Shocker: Fox Washington editor slants news coverage

Bill Sammon told anchors not to refer to the popular-sounding "public option"

Published December 9, 2010 4:15PM (EST)

Uh-oh! Someone has proof that Fox News' supposedly straight news content is biased against Democrats. (I mean proof beyond the broadcasts themselves, which are transparently biased against Democrats.) Here's a memo from Fox Washington managing editor Bill Sammon, from when Congress was debating healthcare reform:

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.

Just a month earlier, Republican pollster Frank Luntz had explained to Sean Hannity that "public option" polled well, while "government option" seemed to turn people off, thanks to the years Republicans have spent both disparaging the government and, when possible, running it so poorly that people grew to distrust it in general.

Fox's senior vice president for news then hit reply-all and explained that option three, which is probably the fairest characterization, was the preferred phrase.

Bret Baier immediately stopped referring to "the public option" in his broadcasts.

Here's my question: Who at Fox is leaking things to Media Matters? Why Media Matters and not someone like Howard Kurtz, who'd report on the memo but who isn't dedicated to destroying the entire Fox News organization? It's curious!

Speaking of Kurtz, Sammon gave the Daily Beast's media reporter a quote:

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."

What I love about this response is that if you actually take it seriously, then from now on Fox News anchors will be referring to "government-run parks" and "so-called public schools." And "public libraries, which are government-run libraries."

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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