Howard Kurtz reports on a controversial Fox News Channel memo that directed news personnel on how they should refer to a provision of President Obama's health care bill. Jack Shafer - surprise! - defends the indefensible:
The call to refer to the program as the government option instead of the public option came from Republican pollster Frank Luntz, Media Matters and Kurtz report. But this shouldn't disqualify the new term from the Fox News stylebook. Government option is superior to public option in that it emphasizes that the governmentand thus the taxpayerswill be footing the bill. As a modifier, public has many nongovernmental uses, as in public appearance, public figure, public display, public-key cryptography, public editor, public enemy, public storage, and public opinion.
But when government is used as an adjective, there is no such confusion. Does that make Fox News' semantic solution superior? I've always thought that Social Security should be renamed Government Ponzi Scheme. I'd also like the Export-Import Bank to be renamed the Government Subsidy Depotbut that's another column.
That Sammon issued a memo directing Fox News reporters to use a phrase he considers more accurate hardly constitutes "spin," as the headline to Kurtz's piece has it. If government option is spin, isn't public option spin, too?
I suppose that might be a reasonable defense in a world where news organizations scrutinize every phrase for maximal accuracy. That, however, is not the practice at Fox News, or anywhere. Standard news practice is to simply keep using terms that have come into the public discourse and gained wide usage even if it is not the most technically accurate or neutral term. If you had a left-wing news network that decided it can no longer refer to military spending as "defense" because that presumes it is never used in an aggressive way, that would be an act of bias, regardless of the philosophical merits.