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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Fox News boss: It's not warmer until we say it's warmer

December 15, 2010 |  4:36 pm

Anyone who watches Fox News all day long, as I sometimes do, marvels at the remarkable discipline. The cable news leader finds a topic it wants to work over and then pounds it — with the language and tone remarkably uniform from one program to the next.

In recent days, one of the men behind the one-station, one-message rigor has come into public view: Bill Sammon.

Sammon is a Fox News vice president and Washington managing editor who worries about semantics on the network conservatives love best. And, according to Sammon e-mails recently obtained by the liberal media watchdog Media Matters, the Fox boss particularly worries about making sure the on-air talent uses language favorable to the conservative point of view.

First to be revealed was a Sammon e-mail telling Fox personalities not to call the healthcare reform preferred by Democrats “the public option.” The news executive said he preferred “government-run health insurance” or “government option.”

Republican pollster Frank Luntz had previously noted that the problem with the "public option" language was that, well, the public didn't find it so objectionable. The reaction turned more negative when the reform -- actually an exchange of private insurance companies overseen by the government -- was deemed to be "government run."  Howard Kurtz noted as much in a Daily Beast column.

Next out of the gate, Media Matters revealed a Sammon e-mail regarding the language of climate change. Sammon asked Foxsters in the e-mail, dating to last December, to “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.”

The directive came about a year ago, just minutes after Fox White House correspondent Wendell Goler reported from the Copenhagen climate summit that 2000 to 2009 was “expected to be the warmest decade on record.”

After the Sammon e-mail had been issued, Goler and others on Fox adopted more skeptical language.

One of the peculiarities of the Sammon directive is that even most climate change skeptics don’t contest the notion that global temperatures have risen in recent decades. They tend to suggest, rather, that the temperature changes were not caused by man or that they are rendered insignificant when viewed against much longer-term trends.

But by denying data confirmed by the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration (NOAA),  Fox props up the sort of misinformation that makes any rational debate about climate more and more difficult.

The Union of Concerned Scientists issued a statement Wednesday noting that Fox News has a policy “to engage our audiences and enable them to find ways to reduce carbon emissions in their own lives.” The group called Sammon’s directive “an apparent violation of that policy.”

Sammon has commented only to media writer Howard Kurtz about the controversy over the healthcare e-mail. (He and Fox have not addressed complaints about their politicking on global warming.)

While opposing “public option” in the healthcare debate, language-sensitive Sammon suddenly became obtuse about who came up with the alternative language. He disingenuously told Kurtz that he had “no idea” that “government-run plan” was the term preferred by Fox's Republican allies.

One of Sammon’s Christmas wishes no doubt will be for a more secure e-mail account.

-- James Rainey

Twitter: latimesrainey

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