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An Insightful And Helpful Perspective

Winnemucca, Nevada

December 16, 2022

I appreciate that these early sunsets (4:24 PM today), give me the opportunity to take in videos like this one. I say "take in" because I feel like I have the time to wrestle with the opinions and sort out what I think -- and why.

Frank Ian Luntz (born February 23, 1962) is an American political and communications consultant and pollster, best known for developing talking points and other messaging for Republican causes. His work has included assistance with messaging for Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, and public relations support for pro-Israel policies in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He advocated use of vocabulary crafted to produce a desired effect; including use of the term death tax instead of estate tax, and climate change instead of global warming.

Luntz has frequently contributed to Fox News as a commentator and analyst, as well as running focus groups during and after presidential debates on CBS News. Luntz describes his specialty as "testing language and finding words that will help his clients sell their product or turn public opinion on an issue or a candidate." He is also an author of business books dealing with communication strategies and public opinion.

Use of language

Luntz frequently tests word and phrase choices using focus groups and interviews. His stated purpose in this is the goal of causing audiences to react based on emotion. "80 percent of our life is emotion, and only 20 percent is intellect. I am much more interested in how you feel than how you think. ... If I respond to you quietly, the viewer at home is going to have a different reaction than if I respond to you with emotion and with passion and I wave my arms around. Somebody like this is an intellectual; somebody like this is a freak."

In an article in The New Yorker Luntz is quoted as saying,

The way my words are created is by taking the words of others.... I've moderated an average of a hundred plus focus groups a year over five years... I show them language that I've created. Then I leave a line for them to create language for me.

In a 2007 interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Luntz redefined the term "Orwellian" in a "positive" sense, saying that if one reads George Orwell's essay on language, "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." Luntz believes that Orwell would not have approved of many of the uses to which his pseudonym is applied by quoting Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language", where Luntz focuses on how Orwell derides the use of cliché and dying metaphors.

Luntz's description of his job revolves around exploiting the emotional content of language. "It's all emotion. But there's nothing wrong with emotion. When we are in love, we are not rational; we are emotional. ... my job is to look for the words that trigger the emotion. ... We know that words and emotion together are the most powerful force known to mankind."

Additionally in his 2007 interview on Fresh Air, Luntz discussed his use of the term "energy exploration" to refer to oil drilling. His research on the matter involved showing people a picture of current oil drilling and asking if in the picture it "looks like exploration or drilling." He said that 90 percent of the people he spoke to said it looked like exploring. "Therefore I'd argue that it is a more appropriate way to communicate." He went on to say, "if the public says after looking at the pictures, that doesn't look like my definition of drilling—it looks like my definition of exploring—then don't you think we should be calling it what people see it to be, rather than adding a political aspect to it all?" Terry Gross responded, "Should we be calling it what it actually is, as opposed to what somebody thinks it might be? The difference between exploration and actually getting out the oil—they're two different things, aren't they?"

James L. Martin, chairman of the conservative 60 Plus Association, described Luntz's role as being that of pollster and popularizer of the phrase "death tax."

Martin gained an important ally in GOP pollster Frank Luntz, whose polling revealed that 'death tax' sparked voter resentment in a way that 'inheritance tax' and 'estate tax' couldn't match. After all, who wouldn't be opposed to a 'tax on death'? Luntz shared his findings with Republicans and included the phrase in the GOP's Contract with America. Luntz went so far as to recommend in a memo to GOP lawmakers that they stage press conferences 'at your local mortuary' to dramatize the issue. 'I believe this backdrop will clearly resonate with your constituents,' he wrote. 'Death is something the American people understand.' Apparently, he's right. Spurred by Luntz, Republicans have employed the term 'death tax' so aggressively that it has entered the popular lexicon. Nonpartisan venues like newspapers and magazines have begun to use it in a neutral context—a coup for abolitionists like Martin.

In a confidential memo to the Republican party, Luntz is credited with advising the Bush administration that the phrase "global warming" should be abandoned in favour of "climate change", which he called a "less frightening" phrase than the former.


Refusal to release poll data

In 1997, the American Association for Public Opinion Research, of which Luntz was not a member, criticized Luntz for refusing to release poll data to support his claimed results "because of client confidentiality". Diane Colasanto, who was president of the AAPOR at the time, said

It is simply wanting to know, How many people did you question? What were the questions? We understand the need for confidentiality, but once a pollster makes results public, the information needs to be public. People need to be able to evaluate whether it was sound research.

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, saying "[W]e made a decision not to use focus groups as part of our debate coverage. This decision had nothing to do with Frank's past work or politics." Luntz disagreed, believing that MSNBC "buckled to political pressure" from activist David Brock.

2010 "Lie of the Year" award

Luntz was awarded the 2010 PolitiFact Lie of the Year award for his promotion of the phrase 'government takeover' to refer to healthcare reform, starting in the spring of 2009. "'Takeovers are like coups,' Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. 'They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.'" In an editorial response, the Wall Street Journal wrote that "PolitiFact's decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and 'facts,' rather than differences of world view or principles." The editors of PolitiFact announced "We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover."

Leaked tape from the University of Pennsylvania

On April 25, 2013, The American Spectator, a conservative news outlet, published a scathing article about Luntz entitled "The Problematic Frank Luntz's Stockholm Syndrome".

In fact, what Luntz has done is simply reveal the kind of thinking that goes on in the minds of too many on the right who, whether they realize it or not, have been intellectually and culturally bullied that there is some sort of 'right way'—'right' as in 'correct'—to think. Resulting in some conservatives who suffer from what might be called a political version of Stockholm Syndrome—where the captives identify with their captors.

The article was a response to an April 22, 2013 leaked recording of Luntz at the University of Pennsylvania, where he said conservative radio personalities (specifically Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin) were being "problematic" and "destroying" Republicans' ability to connect with more voters, or even maintain a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2014 mid-term elections.

As part of his critique Luntz said:

And 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. ... [Democrats have] got 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.

After the leak, Luntz announced that he would no longer fund a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. The scholarship, which was in his father's name, supported student trips to Washington, D.C.

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