Kurtz took Luntz's word on GOP work; ignored evidence

››› ››› GABE WILDAU

Reporting Republican pollster Frank Luntz's complaints about MSNBC's decision to drop him from its debate coverage after a letter from Media Matters for America, as well as criticism from progressive weblogs and their readers, Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz reported that Luntz "says he's done no GOP work since 2001" but didn't bother to look into whether Luntz's statement was true.

From Kurtz's October 4 "Media Notes" column in The Washington Post:

"I think they buckled to political pressure," says Luntz, who has advised Republicans from Newt Gingrich to Rudy Giuliani but says he's done no GOP work since 2001. "They caved. ... Why is it that Democrats are allowed to do this" after leaving politics, "but Republicans aren't?"

But as MMFA has noted, the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press reported on September 2: "Earlier this year, GOP pollster Frank Luntz advised Republicans to never talk about Iraq or homeland security without first mentioning how '9/11 changed everything.'" The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on September 1: "Republican pollster Frank Luntz did his best Tuesday to pump up Ohio's Republicans at a delegation breakfast. 'If you guys fail, if John Kerry becomes president by a percent or half a percent, I think you're going to be pretty regretful,' he said."

Luntz also worked for Republicans during the California governor recall effort. A September 7, 2003, New York Times article reported: "Frank Luntz, a pollster who was an adviser to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was hired by the group that triggered the recall, Rescue California, Recall Gray Davis." (A USA Today article called this group "Republican-led"). Similarly, an October 23, 2003, Weekly Standard article referred to Luntz's "client Arnold Schwarzenegger."

A June 2004 memo by Luntz titled "Communicating The Principles Of Prevention & Protection In The War On Terror" coached Republicans on how to connect the Iraq war with the war on terror, including concepts like "It is better to fight the War on Terror on the streets of Baghdad than on the streets of New York or Washington" and "9/11 changed everything," which have been staples of Republican rhetoric for a year. (Cf. President George W. Bush's April 20 speech.)

Luntz wrote a similar memo for Republicans in 2002 about how to discuss environmental issues. This memo was particularly memorable for the advice Luntz offered on how to deal with the emerging scientific consensus that global warming is a real phenomenon with potentially dangerous consequences. Luntz advised Republicans to exploit the last "window of opportunity" for Republicans to argue that the science of global warming is uncertain. He wrote: "The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science" (p. 8, bracketed text in original).

In fact, Luntz Research Companies' own website touts its ongoing work for political candidates: "Our focus is language and our expertise is message development. Candidates hire us to find the key messages that can mean the difference between winning and losing." Presumably, these "candidates" are not Democrats.

Another page on the site lists the names and duties of Luntz's staff. One staff bio refers to an associate's work for "political clients" in 2004: "Dana [Rothstein] joined Luntz Research in March of 2004. ... Her duties range from maintaining and updating Frank's calendar and travel arrangements to organizing his speaking and presentation events. In addition, Dana assists the project directors with their various corporate and political clients."

The website also reports: "We do not lobby, yet we meet with more Members on a regular basis than any of our competitors." Again, Luntz is almost certainly not meeting with Democratic members.

In fact, a June 22 Roll Call article (subscription required; hat tip: Joshua Micah Marshall) reported on Luntz's regular meetings with congressional Republicans: "In the House ... Luntz typically addresses Republican gatherings a few times a year." The article continued:

A senior Republican lawmaker had a more straightforward explanation for why Luntz's sessions are well-attended.

"It's free stuff," said the lawmaker, adding that the relationship was mutually beneficial because after seeing Luntz's presentations, "some [Members] become true believers and hire him, and some refer him" to other campaigns.

The article suggested that Luntz uses the free strategy sessions to attract Republican clients.

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