November 21, 2009

The Tattlesnake – Frank Luntz is a Scum-Sucking Pig Edition

(With apologies to our porcine friends who also happen to suck scum, but don’t have much influence on the electorate.}

While some readers may chastise me for gross understatement in the title, and I take their point, I decided to keep this clean, or as clean as you can when describing the contents of the sole working Port-O-Potty on free chili and beer night at a baseball game.

“[A]sk a question in the way that you get the right answer.”
– Frank Luntz on his ‘fair and balanced’ polling methods.

What makes Republican word-whacker Frank Luntz my target is that he is an intentional and dedicated deceiver of the public, smart enough to know full well what he’s doing, but blithely willing to trot out his wares — borrowed from the misuse of modern psychological techniques to sell the gullible what they don’t need joined with a carnival conman’s shell game pitch — for the temporary benefit of his bank account, while his country slides into a wreckage of divisiveness and debt. If you’d like to find the home base for the decimation of our public speech into ignorant, inflamed, fearful, flag-draped hatred; the revision of our history into a reeking bonanza of selfish suicidal capitalism, evangelical Christian crapola and nasty neoconservative warhawk bilge; and the reduction of our political discourse into so much overheated, oversimplified, covertly racist, sound-bite slag, you can point to three names: the late Lee Atwater, Karl Rove, and the lesser-known, but every bit as important, Frank Luntz as the authors of the meltdown in progress.

“Luntz is glibly amoral, worrying only about whether language has the right effect, not whether it’s true.”
– Steven Poole, commenting on Luntz’s book “Words That Work” in The Guardian (UK), July 21, 2007.

It was Frank’s notion to rename a bill allowing more pollution as the ‘Clean Air Act’; it was Luntz who told the GOP to re-label estate taxes as ‘death taxes’ so that the wealthy paid less while the rest of us took up the slack; it was his demented mind that connected Iraq to 9/11 and instructed Republican pols to always preface any mention of the failed Iraq incursion with ’9/11 changed everything’; behind nearly every current and past GOP talking point, endlessly repeated in the Right-Wing Echo Chamber, you’ll find Frank’s pasty round face, tirelessly choosing just the right words to convince a malleable faction of the American public to eat corporate Republican turds and think it’s prime rib.


“While the televised Luntz often displays a disarming sense of humor, is reasonably affable and self-effacing, he is also self-righteous and an endless supplier of disingenuous blather. Watching him in action is to recognize a master of style over substance; emotion trumps fact.”
– Bill Berkowitz, “The Frank Luntz Effect: Spraying Perfume on Dog Turds,” Smirking Chimp, Aug. 31, 2007.

Luntz was at it again a couple of weeks ago on C-Span, in a segment from a book fair where he was pushing his latest pile of literary trash. Assembling an audience of supposedly average Americans (by Frank’s definition — the first few rows were populated by disgruntled teabaggers), Luntz demonstrated his low talent for cheesy misdirection by lauding his current employer, Fox News, for being “fair and balanced” – yes, he used those words — because they allowed him to show that Obama was polling ahead of McCain just prior to the 2008 election. “MSNBC wouldn’t have done that,” Frank pugnaciously added, omitting the pertinent information that MSNBC, after giving him his own show, had fired Luntz in 2004 when the cable network was alerted that his focus groups and poll results were tainted by his conservative ideology, all while he was lying to the public and MSNBC that his polls were impartial and unbiased.

“To be ‘Orwellian’ is to speak with absolute clarity, to be succinct, to explain what the event is, to talk about what triggers something happening … and to do so without any pejorative whatsoever.”
– Frank Luntz, redefining the word ‘Orwellian’ on Terry Gross’ NPR ‘Fresh Air’ show, Jan. 9, 2007.

Orwellian adjective: of or like the society portrayed by Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a totalitarian state exercises almost total control over the public and private activities of the citizens.”
– From Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

In the summer of 2008, around the time of the RNC convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, in an event also shown on C-Span, Frank exposed his grubby game during a session with a Minnesota focus group using his little handheld ‘dial-testing’ boxes that provide moment-by-moment reaction to the words in a speech. Luntz was plainly beside himself that so many in this crowd were reacting well to Obama’s words and, exhibiting obvious irritation, singled out various independents and former Republicans in the audience to interrogate on why they planned to vote for Obama. A side note here: As anyone in the polling business knows, professional pollsters who want a clean, unprejudiced outcome never show emotion to their focus groups. It’s well known that such a demonstration can influence the result as many people, politely and without thinking, desire to please the authority figure – in this case, the pollster who assembled the group. Yet here was Luntz figuratively wearing his Red-State armband, his voice tinged with anger and frustration at those who didn’t care to vote Republican in 2008. It’s to the credit of these sturdy Minnesotans that few were cajoled by Luntz’s sweaty performance into changing their vote – the feeling against the GOP was that strong. It’s no surprise Luntz was reprimanded in 1997 by the American Association for Public Opinion Research – he refused to provide raw data, allegedly due to ‘client confidentiality,’ for his claim that the 1994 Republican ‘Contract with America’ was supported by 60 percent of the American public.

“In 2000 he was censured by the National Council on Public Polls ‘for allegedly mischaracterizing on MSNBC the results of focus groups he conducted during the [2000] Republican Convention.’ In September 2004, MSNBC dropped Luntz from its planned coverage of that year’s presidential debate, following a letter from Media Matters that outlined Luntz’s GOP ties and questionable polling methodology … In the wake of the 2008 Presidential election, fellow Republican and prominent pollster Bill McInturff criticized Luntz before journalists at a National Journal Breakfast, insisting that Luntz is ‘a moron’…”
– From “Frank Luntz,” Wikipedia entry.

“No speech about homeland security or Iraq should begin without a reference to 9/11.”
– Frank Luntz’s advice to Bush’s White House on tying Iraq to 9/11.

But why is Luntz more loathsome and despicable than any other marketing huckster? It’s this: The ‘rebranding’ Frank does for a living may be relatively harmless when selling frozen peas or microwave ovens, but when carried over into the arena of public debate and inserting itself into the affairs of a democratic republic, it is like putting a smiley face on a bottle of cyanide. Well-informed voters, the ‘elitists’ who still have their skeptical faculties intact, may reject Luntz’s catchy but devious phrases and duplicitous words, but the growing number of gullible low-information voters, especially those independents who waver with the slightest breeze, are Frank’s real aim. These are the people who don’t have the time or inclination to double-check some bit of pleasant-sounding Clean Air Act deceit or demonizing stretch of free word association, such as using ‘Iraq,’ 9/11′ and ‘Saddam Hussein’ in close proximity to promote a needless war, or the current right-wing trope of continually connecting Obama’s name with Hitler, Stalin, fascism, socialism and communism. To the under-informed, where there’s smoke there’s fire; anything heard repeatedly must have some truth to it, and the bigger the lie the better. In this, Luntz is the ideological descendant of Joseph Goebbels and every bit as dangerous to a free nation.

“…[A] article described Luntz as ‘possibly the best example of what we could call the pollster pundit: someone who both purports to scientifically poll the opinions of the public, and then also interpret that data to support his own — in Luntz’s case, conservative — point of view.’ Luntz has explained his own methodology as follows: ‘Say you poll on an environmental issue, and on eight of the 10 questions the numbers are in your favor. Why release the other two? It’s like being a lawyer.’”
<Media Matters, Sept. 3, 2004.

But Frank has done us an unintentional service by inadvertently revealing that what he’s really peddling – miserable wage-slave serfdom in a country under the unregulated corporate dominion of a right-wing Republican plutocracy – is so offensive, damaging and awful that it requires his slick political lexicography and fork-tongued euphemisms to be considered politically acceptable.

And it’s encouraging that, even with all of his well-paid efforts over the years, his agenda has still been proven a failure by the indomitable persuasion of daily reality.

It’s possible the America of Jefferson, Paine, Franklin and Madison will survive the scourge of Luntzism yet, in spite of all he has done to try and bury it under a trash heap of calculated lies.

© 2009 RS Janes.

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