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Thursday, 02 May 2013 09:06

Trapped in a Web of Truth, Frank Luntz is Whining

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LuntzFINALRepublican Party political consultant, strategist and pollster Frank Luntz is whining. Being Frank Luntz, you can be sure that it's calculated whining, but it's whining nevertheless.

The man who has devoted the better part of his professional life to turning words into weapons of mass misdirection in support of his clients -- often resulting in their becoming weapons of mass indigestion for his clients' opponents -- is claiming that his privacy rights have been violated by a University of Pennsylvania student who secretly taped "off-the-record" comments made by Luntz about how certain well-known figures within the conservative movement are hurting the movement.

There are two storylines in play here: 1) The Original -- What Luntz actually said about divisive conservatives hurting the Republican Party; and, 2) The Conjured-- Luntz the aggrieved.

Clearly, Luntz's whining is aimed at changing the narrative from storyline one to storyline two.

Over the years, I've devoted more than enough ink to Frank Luntz:

In 2010, in a story headlined "If one man can single-handedly poison the debate over significant issues in America that man is Frank Luntz," I wrote: "Frank Luntz is above all else a practical man. Everything he does has been carefully calculated, weighed, and measured, be it his focus groups, his questionable 'fair and balanced' polling, or his Instant Response dial sessions.

"And there are words. Words that influence political campaigns; words that sway public opinion; words that confuse; words that deceive. Most of all, words that win. If you're looking for poetry do not come knocking of Luntz's door. If you're looking for color, you'll not discover a Luntzian rainbow. What you will find these days, however, is his Mighty Wurlitzer of words cranked up to full blast."

And in 2007, in a story headlined "The Frank Luntz Effect: 'Spraying perfume on dog turds,'" I admiringly wrote: "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."

The latest Luntz story has the no-longer boy wonder trying to finagle his way out of what can only be characterized as "another fine mess."

In late April, Luntz , a 1984 U of Penn graduate, was invited by the school's College Republicans to speak at a public event on campus. According to thedp.com's (The Daily Pennsylvanian) Sarah Smith and Will Marble, "During the speech, members of the audience asked Luntz about his views on political polarization in the United States. Luntz - who also taught at Penn in the 1980s - answered that he was hesitant to speak on the record." He then asked "if anyone was recording the speech." A Daily Pennsylvanian reporter covering the event "shut his recorder off. When Luntz asked College junior Aakash Abbi if he was recording, he told Luntz he was only taking a picture, but continued filming the speech ..."

Luntz then proceeded to go off on some of his longtime Republican Party-related brethren, particularly conservative pundits and talk-show hosts. "They get great ratings, and they drive the message, and it's really problematic. And this is not on the Democratic side. It's only on the Republican side," Luntz said in the tape. "Democrats have every other source of news on their side. And so that is a lot of what's driving it. If you take -- Marco Rubio's getting his ass kicked. Who's my Rubio fan here? We talked about it. He's getting destroyed! By Mark Levin, by Rush Limbaugh, and a few others. He's trying to find a legitimate, long-term effective solution to immigration that isn't the traditional Republican approach, and talk radio is killing him. That's what's causing this thing underneath. And too many politicians in Washington are playing coy."

The student who recorded Luntz's remarks sent them off to Mother Jones' David Corn, who, as Wonkette's Gary Legum pointed out, "is becoming a clearinghouse for this sort of thing," referencing Corn's work publicizing Mitt Romney 47% video.

"I made the choice to share my recording with Mother Jones because Luntz's comments are important. They illustrate one of the largest schisms within the GOP and expose the hypocrisy of Luntz's willingness to place blame for his party's division upon a media establishment he has helped build. Further, his request to be taken off the record was never one to which I acquiesced" Aakash Abbi wrote in a thedp.com column.

"Frank Luntz has made a very successful career out of advising Republicans on the content of their message," Abbi added. "He was asked one of the most important questions of the day in terms of American politics ("what is causing extreme polarization between the parties?"), and refused to speak freely. Why? Because doing so may harm his commercial interest. And this attitude is at the root of the problem. If influential GOP figures like Frank Luntz truly believe that the party's media kingmakers harm the national interest but refuse to say so for fear of backlash, they knowingly work against the spirit of open and honest debate."

After much was said, Luntz announced that he would never speak at Penn again: "When I was a student, we honored the requests of our professors and speakers. When I was a professor at Penn, students honored my requests for confidentiality in return for a real insider's view of what was going on," Luntz said in an interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian. "I'm very disappointed that at Penn, that trust between students and speaker is gone."

And in a final burst of Luntzian magnanimity, he announced that he would not renew a scholarship in his father's name for students to travel to Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Larry D. Moore)