The Consequences Of Fox News’ ‘Government Option’ Slant

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"The Consequences Of Fox News’ ‘Government Option’ Slant"

I disagree with Kate Pickert’s argument that Fox News was right to re-brand the “public option” the “government option” because the latter phrase did a better job of explaining what the “option” actually did than the former. Responding to today’s revelation that Fox News executives sent emails to reporters reminding them to stick to the “government” descriptor, Pickert argues:

Here’s what Kurtz and Media Matters fail to note: Most Americans did not understand what the “public option” was. The term, in fact, seemed almost intentionally non-descriptive. Scores of journalists asked me during the health care debate to explain to them what the public option was – and these were folks interested in the news and paying attention to the issue.

The public option would have been a government-run insurance plan some Americans could have purchased. It would have been supported by premiums with no government subsidization and would be been purely voluntary. Like Medicare, the reimbursements paid by the public option would have been set by the government. Also like Medicare, the plan would not have needed to turn a profit, making it cost less than private insurance. It would have therefore provided tough competition for private insurers and pushed down premiums throughout the marketplace.

It’s true that Americans had a hard time understanding this and all the provisions in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, that’s part of the reason why its approval ratings are so low. But Fox News has always contributed to the misinformation. The network chose to call the the “public option” the “government option” not because it was hoping to educate Americans about the intricacies of reform, but because it was in the business of broadcasting the most sensationalistic and over the top claims about reform — claims that almost buried the entire effort. Multiple times! And ‘government option’ fit the bill since, as Frank Luntz put it, “using “government option” language made the public option unpopular with the American public.

In her column, Picker offers this clear definition of what the public option actually is: “The public option would have been a government-run insurance plan some Americans could have purchased,” she writes. “It would have been supported by premiums with no government subsidization and would be been purely voluntary. Like Medicare, the reimbursements paid by the public option would have been set by the government. Also like Medicare, the plan would not have needed to turn a profit, making it cost less than private insurance. It would have therefore provided tough competition for private insurers and pushed down premiums throughout the marketplace.” What’s instructive is that Fox News never explained it this way. Rather, through its use of the word “government,” selection of guests and general framing, the network insinuated that it would cause people to lose their existing coverage and lead to the death of private insurance as we know it.

In fact, this message was so successful that Fox, Republicans and the whole conservative movement used the “government takeover” meme even after the public option was dropped from the bill and people still say it today. That’s a testament to the network’s reach and influence, not its educational prowess or knack for clarity.

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