These days clearly bear out the adage that the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead. While WikiLeaks floods the internet with an endless stream of embarrassing corporate and government memos, another leak regarding the behind-the-scenes machinations of Fox News against health insurance reform has come out on the watch-dog site Media Matters. Leaked internal emails reveal that Fox’s Washington managing editor Bill Sammon repeatedly ordered the cable news outlet to use exclusively survey-tested conservative think-tank rhetoric in a brazen attempt to prejudice public perception of the health insurance debate throughout the reform’s development and early implementation.
Polling data demonstrated (and still does) that voters support a tax-payer funded, universal health insurance program, dubbed early on by Democrats and Republicans as the public option. This seemed like a natural title, given that everything else in our society that depends on tax payers has similar monikers – public schools, parks, libraries, transit, health departments, etc. It would be like Medicare for all and the same deal that members of Congress and the military get when paying for their health care. The same polling data however showed that when this policy was called “the government option” support vanished. If people support a public option, but oppose a government one, reasoned Fox’s Bill Sammon, then let’s insist on calling the policy the government option as a part of our strategy to gut the nascent reform.
Granted, for a 24-hour cable news company Fox’s paltry 9 hours a day of non-pundit news coverage (what they refer to in a particularly Orwellian kind of way - fair and balanced) hardly contributes much to the volume of actual reporting that goes on in most of the rest of the media. And certainly no intellectually honest individual left in the US thinks that Fox is anything but a propaganda arm of the conservative movement. But that said, the question remains: why is Fox so consistently bent on betraying conservative principles when it comes to health insurance reform?
The superficial answer is of course that it comes down to ideology. Conservatives largely hate tax-payer funded policies. Fine. But, more than that, they are avowedly pro-business. This is such a bedrock principle that it generally comes at any cost to other ideological imperatives. For just one pertinent example of this consider the blatant disregard for conservative social morays inherent in Fox’s entertainment wings - e.g. NYPD Blue, Dharma and Gregg, Family Guy, Glee, the films Kinsey, Bad Girls, Die Hard 1-4, Borat…looking across the decades, the list is endless. Programs like these, it turns out, generate billions of dollars a year, despite the chronic objections by religiously conservative Americans who also in large numbers get their news from Fox.
So big-business is the trump card in conservative politics, and this makes sense. What’s good for business generally ought to be good for the country as a whole. But when one considers that corporate spending on employee health care remains a top reason for America’s loss in competitiveness in global markets, it’s paradoxical why Fox (as well as its axis of talk radio hosts and bloggers) want so badly to maintain the status quo. The cost of employer based health insurance continues to be an albatross on the necks of US companies growing heavier and heavier every year. This makes our goods more expensive than our competitors, and ultimately hurts the bottom line as consumers at home and abroad happily choose cheaper goods from countries where tax-payers (not industry) are the guarantors of health insurance.
Maybe another leaked Fox memo will emerge to further shed light on this quandary. But in the meantime, we’re left to wonder if Fox understands anything about the financial side of health care, the concerns of the national business community, or even their own corporate interests.