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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Luntz Bucket

by digby

So Tavis Smiley is insisting on letting Republican operative Frank Luntz run his little poll operation for the Democratic debate and he's pissed that anyone would question his judgment. The latest from Media Matters
LEHRER: You know, I've been getting emails from the liberal media watch group Media Matters, and they don't like some role that Republican pollster Frank Luntz has tonight. Is Luntz involved in some way?

SMILEY: Luntz is not involved tonight, and the person behind that Media Matters website, David Brock. I -- I always say where persons like him are concerned -- and I don't mean to cast aspersions on him, but his history is well documented of flipping back and forth between being a liberal and a conservative -- I always say, one, consider the source. That's true of anything. He's the guy behind Media Matters. So one, consider the source. Number two, his facts are wrong. Number three, PBS put out a statement two days ago, checking him on his facts, which to my knowledge, as yet he has not posted that response on his website. The bottom line is Frank Luntz, like any number of other pollsters, is people-metering 30 African-Americans who are all Democrats in a separate room adjacent to the main stage.

Tomorrow night, on my television show, I'll be joined by those 30 persons with the data that Mr. Luntz and company have collected about what they thought of the debate while it was going on. So how anyone, Republican, Democrat, black or white, could spin what 30 persons who are black and Democratic voters said, is nonsensical. So we will have, on our regular PBS program tomorrow night, a recap with the 30 persons who are, again, all African-American, all registered Democrats, and we'll do the same thing in the Republican conversation later in September. But that drama, that nonsense at Media Matters is just that. The facts are wrong, and I don't have any more time to waste responding to people who don't know what they're talking about.

Smiley thinks Luntz is a terrific guy while he insults David Brock by saying "consider the source?" Wow. That's some serious misunderstanding of the issue. Luntz is a right wing character assassin in good standing as well as a professional pariah. Smiley is oddly stubborn in his defense of the guy.

I would guess it's because Luntz appeared on Smiley's show just recently, and they got along famously. I happened to catch it and could hardly believe it. If you want to see something nonsensical:

Tavis: Dr. Frank Luntz is a respected political pollster and communications consultant who founded the Luntz Research Company back in 1992. Since then, he has consulted for numerous Fortune 500 firms, and is a frequent TV commentator for “NBC News,” among others. His new book is called “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” And I actually like this book, I like it a lot. Frank Luntz, nice to have you here.

Dr. Frank Luntz: It’s a pleasure, thanks.

Tavis: Good to see you. “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” What’s the trick?

Luntz: The trick is to imagine what your audience wants to get out of it, and then put yourself into their shoes. I always hear these stories, try to imagine your audience in their underwear when you're speaking to them, it makes you feel comfortable? Baloney. You wanna imagine what’s going on in their heads. What they expect, what they want.

When they walk out of there, what’s the message you wanna get into their minds? And that’s why I wrote the book. It was to basically say to CEOs, to senators, to even people like yourself, there is a way to communicate more effectively using the right words, the right visuals, the right tone, even the hand gestures...

Tavis: How do you know what words are right on any given occasion?

Luntz: It’s all based on research. I've now done polling and focus groups in 46 different states. I was on the road 281 days last year, I did 270,000 miles. I'm actually qualified to land planes in about five different cities, (laugh) based on how much flying that I've done. And it’s listening. And what we will do is we will test different phrases...

Tavis: The Republicans. Let’s talk politics for a second. The Republicans historically, not of late, of course, but historically, certainly in my lifetime, your lifetime, they’ve been better at this word game than Democrats have been. Gingrich was really good at it.

Luntz: He was really good at it. The problem with Newt Gingrich is that too often, he got too angry. And nobody wants to get yelled at. Republicans were effective in the 1990s and early in this decade not just because they had good language, but because they're able to communicate policies and principles that the American people supported.

And the Democrats in response were always angry. They would yell, and even their tonation was very loud. In 2005, 2006, it’s switched. And the Republicans didn’t seem to represent anything. I asked people, I’ll ask you. What did the Republican party stand for in 2006? I can't get an answer from Republican candidates. And if you don't know where you stand and you don't have a message that the public is hearing, then you're not communicating well.

Tavis: Okay, so if you were asking me that question legitimately or rhetorically, my answer would be they stood for freedom and Democracy around the world. It’s up to us to make sure that the terrorists don't win. That’s what their party stood for.

Luntz: Congratulations on being a Republican. That’s better than any of the Republicans I heard. (Laugh) Man, if you wanna come over, I’ll give you $10 right now if you'll sign up. Republicans weren’t communicating anything in 2006, and everyone out there knows it. I'm not saying anything that people haven’t heard. Look, there is more that unites us than divides us.

You and I could go through a list of issues, and while we may disagree on the solutions, we are going to agree on the problems. And in some ways, how to tackle them. The question is, which politicians are those using words that work, using communication that says, let’s not blame. Let’s solve...

Luntz: It’s interesting that – and this is something I'm also critical about the – here I am, with – and I acknowledge that I come from the Republican side. And there are plenty of people, a lot more people in the media, that come from the Democratic side and will never admit it. At least you know what my own personal biases are, although hopefully that doesn’t come out in my research.

There's a problem when you raise your own pay as a member of Congress to 150 or $160,000 and you don't vote for an increase in the minimum wage for people who are earning six or $7.00 an hour.


We need freedom, we need the free market system, which, by the way, communicates better than Capitalism. Capitalism says there are winners and losers. The free market system says that everyone at least has an opportunity to succeed. But Wal-Mart is an example of Capitalism. And to help their customers, they’ve hurt their employees. And I don't think that’s right.

Tavis: Wal-Mart, my full disclosure, is a sponsor of this program. No, no, no…

Luntz: Now you tell me.

Tavis: No, no, no, (laugh) you…

Luntz: You guys can’t see this, but there are guns that are coming out…

Tavis: No, no, no, no, no.

Luntz: …from the crew people over here.

Tavis: You gotta always stand on your truth, and speak truth to power. That’s not what this program’s all about. I only raise that because – not defending Wal-Mart, because I know what they would say. I've heard it and read it, you know as well as I do. What Wal-Mart would say is that, “We are giving people an opportunity to work. When we come into these depressed communities, there are no jobs. We help to give people an opportunity to,” you know the spiel.

Luntz: And more power to you for doing it. That’s a great thing that they do. I believe that Wal-Mart gives people the chance to buy goods and services that they need at affordable prices. But they have such a high profit, surely they could afford healthcare for their workers.

Tavis: We’ll move off the Wal-Mart thing. Let’s go from Wal-Mart to…

Luntz: I just caused you an awful lot of trouble, didn’t I?...

Tavis: Not at all, not at all. I was surging by moving in my seat 'cause I'm anxious to get to, before these two minutes run out, these names I wanna throw at you. George Bush. Apparently, he and Rove had it right for a long time. What went wrong? Was it just the language, or was it public policy?

Luntz: The American people changed. And you have to stay up with them. The addendum in “Words That Work” talks about the failures of 2005, 2006 very specifically. And what happened was, this administration’s language that it was using so effectively after 9/11 did not work in 2006. the same words that you used five years ago should not be the same language you're using today, because we’re a different country.

Tavis: Okay, but you mentioned Bill Clinton and that thumb. Bill’s irrelevant nowadays. Well, not really, never will be. But Hillary is trying to make herself relevant. What’s the skinny on her language issues?

Luntz: That she is, the conversation. Why is she not having a conversation with “The New York Times?” Why does she not engage in more Q&A with reporters, with interviewers, with audiences? The word conversation is very powerful, just as she went on the listening tour back in 2000. But she needs to be more interactive. She’s got the right language, but it doesn’t embrace enough. It’s not from the heart.


Tavis: Barack Obama.

Luntz: Best communicator out there, because he doesn’t sound like a politician. Because he doesn’t sound like he hires people like me. He’s the only one who doesn’t have to read this book. He talks in stories. He talks about hope and opportunity. It’ll be interesting to me to see how he does in the African American community, because he’s kicking butts in the liberal White community.

Tavis: He’s trailing Hillary two to one inside of Black America.

Luntz: Yes, he is, and that support is not just about her, it’s also about Bill Clinton.

Tavis: Right quick, gotta get some Republicans in. Giuliani.

Luntz: Rudy Giuliani, it’s about results and success. All you have to do with him is forget 9/11, that’s obvious. Forty-Second Street, Times Square, this is a guy who took a city that was on its knees and brought it back to its feet. You can now take your kids there. You can hang out on Times Square at 11:00 PM on a Friday night and not be afraid. New York’s a different place. Imagine if you could do that for New York, what he could do for America?

His brave criticism of his party's lousy messaging last November and Bush's failure notwithstanding, Luntz is always shilling for Republicans even when it sounds like he isn't. (Read the whole thing, I excised quite a bit.) I don't know if Tavis Smiley is a closet Republican (he certainly sounds like one at times there) or if he's just a fool for Frank, but he appeared to me not to know that he was being played by a master.

The interview is full of examples, like that beautiful Wal-Mart switcheroo, but I particularly liked his artful swipe at Obama: the guy is a great "communicator" who the effete white liberal elites all love but blacks don't care for. A bit "inauthentic," don't you think? But Rudy, now there is an awesome leader.

Luntz told Smiley to his face what he does and then he did it. Smiley didn't seem to have a clue. Neither will the PBS audience tomorrow night.