaked memo from Fox News Channel VP and Washington managing editor Bill Sammon has been making the rounds online this morning. The memo, which is from Fall 2009, advises FNC’s news employees to use the term “government-run health insurance” or “government option” when referring to the health care proposal more popularly known as the “public option.”

What makes the memo notable is that it came just a few days after Republican pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s FNC show and advised the host to not use the term “public option” and instead to use “government option,” saying that adding “government” to the name makes the public less likely to support it.

Sammon spoke to The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz about the incident:

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,” Sammon says. “It’s simply an accurate, fair, objective term.”

Kurtz also goes into more detail about Sammon’s background as a reporter and commentator, noting that he has been open about his conservative politics in the past, and that Sammon’s predecessor Brit Hume “would not likely have issued such a directive.”

Of course, simply having a conservative viewpoint does not mean you cannot be a fair journalist, but any time a journalist is clear about where they stand politically, it brings extra scrutiny from critics.