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Jan. 22 2010 - 3:33 pm | 1,124 views | 2 recommendations | 16 comments

Word Dr. Frank Luntz Kills Patient, Reporters Cheer Successful Outcome

Frank Luntz at a Hofstra University reception

Image via Wikipedia

If you wonder why the MSM is in such trouble, check out this lede:

“Most Americans want the jobs and clean energy that Democratic-backed climate-change legislation could help bring but it backers are presenting the wrong messages, according to a prominent U.S. pollster.” Jan 21 (Reuters)

The “prominent U.S. pollster” is GOP-strategist and Fox-News analyst Frank Luntz. He’s also the founder of The Word Doctors, which defines itself as “a powerhouse in the profession of message creation and image management.

One could argue that someone always pays for polling. Why single Luntz out?

The answer is: because professional polling organizations have singled him out.

Polling Trade Group: Luntz Technique a “Parlor Game”

Luntz likes to brag about the “instant response” focus group technique he “pioneered.”

He’s got cojones. I’ll give the guy that. His peers at the National Council on Public Polls (NCPP) gave Luntz a very public slap-down specifically for trying to palm-off his focus group results as unbiased.

From the NCPP website:

Luntz talks about Republicans’, Democrats’ and independents’ opinion as though they applied to all members of those groups in the general public. In fact, those are only the opinions of those in his focus group. There is nothing scientific about these focus groups. They are more akin to a parlor game than to a public opinion poll.

Hey, everyone’s entitled to one act of professional…is “fraudulent activity” too harsh? Screw-up? Whatever. The point is he’s entitled to a do-over, right?

Oops. Turns out that was his do-over.

Another Polling Group: Luntz Violated Ethical Code

An article in Public Opinion Quarterly, the journal of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Luntz was “formally reprimanded by the [AAPOR] for his work polling on the GOP’s 1994 Contract with America.”

The problem wasn’t so much his techniques in this case – it was the fact that he refused to reveal any substantive information about what techniques he actually used.

“[Luntz] finally did give us some information,” said the head of the AAPOR, “but it wasn’t enough….All we could tell was it seemed like there might have been some survey done.” (Quoted in the journal article cited above.)

Personally, I think the AAPOR is being a bit unfair (in addition to having a dumb acronym). Don’t they know that a true professional never, never, never reveals the secret behind a good parlor trick? It just ruins the show and disappoints the kids.

Oh, and don’t accuse Luntz of using “Orwellian” language in his word doctoring. As he explains in his book, Words That Work, “Calling someone Orwellian is not an insult. The term is actually a badge of honor.”

I’d quote his entire explanation, but it’s too…Orwelllian. (No, Frank, that’s not a compliment.)

Going Green with Dr. L.

Comes now, a new patient into Dr. L’s OR: Climate change.

Yesterday, as media outlets duly noted, Luntz unveiled his latest subject for cosmetic surgery. There is some irony here. As Reuters mentions in their article, Luntz previously advised the Bush Administration to sow doubt about the science behind climate change as an excuse for not taking action on the looming crisis.

That was then. This is…a new opportunity.

Luntz says he believes the science behind climate change has evolved enough to be accepted as fact. That, and there’s a new administration in town.

I won’t go into the details of his newest poll, partly because the results are predictable. (Here’s a sample: “Climate Change is REAL And WE’RE the cause.”)

Another reason I won’t go into the details is because he doesn’t provide any. According to a Word Doctor press release, the firm…

…conducted a national poll of 1,007 registered voters (+/- 3% margin of error). The firm also conducted a series of “Instant Response” qualitative dial sessions around the country.

How were the voters chosen? What’s the evidence for claiming a 3% margin of error? What the hell is a “qualitative dial session” and how were the results incorporated into a quantitative report?

The answer to all these questions is: “The Word Doctors is a powerhouse in the profession of message creation and image management. Thank you and have a nice day!”

I called The Word Doctors this morning to ask about their methodology. I was told only one person could comment and she wasn’t available. I left a voice-mail message. No word back yet.

My real question, however, isn’t for The Word Doctors or even Dr. Luntz himself. Who and what they are is pretty obvious.

I wonder about the MSM that continues reporting on Dr. Luntz’s Snake Oil as if it were a viable product, even as public mistrust of journalism plummets. Then again, following the old money trail does suggest some possible explanation. Luntz’s work on climate change was funded by News Corporation, the parent company of Fox News.

Mostly, however, I wonder about environmentalists who would listen to anything the discredited Luntz has to say. Perhaps the green movement is so desperate in the wake of Copenhagen that it has decided to take radical action: word doctor-assisted suicide.


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  1. collapse expand

    It’s Frank Luntz here. Nice post.

    You and your allies have so badly mangled the climate change debate that you control 59 seats in the Senate and you still can’t get legislation passed.


    Because your langauge is so ineffective that it doesn’t even convince people who basically agree with you.

    If you want to succeed rather than just rant, you’ll change your tone. Otherwise, all you’ll ever be is a cynical, angry, useless blogger.

    On Wednesday about five million people will be watching my focus group on Fox. How many people will be reading your blog?

    • collapse expand

      Hello, Frank.

      Flacks answer the questions they WISH they had been asked. Real scientists (not to mention just plain folks with integrity) answer the questions they WERE asked.

      You’ve demonstrated your credentials as the former; now do you want to take a swing at the latter?

      Man up and show us your polling data and methodology that substantiate your conclusions. You know, like real pollsters do.

      FYI, Frank: no one but you cares if your dick IS bigger than mine — or, as you phrased it, if you have a larger audience on Fox News than I do here.

      Parlor games (as the National Council on Public Polls calls your work) draw crowds. You’re an entertainer. Nothing wrong with that, except pretending you’re something else.

      So prove me wrong: Show me the data, Frank.

      Or to reframe the argument using a tone and style scientifically calibrated to your background: Put up or shut up, Luntz.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    To the commenter presenting himself as the Word Doctor: Am I supposed to be impressed that “about five million people” watch a FoxNews segment that’s less informative than SpongeBob SquarePants, which, by the way, has far better ratings?

    Yesterday, there were nearly five times as many people watching cable coverage of a German Shepherd being rescued from the Los Angeles River. Those numbers don’t impress me either, but the swift-water rescuer sure did.

  3. collapse expand

    Amen Grace,

    Those 5 million people that watch FAUX News are the same ones that cheer for free trade republicanism while their house is falling apart because most of the family has been laid off of jobs that have been sent overseas.

    The only reason many of those people aren’t rioting in the streets (remember miss tea bagger that cried out for ‘her America back’ last summer? she is one of them) is because they have been thoroughly brainwashed from pre-adolescence by Orwellian double speak sophistry artists like Frank Lutz.

    Wear your badge of honor frank, given to you by your corporate masters along with your very comfortable bourgeois living. Just please don’t believe for half a second that anyone with two working neurons and a will of their own believes anything you have to say.

    • collapse expand

      Do you think Luntz has any political convictions, Andy, or is just a hired gun that shoots blanks?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I’m sure he has political convictions – most people do. I’m sure he doesn’t let them get in the way of doing his job though. Frankly i couldn’t care either way.

        I don’t believe he shoots blanks though. Perhaps to you it may seem that way, but he and his ilk are like highly skilled gardeners tending to a very carefully cultivated crop of Americans. Americans who are subtly programmed to happily hand over their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

        I mean come on.. we’ve all seen the numbers, how the standard of living for the poorer demographic has steadily gone down the past 30 years. Their wages have stagnated while the rich have gotten exponentially richer. Do you think that poor people are really that stupid that they will vote in corrupt pols who are going to fuck them in the ass just so Steve and Bob can’t get married? No, those opinions are carefully designed, cultivated and massaged by forked-tongued individuals like him.

        Ignore his potency at the peril of our Democracy.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    How Frank Luntz became a credible source for information is part of the study of the downfall of the MSM. (Also under study: the rise of a propaganda machine on basic cable.) I have no explanation for why environmentalists would take Luntz seriously. He is, as you so accurately point out, an entertainer. Nothing more, often a whole lot less.

  5. collapse expand

    Frank Luntz represents true cynicism. Most self-described cynics are really skeptics. The cynic believes that the higher values are false, and that the pursuit of “the good” is a hopelessly misguided task.

    But he betrays his own psychological vulnerablity by troubling to brag about some numbers. “Six trillion flies can’t be wrong: eat shit.”

    Murdock’s Fox News serves as a classifier, gathering all the slimy crud together in one place. Generally it is efficient to tar them all with one brush.

    Do those also serve, who merely serve as bad examples?

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