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Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers not to use the commonly accepted phrase “public option” to describe a proposed government-run health insurance agency. The so-called “public option” is shorthand for a proposed health insurance plan offered by the federal government primarily for uninsured citizens who have trouble affording private health care coverage. Instead, Sammon requires reporters and news anchors to use terms such as “government option”—terms identified by Republican pollster Frank Luntz as being more negative and more likely to turn viewers away from supporting such an effort. (Ironically, a month ago, Sammon sent an email reminding his staff that Fox News “reports” the news as it happens, and that their function is that of “dispassionate observers”—see September 12, 2009). The liberal news watchdog Web site Media Matters will compile a number of instances from “straight news” broadcasts on Fox News that seem to follow Sammon’s instructions, particularly on the network’s evening flagship news program, Special Report with Bret Baier. Inside sources will tell Media Matters reporter Ben Dimiero that Sammon regularly uses his position as managing editor to “slant” Fox News’s “neutral” news coverage to the right. Dimiero will write, “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.” In August 2009, Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News opinion show, and told Hannity to use the term “government option” instead of “public option.” Luntz explained that “if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” but “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” He went on to say that the program would be “sponsored by the government,” and falsely told Hannity that such a program would be “paid for by the government.” Hannity told Luntz that “it’s a great point, and from now on, I’m going to call it the government option.” The night before Sammon’s email, Baier used both “public option” and “government option” in describing a proposed inclusion by Senate Democrats, as did correspondent Shannon Bream. The next morning, Sammon sends his email, which is titled “[F]riendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the ‘public option,’” and reading in part, “Please use the term ‘government-run health insurance’ or, when brevity is a concern, ‘government option,’ whenever possible. 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.’ Here’s another way to phrase it: ‘The public option, which is the government-run plan.’ 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.” Fox News’s senior vice president for news, Michael Clemente, concurs in a follow-up email and tells news staff that he prefers Sammon’s phrasing “[t]he public option, which is the government-run plan.” After Sammon’s and Clemente’s emails, Baier and others will no longer use the phrase “public option” without using Sammon’s qualifiers. Dimiero will write that Sammon’s title wording of a “friendly reminder” indicates that similar instructions had been issued previously. Indeed, during a September 3, 2009 broadcast, Baier repeatedly interrupted his guest, NPR’s Mara Liasson, to “correct” her phrasing of “public option” as the “government-run option of health insurance.” Liasson, along with conservative guests Charles Krauthammer and Steve Hayes, agreed to use Baier’s phrasing. And during Baier’s broadcast, on-screen chyrons described the idea as “Government Option.” Dimiero will write: “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.” Sammon will tell media reporter Howard Kurtz that he prefers the phrasing “government option” because it is “a more neutral term,” and the phrase “public option” is “vague, bland,” and “undescriptive.” He will deny any knowledge of “what the Republicans were pushing.” (Dimiero 12/9/2010)
Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor for Fox News, sends an internal email instructing his journalists and producers to slant their coverage of climate change stories in favor of questioning the validity of climate change claims. Sammon’s order is given during a series of global climate change talks, and less than 15 minutes after Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler told viewers that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) had announced that 2000-2009 was “on track to be the warmest [decade] on record.” Sammon’s email says in part: “Given the controversy over the veracity of climate change data… we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question. It is not our place as journalists to assert such notions as facts, especially as this debate intensifies.” The email also comes amidst a steady promotion by the network of the so-called “Climategate” scandal, which hinges on misrepresentations of emails sent between climate scientists and supposedly casts critical doubts on the science behind the claims of climate change and global warming. Ultimately, all independent inquiries will clear the accused scientists of misconduct and manipulation, though these reports will receive less attention from Fox. And, though Sammon portrays his directive as an attempt to be fair and balanced, the “debate” is largely in the media, and fueled by conservative politics and by corporations and investors that would be impacted by regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. No national or international scientific body disputes that global warming is caused by human activities, and it is the consensus view of the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions are the cause of the rise in the Earth’s average temperature since the 19th century. Goler had noted during his broadcast that in spite of “Climategate” claims, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prove that the climate is indeed heating up due to a man-made increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Despite the facts, minutes after Goler’s report, Sammon sends his email to the staffs of Fox News’s “straight” news shows and others, ordering them to report that claims of human-caused climate change are controversial. That evening, news anchor Bret Baier introduces another report by Goler by saying in part that as “Climategate-fueled skeptics continued to impugn global warming science, researchers today issued new and even more dire warnings about the possible effects of a warmer planet.” After Goler’s evening report, Baier tells viewers that “skeptics say the recordkeeping began about the time a cold period was ending in the mid 1800s and what looks like an increase may just be part of a longer cycle,” and runs a clip by American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green impugning the credibility of climate change science. And a few minutes later, correspondent James Rosen falsely claims that climate scientists “destroyed more than 150 years worth of raw climate data” in order to promote the theory of climate change. (Dimiero 12/15/2010)
Sammon Previously Manipulated Fox News Reporting - Less than two months ago, Sammon ordered journalists and producers to use the term “government option” instead of “public option” to describe a specific health care proposal by Senate Democrats, as his preferred term had been shown to be less favorable to that proposal (see October 27, 2009 and After).
Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, who for years has stirred the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s birth certificate (see July 20, 2008, October 24, 2008, and August 4, 2009), appears on Fox Business Channel to discuss the release of President Obama’s “long form” certificate (see April 27, 2011). Using a poster-size reproduction of the certificate as a prop, Geller says the certificate is “actually not a birth certificate,” calling it a “certificate of live birth.” Host Eric Bolling insists that the certificate has been “Photoshopped” (i.e. altered using the graphics program Photoshop) because of a “green border” surrounding the certificate. Geller agrees that the border is “suspect.” Bolling says the certificate “opens up the can of worms that there are at least questions for it.” Both Bolling and Geller appear to be basing their “analysis” on the quickly-debunked claim that the “layering” of the PDF image of the certificate “proves” it is a fake (see April 27, 2011). Fox contributor Monica Crowley says billionaire real estage mogul and television host Donald Trump “forced the president’s hand to the point where he actually produced this document that we’re talking about.” She says Obama took a “direct slam at Donald Trump” by calling those who continue to question the legitimacy of his birth “sideshows and carnival barkers.” However, Crowley says, “we’ve got this document produced today, which means President Obama zero, carnival barker one.” Guest Keith Ablow agrees with Crowley that Trump deserves the credit for “forcing” Obama to release the certificate. Bolling says that Obama’s timing in releasing the certificate—on the same day that Trump appears in New Hampshire as part of what some consider to be his preparations to enter the 2012 presidential campaign—is obviously an attempt to upstage Trump. Ablow says there is some as-yet unknown reason why Obama has not released this “long form” certificate until now (Ablow does not inform viewers that Hawaiian state law prohibits the “long form” certificate from being given to anyone, and that Obama needed to get a special dispensation from the Hawaiian State Department to be given a copy—see July 1, 2009). Crowley cites the theory of author and conspiracist Jerome Corsi (see August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, September 21, 2010, January 18, 2011, and March 27-28, 2011), who is about to release a book that will purport to prove Obama is not a citizen; “I think what Obama was trying to do today,” she says, “is preempt that, try to steal the thunder away from this book that’s coming out, so that nobody will pay attention to the Corsi book.” Bolling informs viewers that the wife and son of the doctor who signed the birth certificate in 1961, who has since passed away, “had no idea” that he signed the certificate. “If you gave birth to the president of the United States,” Bolling says, “don’t you think your family would know about it?” Geller concludes the segment by citing an array of Obama’s “life documents” that she says have been kept out of the public eye (see September 11, 2008, Around June 28, 2010, and April 26, 2011), and accuses the media of “protecting this man” from scrutiny. (Media Matters 4/27/2011; Media Matters 4/27/2011) A day later, the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes that the doctor that signed the birth certificate died in 2003. Reporter Ben Dimiero will write: “Let that sink in for a second. At the time, Barack Obama was a little-known state senator in Illinois. If the doctor had told his family before he died that he delivered the future president, that would have spawned a much more interesting conspiracy theory (he’s a wizard!). Apparently Eric Bolling thinks obstetricians give their families a list of the most interesting people they delivered—with a special section for ‘potential future presidents’—before they die.” (Dimiero 4/28/2011) Two days later, Geller will label Obama “a b_stard, literally and figuratively” (see April 29, 2011).
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