It’s been three months since the Republican Party took a beating at the polls losing the White House as well as two Senate seats and seven in the House. Yet they are still immersed in a vicious debate over whether their policies are driving away majorities of the electorate or if it’s just a messaging problem.
Heavyweight GOP operatives like Karl Rove, Eric Canter, Jim DeMint, Rush Limbaugh and various Tea Party goons are polishing their finest bluster and throwing blame around like cream pies at a clown convention. What they seem to be missing is that their messaging has been the one part of their tactical campaign that has been working. Americans, for the most part, know exactly what Republicans stand for, they just don’t like it and voted against it in droves. So the the response from the GOP is to take another stab at obscuring their true intent by developing another phony facade behind which to campaign. That effort was mercilessly skewered last night by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show:
Stewart’s focus on the self-described “Word Doctor” Frank Luntz could not have been more appropriate. Luntz has positioned himself as the poster boy for political window dressing.
In the pre-2012 election warm-up he conducted a seminar for the Republican Governors Association to teach them how to practice more effective deception. He told his pupils that he was “so scared” of Occupy Wall Street and laid out a directive for them to refrain from using damaging phrases like “tax the rich,”“sacrifice,” and “capitalism,” and replace them with his equivalent of verbal comfort food.
While desperately dishonest, Luntz is actually closer to solving the GOP’s problems than most of his comrades in the communications arena who are Apocalypse vendors trying to outdo one another with tales of doom. They want to keep the right-wing sheep in state of constant and debilitating fear by insisting that America’s demise is imminent, freedom is hanging by a thread, and the foreign-born usurper in the White House is amassing his troops for a run at dictatorship. Compared to that, Luntz is as warm and fuzzy as you can get, albeit just as averse to the truth.
The Apocalyptists, however, are winning the internal GOP war. Their gloomy forecast has prevailed as happy-talkers like Luntz fade into the woodwork. Luntz even acknowledged the defeat in a post-election commentary about why “Fox News viewers ought to be outraged.” The doomsayers have a much higher wattage broadcast platform. And although they whine incessantly about what they imagine to be a liberal media, their own role in propagandizing the nation is far more aggressive. As Jon Stewart sarcastically put it…
“If only people knew what the Republicans were about. What the Republicans need is some kind of a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week perpetual messaging refinement and distribution resource. Preferably one cloaked in the trappings of journalistic authority but without any of its ethical constraints.”
Yeah, if only they had that. Then their message wouldn’t be getting suppressed by media titans like Current TV. Wait a minute – that doesn’t exist anymore. Well the leftists certainly have dominated the airwaves on talk radio for the last few decades. Oh wait, that isn’t true either.
I guess the fact remains that the only billionaire sponsored mouthpiece for extremist right-wing thought control is still Fox News. And despite their monopoly on media manipulation they still can’t stop whining about what victims they are.
If you were to look for a political pollster or analyst who spent more time manufacturing a false narrative about the presidential election than Frank Luntz, you would probably give up in despair.
Luntz is a Fox News fixture who appears on numerous programs flaunting his phony focus groups that invariably swayed to favor Mitt Romney. He was also called upon to review campaign ads, some of which were produced by his Fox colleague, Karl Rove. Those reviews always seemed to rate the GOP ads better, which further affirmed his assessment that Romney was the favorite to win. And to top it off, Luntz is a consultant for hire to the Republican Party, so anyone expecting anything like objectivity from him is terminally naive.
Now that President Obama has decisively won reelection with an electoral landslide, Luntz has crawled out from beneath his wretched rightist rock to make what may be the most hilarious, deceitful, and self-serving statement of the whole campaign season:
“The published polls that the Romney campaign and the Republican establishment were trashing day after day turned out to be accurate. [...] This is a bad day for establishment pollsters and it’s something they should be held accountable for. You have to tell your clients the truth. And you have to be accurate. And to miss so many states and to be this far off – Your Fox News viewers ought to be outraged, because day in and day out they were told that Mitt Romney was going to win.”
Indeed, Fox News viewers should be outraged – At Luntz and Fox News! After all, that is where conservative voters were fed the most conspicuously dishonest misinformation about the election and the projected outcome. They are the reason that Romney and his supporters were described as “shell-shocked” when they realized that he had lost. They are the ones who promoted nonsense like “Unskewed Polls” that ironically sought to skew published polling so that Romney came out ahead.
Fox News was so brazenly hypocritical in their reporting of election surveys that they chose to only publish polls that had Romney in the lead. They ignored or disparaged any poll that put Obama on top – even their own Fox News commissioned polls.
If election day was “a bad day for establishment pollsters,” it was a bad day for Luntz, because you don’t get more establishment than him. He was as much a part of the problem as anyone. Just a couple of weeks before the election he appeared on Fox to say that it was time to “take Florida off the swing state list,” because it had swung clearly and irreversibly to Romney. Of course, Florida went for Obama, as did all but one of the so-called “swing states.”
The disingenuous babble on Fox News has only one purpose: advance the political interests of conservatives and Republicans. That fact was illuminated by none other than Luntz himself when he told the Los Angeles Times that his airtime has previously been cut on Fox because “his findings didn’t comport with the outlet’s orthodoxy.” That’s an admission that Fox requires their contributors to toe a partisan line, and Luntz has obviously complied.
For Luntz to come out now and tell Fox viewers that they should be outraged is typical behavior for a propagandist who calls himself the “Word Doctor.” He is a professional flack who counsels his clients to lie by distorting language. It was Luntz who coined the term “government-run health care” as an alternative to the Affordable Care Act (or ObamaCare). It didn’t matter that the legislation was only aimed at health insurance and was not in any way a government takeover of medical services. The phrase itself was awarded the “Lie of the Year” from PolitiFact.
It’s what Luntz does. In one of his more infamous efforts to distort public discourse, he delivered a speech before a group of Republicans wherein he offered a series of rhetorical replacements for words he thought were damaging to the GOP cause. Words like “capitalism, compromise,” and “middle-class.” This screed was served up after first declaring his abject fear of the Occupy Wall Street movement, saying that he was “so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.” And his approach to countering it was not to formulate a policy response, but to change the wording of the GOP rebuttal in the hopes of confusing the public.
So, should Fox News viewers be outraged? I’ll say. But, sadly, they will probably just sink back into their stupor and continue to believe whatever falsehoods Fox throws at them going forward. Fox is already trying to sell the myth that Obama’s victory was insignificant and comes without a mandate. They are soft-peddling an electoral blowout and the fact that Democrats won even more seats in both the House and the Senate in a year where they were expected to lose seats. They are fostering the notion that the GOP should resist tax increases on the wealthy, despite the fact that Obama ran (and won) on that platform and exit polls show that 60% of voters favor it.
This further demonstrates that Fox is doing precisely the same things that ought to have enraged their viewers, and when they lose these arguments as well, their audience will be similarly shell-shocked. But they are getting exactly what they deserve by being foolish enough to keep watching a network that deliberately lies to them.
Demonstrating their blatant hostility to fairly representing the American people, Fox News broadcast an election special on the Fourth of July that consisted of almost exclusively conservative Republicans. Out of eleven political guests there was only one Democrat (Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey).
Balancing out that lone voice was Supreme Wacko Allen West (who thinks that there are 80 card-carrying Democratic communists in Congress), virulent Democrat hunter Darrell Issa (who never met a Democrat he doesn’t hold in contempt), and a panel of eight all-GOP House freshmen. Even for Fox this is a strikingly unbalanced division of ideologies.
The host of the program was the GOP “Word Doctor,” Frank Luntz. Luntz is best known for developing rhetoric and catch phrases to deceive people into supporting programs they would never back if they were told the truth about them. Recently Luntz held a seminar with GOP leaders advising them on how to mislead their constituents. Luntz advised Republicans to avoid certain words and replace them with others that he had focus-group tested. For instance: “Out: Capitalism / In: Economic Freedom.” When conservative PR flacks tell Republicans not to talk about capitalism, a significant shift is taking place.
The program’s highlights included Allen West reiterating his belief about communists infiltrating Congress. No one bothered to challenge his nightmarish delusions. Darrell Issa was allowed to defend his inquisition of the Obama administration via a softball question about whether he thought he was too hard on Democrats. Did they really expect him to say “yes?” No one bothered asked him why his Committee on Oversight never held hearings on Republican malfeasance.
The program was so steeply slanted that the set was decorated with paintings of past presidents, but not a single Democratic president was on display. It was a feast of both overt and subliminal propaganda that sought to pretend that there was only one political opinion that encompassed the whole of the American population. For Fox News to schedule this brazenly partisan hour of Republican PR on Independence Day and label it an “American Roundtable” is evidence of just how far they will go to promote their benefactors in the party of the Greedy One Percent (aka GOP). They are going to be unpleasantly surprised when they discover that there are millions of Americans who do not share their self-serving, elitist views, but who aspire to a more inclusive and uplifting agenda that seeks to make “liberty and justice for all” more than just a slogan to be exploited by cynical Republicans and deceitful “news” networks.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post, pollster and Fox News fabulist, Frank Luntz, has virtually surrendered in the battle for the hearts and minds of the American voters. His opinion piece lays out what he calls the “Five myths about conservative voters,” and in the process reveals the reality that Americans are more closely aligned with the values of progressives than those of conservatives. And much of this is thanks to the Occupy movement.
The first myth that Luntz seeks to debunk is that “Conservatives care most about the size of government.” It’s clear that Luntz is referring only to conservative voters, rather than to the conservative politicians that represent them in office. The Republican Party is still just as fixated on shrinking government as it has been since the spawn of Ronald Reagan. However, Luntz has discovered that average Americans, even those who identify as conservatives, realize that…
“…it’s not the 1980s anymore. Today, conservatives don’t want a reduced government so much as one that works better and wastes less. [...] For conservatives, this debate is less about size than about results, along with a demand that elected officials demonstrate accountability and respect for the taxpayer, regardless of whether they’re spending $1 million or $1 trillion.”
That’s a fairly good summary of what the Occupy movement has been advocating for the past year. And it is an abandonment of the extremist rhetoric of conservative icons like Grover Norquist, Sarah Palin, and the Tea Party contingent.
Luntz then moves on to the delicate issue of immigration and denies that “Conservatives want to deport all illegal immigrants.” Once again, he is reporting his research of people, not politicos, and he asserts that they…
“…don’t want to round up all the illegal immigrants and deport them. They believe in the American dream and understand that immigrants built our country. That’s why conservatives embrace legal immigration. A solid majority believe that there should be an eventual path to earned legal status.”
That is the precise policy of Democrats who are sponsoring the DREAM Act to provide a path to residency for undocumented immigrants who came to this country as children and who commit to service in the armed forces or completing a college curriculum. Yet Republicans are fiercely opposed to this plan, that they derisively refer to as amnesty, even though it puts them at odds with their own constituents.
The third “myth” Luntz cites about conservatives is that “They worship Wall Street.” There is no doubt that the Republican hierarchy genuflects at the feet of Goldman Sachs. Mitt Romney has raised more money from Wall Street than any other candidate. And his GOP colleagues in congress are the first place Wall Streeters go to secure their special treatment in the form of legislation and regulation that enhances their prospects for ever greater wealth and power at the expense of 99% of the rest of the population. Luntz, however, observes that most conservatives…
“…agree with moderates and liberals that things on Wall Street have gotten out of hand. They believe that those who abuse the system should be held accountable and that those who work hard and play by the rules should be free to advance.”
Didn’t I hear that in an Obama speech about a hundred times over the past six months?
Number four on the Luntz list is a perennial: “Conservatives want to slash Social Security and Medicare.” It’s worth noting that while Luntz labels these items myths, there is abundant evidence that they are in fact the positions taken by conservative Republicans and have formed the basis of their platform for decades. This one is a good example of that. And it is also another example of where conservatives in Luntz’s research agree with liberals, as Luntz notes…
“70 percent of them oppose cuts to Medicare. They want the program strengthened, not dismantled.”
Finally, Luntz attacks the notion that “Conservatives don’t care about inequality.” The wealth gap has been a primary objective of the Occupy movement. Republican politicians, beginning with multimillionaire Mitt Romney, desperately try to portray this as class warfare. However, when actual people are consulted about their opinions, even right-wing pollsters like Luntz discover that…
“Fully 66 percent of conservatives consider the growing gap between the rich and the poor a ‘problem.’ [...] Like all Americans, they are outraged that there hasn’t been a single prosecution by the Obama administration for the corporate abuses that led to the economic meltdown.”
Unfortunately, even with regard to Obama and the Democrats, much of the discussion about this has been no more than lip service and much more needs to be done.
When conservative pundits talk about this country being a center-right nation, they are describing a situation that may be decades out of alignment with reality. The American people consistently side with liberal values in most polls, and now even the research conducted by the right’s most reliable propagandist has published findings that affirm this. And this isn’t the first time Luntz has had to concede ideological defeat. Last December he said this to a select audience at the Republican Governors Association:
“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
At that time Luntz advised Republicans to avoid certain words and replace them with others that he had focus-group tested. For instance: “Out: Capitalism / In: Economic Freedom.” When conservative PR flacks tell Republicans not to talk about capitalism, a significant shift is taking place (see this InfoGraphic of the other words that Luntz highlighted).
The bottom line is that the American people fully recognize who their advocates are, and now conservative strategists recognize it as well. Consequently they are spinning furiously to try to avoid losing an even bigger percentage of the populace and a blowout in November. But it’s going to be a difficult sell if the GOP has to persuade voters to support them by advocating policies long-held by Democrats. Luntz knows that and that is why he is frightened to death.
Frank Luntz has been helping to distort the language of Republicans for decades. His specialty is developing dishonest phrases to replace accurate descriptions of social and political issues when the accurate descriptions produce negative impressions of conservatives and their unpopular agenda. And now…..
Luntz created the term “death tax” as a substitute for “estate tax,” reasoning that it would be easier to steer low-information voters away from a tax on dying than a tax on people who own estates. He also supplied the term “government-run” to replace “public option” during the health care debate after determining that focus groups responded less favorably to the label that implied falsely that government would get between you and your doctor.
It is common to observe Luntz’s fabrications getting adopted by conservative politicians and media. He is a frequent presence on Fox News and has been cited as their main source for right-leaning rhetoric. He serves the same purpose for political clients, and in that role he just spoke at the Republican Governors Association to deliver an ominous warning:
“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”
Luntz is right to be afraid. The Occupy movement has taken hold of the American Dream and reminded citizens that they have a right to be heard on important issues that impact their lives. It has revealed that the American people are overwhelmingly supportive of the goals of the Occupiers. It has reasserted the Constitutional and patriotic practice of free speech and the redress of grievances. These are principles that Luntz and his rightist patrons simply cannot abide.
Consequently, Luntz went to work to shape a new batch of linguistic contortions with which to befuddle naive FoxPods. The fruit of his fear is striking evidence of the success of the Occupy movement. Below are the specific suggestions Luntz gave to the GOP governors for what to say, and not to say, when talking about the Occupy movement. Pay attention, because these words and arguments are what will soon be cascading from the mouths of pundits and politicians on Fox News and other ring-wing media:
Out: Capitalism / In: Economic Freedom or Free Market
Luntz has concluded that, while Americans still prefer capitalism to socialism, any mention of it will stir thoughts of the misdeeds of Wall Street and bankers. Indeed, capitalism has suffered a PR setback in recent years and even ranks below progressivism in national polls. In a nod to the effectiveness of the Occupiers, Luntz now believes that to be seen as defending Wall Street is “a problem.” So the GOP can’t even admit that it favors capitalism for fear of losing support.
Out: Tax the Rich / In: Take from the Rich
Every poll shows that the country is in favor of making the wealthy pay their fair share. Even polls of millionaires reveal that they think their own taxes should be higher. So Luntz proposes a tweak in the hopes of producing language that sounds more sympathetic. Remove the “sym” and you have something more like the truth.
Out: Middle-Class / In: Hardworking Taxpayers
The right has obviously lost any appeal to all but the most fortunate in society. Luntz recognizes that there is little to gain by courting the middle-class so he has invented a new term that he believes people can relate to without actually defining it. The problem is that taxpayers that actually do work hard won’t be fooled by this rouse into thinking they are members of the One-Percent whose lives of leisure are supported by GOP policies.
Out: Jobs / In: Careers
This may be the most brazen deceit on the list. Luntz asked his audience of Republican governors whether they wanted a job or a career. After few hands were raised for the former, and many for the latter, Luntz summed up asking, “So why are we talking about jobs?” He should try asking his questions in the parking lot of a Target Store rather than to sitting governors and their staff. He might get a different response and may even learn why so many Americans are talking about jobs.
Out: Government Spending / In: Waste
This is a transparent effort to associate anything having to do with government as wasteful and unnecessary. I assume he means to disparage government spending on things like Social Security, interstate highways, veteran’s benefits, law enforcement, public schools, child services, water, air, and food safety, and national security, which is, by far, the largest chunk of the federal budget. By all means, let’s stop wasting money.
Out: Compromise / In: Cooperate
In today’s Republican party compromise is seen as weakness. Luntz asserts that it amounts to “selling out [your] principles.” He also admits that cooperation means the same thing, but doesn’t have the sting of compromise. The GOP may not have been using Luntz’s phrasing, but they have definitely been acting on the concept. This session of Congress has had more filibusters than any in history as Republicans refuse to compromise. The fact that they are more committed to the failure of this administration than they are to the success of the nation has been apparent to the public, which is why Luntz and the GOP have to resort to this sort of word play.
Out: Umm… / In: I get It
Here Luntz is just offering his version of a patronizing statement to mollify an angry electorate. Luntz told his audience of governors, “Here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.” Unfortunately for Luntz & Co. the electorate knows that’s a lie. They know that Republicans don’t really get it and neither do they have any solutions.
Out: Entrepreneur / In: Job Creator
I think this must have something to do with sounding too French. Republicans have a long record of pretending to support entrepreneurship, but Luntz must have detected a derogatory connotation that wasn’t there previously. He must also have detected a problem with the word “innovator” because he also advises against its use. However, the GOP has already been using “job creator” as a substitute for “rich,” so they will be forced to find a new label for the one-percent. How about “the One-Percent?”
Out: Sacrifice / In: In This Together
The logic behind this twist is that is that the word “sacrifice” allegedly evokes a negative feeling that is shared by all. The problem with that logic is that the rich have not yet been asked to sacrifice anything. So, in reality, Luntz just wants to excise the word because it only applies to the subset of Americans who are already suffering and to whom the GOP are least likely to appeal. Raising the specter of sacrifice only dredges up harsh feeling amongst the middle-class…I mean hard working Americans…when juxtaposed with the rich…I mean job creators.
Out: Wall Street / In: Washington
This capsulizes the whole problem for Luntz and the right. He knows that Wall Street is correctly seen as the perpetrator of much of the country’s current ills. He knows that associating with Big Finance will sink the prospects of any politician. And he knows that success for the Upper-Crusters he represents depends on fingering another villain. Ironically, the villains he suggests are the very people and institutions that he represents in DC. If he is going to mount a “blame Washington” campaign it has to include the Republican denizens of the capital who, more than anyone else, handed over control of the economy to the Wall Street hoodlums who promptly shattered it.
With the collapse of the Tea Party, the financial elite are girding for a fight. A recently disclosed memo revealed a scheme to launch a propaganda campaign against the Occupy movement to be funded by $850,000 from the American Bankers Association. The lobbyists behind this effort include former staff members of House Speaker John Boehner. The ties between the Banksters and political power brokers are as strong as ever.
The inescapable truth that emerges from Luntz’s presentation is that the Occupy movement has been a phenomenal success. In a little over two months it has captured the imagination of a weary populace who now see a path to redemption. It has flipped the national conversation from one of a phony debt crisis to one focused squarely on economic inequities and the abuse of corporate power in the political arena. And now it has resulted in one of the most satisfying accomplishments of all: It has Fox News’ Word Doctor, and likely all of his clients and colleagues, scared to death. Hopefully they will be just scared enough to start doing the right thing for the 99% of Americans who have had to wait too long for the restoration of fairness and justice.
Republican pollster and “Word Doctor,” Frank Luntz, was interviewed today on Fox News’ Your World to discuss the effect of the Wisconsin protests on America’s perception of unions. What transpired was one of the most vigorous attempts at spin I’ve seen since at least the last time I saw Frank Luntz.
The main point Luntz struggled to make was that unions were hurting themselves by engaging in the protests in Wisconsin. He argued that as people around the country saw teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other public employees fighting for benefits that they (the viewers) didn’t have, they would be resentful. He said that viewers would not sympathize with a union member in Madison who was trying to keep from losing his pension when the viewer didn’t have one to begin with. Luntz told guest host Chris Cotter that Americans wouldn’t support the protester’s efforts to retain their contractually agreed upon salaries while other Americans were taking pay cuts or losing their jobs.
What a crock! And an insult to the intelligence of the American people.
First of all, the protesters in Wisconsin are not refusing to make compromises on material matters including salary and pension benefits. This is not an issue of union greed as it is being portrayed on Fox News. The protest is entirely focused against an effort by Governor Scott Walker to strip public employees of the collective bargaining rights they have had for decades. It is a brazen assault on unions with the intent of forever breaking their ability to advocated on behalf of their members.
Secondly, Luntz is stretching both truth and reason with his arguments. It seems to me that the only thing that Americans watching the conflict will resent is the fact that they don’t also enjoy the benefits that union membership has brought to public employees in Wisconsin. If they see Wisconsin teachers protecting their interests with regard to pay and pensions, the rest of the country is not going to say “Darn those Cheeseheads, they shouldn’t have pensions.” More likely the nation will think “Hey, we should have a union here so that we can have a say in our own welfare and be able to take on the powerful government and wealthy corporate institutions.”
If anything, the Wisconsin protests will increase demand for union representation at a time when workers are taking the brunt of the economic difficulties the nation is enduring. What is happening in Wisconsin is an advertisement for the benefits of union membership and Americans will recognize that. They will want to know why workers alone are being asked to sacrifice while corporations are earning record profits? If corporate taxes were made more fair, and the numerous loopholes closed, there would be plenty of funds available to keep employee benefit reductions to a minimum. And the more money in the pockets of average Americans, the more prosperous the businesses who employ them will be.
But don’t expect viewers of Fox News to hear this perspective. They will be inundated with false premises and conclusions that are manufactured by partisans like Luntz. It is a theme that has been in evidence all day on Fox News. In the past we have seen leaked memos from Fox executives directing their anchors and corespondents on how to frame the stories they cover. It will not surprise me when the memo is eventually leaked that told these so-called journalists to disparage the unions and present Gov. Walker as a hero. And it will likely contain language that is virtually identical to the spin that Luntz articulated in this interview.
[Addendum] Although Fox has been bashing the protesters all week, implying that they are un-American for even expressing themselves, the Tea Party faction is plotting to emerge tomorrow. They are being organized, in true AstroTurf form, by lobbyists from American Majority, a project of the uber-conservative, billionaire Koch brothers. And their affair will be headlined by the terminally choleric Andrew Breitbart, Joe “The Plumber” Wurtzelbacher, and pizza man Herman Cain.
It will be interesting to see them put on a show of support for government bureaucracy, suppression of workers rights, and the unencumbered rule of the powerful elite, over ordinary, hard-working citizens.
Frank Luntz is a fixture on Fox News. His polling and focus groups are regularly featured on the network and, by some weird coincidence, always seem to reflect poorly on President Obama and Democratic policies.
Luntz was called upon again to survey opinions of the President’s State of the Union speech. What he delivered was a shamelessly partisan spectacle that was tainted further by his leading questions and open bias. James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times noted how Luntz slyly planted impressions in the minds of his panelists. But there was something even more surprising in what Rainey learned from Luntz when asked about his misrepresentations:
“Luntz defends himself by saying that he has conducted focus groups before that favored Obama, including during the 2008 campaign. He has suggested that his airtime has previously been cut on Fox because his findings didn’t comport with the outlet’s orthodoxy.”
So there you have it, straight from the mouth of Fox’s golden boy political analyst. Even if you’re a favorite son in the Fox family, if you do not deliver the prescribed dosage of rightist rhetoric you will be punished, even exiled, by the network magistrates.
The obvious result of this is evident every day on Fox News. The network broadcasts a lock-step conservative version of current events because anything that diverts from their philosophy is excised before it can get on the air.
But there is a less obvious problem that results from this ideological intolerance. If you are, say, an ambitious pundit who wants to see his work receive recognition, and also wants the remuneration that goes with it, you might just be inclined shape your analyses to comply with the criteria handed down to you by your big media patrons.
So whether you are a pollster, a columnist, an academic, or even a politician, you know exactly what you have to say to get on Fox News. How many of their contributors and guests gleefully adjust their opinions in order to get more airtime? Thanks to Frank Luntz we know of at least one.
PolitiFact, an independent fact-checking project from the St. Petersburg Times, has selected their “Lie of the Year” from the hundreds that are dispensed annually by politicians and pundits. It must have been a grueling exercise, but their selection is more than deserving.
“PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections.”
The folks at PolitiFact cited several examples of this lie’s use by prominent by public figures and documented the basis for their decision. The phrase was coined by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and adopted by the Republican Party and conservative lobbying groups and think tanks like FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation.
The one criticism I have with PolitiFact’s analysis is that it doesn’t give sufficient blame to the media in general and Fox News in particular. Fox News acted as the PR agency for promoting this flagrant lie. There was even a leaked memo from Bill Sammon, the Washington managing editor, that instructed Fox producers and reporters to refrain from using the more neutral “public option” in favor of “government-run.” So this lie, which was certainly on the lips of Republican politicians, was company policy at Fox News.
PolitiFact did report that the media had participated in disseminating the lie. However, they said that “an accurate tally was unfeasible because it had been repeated so frequently in so many places.” Did its use by Fox overload the PolitFact database servers? The report then went on to cite examples such as 79 occurrences of its use on CNN. Seeing as how Fox News incorporated the lie into their style guide, it would have been helpful to get an estimate of its use on that network. Suffice to say that it probably went into the hundreds, if not thousands.
In defense of PolitiFact, if they were to document every lie that is told on Fox News they would have to recruit an army of researchers that would rival the U.S. Infantry.
In August of 2009, while the debate over health insurance reform was in full swing, GOP pollster Frank Luntz appeared on Sean Hannity’s program and advised Hannity and other Republican operatives to stop using the term “public option.” As a result of his own polling Luntz discovered that…
“…if you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split, [but] if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.”
Luntz is a Republican pollster who specializes in language. His web site, The Word Doctors, sports the motto “It’s not what you say. It’s what people hear.” He is responsible for introducing rhetorical distortions such as the “death tax” into the public discourse. He truly does have a gift for doctoring words.
Two months after Luntz’s appearance with Hannity, Bill Sammon, Fox News’ Washington managing editor, issued a memo to Fox producers ordering them cease the use of the term “public option.”Media Matters published the memo today:
From: Sammon, Bill Sent: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:23 AM To: 054 -FNSunday; 169 -SPECIAL REPORT; 069 -Politics; 030 -Root (FoxNews.Com); 036 -FOX.WHU; 050 -Senior Producers; 051 -Producers Subject: friendly reminder: let’s not slip back into calling it the “public option”
1) Please use the term “government-run health insurance” or, when brevity is a concern, “government option,” whenever possible. 2) When it is necessary to use the term “public option” (which is, after all, firmly ensconced in the nation’s lexicon), use the qualifier “so-called,” as in “the so-called public option.” 3) Here’s another way to phrase it: “The public option, which is the government-run plan.” 4) When newsmakers and sources use the term “public option” in our stories, there’s not a lot we can do about it, since quotes are of course sacrosanct.
This is about as clear a demonstration of institutional bias at Fox News as you’ll ever see. The evidence of their bias has always been apparent on the air, but this shows that it isn’t merely the opinions of the presenters, but that it is a coordinated policy embraced and enforced from Fox News’ executive suites. It is also contrary to an earlier memo Sammon distributed disingenuously asserting that, “We do not cheerlead for one cause or another.” However it is perfectly aligned with Sammon’s ideology as expressed in his books:
The Evangelical President: George Bush’s Struggle to Spread a Moral Democracy Throughout the World
At Any Cost: How Al Gore Tried to Steal the Election
Strategery: How George W. Bush Is Defeating Terrorists, Outwitting Democrats, and Confounding the Mainstream Media.
Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the White House
Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, Media Bias and the Bush Haters
In an interview on The Daily Beast. Howard Kurtz got Sammon to respond to the email flap:
“The term public option, he said, ‘is a vague, bland, undescriptive phrase,’ and that after all, ‘who would be against a public park?’ The phrase ‘government-run plan,’ he said, is ‘a more neutral term,’ and was used just last week by a New York Times columnist. I have no idea what the Republicans were pushing or not,’ Sammons says. ‘It’s simply an accurate, fair, objective term.’
If you believe that you’re probably already a loyal Glenn Beck viewer. Sammon’s complaint that “public option” is vague and bland is actually an endorsement of its neutrality and makes it more appropriate for unbiased reporting. Sammon knows full well that “government-run” is a loaded phrase. It certainly would have an impact on the anti-government Tea Party that is the foundation of both his network and the Republican Party.
His claim that he has no idea what Republicans were pushing is utterly implausible. If it were true it would mean that he is an incompetent manager and an uninformed journalist. How could he not know the GOP preference for “government-run” when it was broadcast on the second highest rated Fox News program? Does he expect people to believe that Frank Luntz could conduct polling on the phrases and report the results to Sean Hannity, without him having any knowledge of it? And was he entirely oblivious to the fact that only Republicans ever used the term “government-run”? His defense forces us conclude that he is either a liar or an idiot.
When Sammon objected to accusations that he was biased, Kurtz correctly pointed out a number of incidents that supported the accusations. He also mentioned a couple of Sammon’s books. However, I can’t let this little escape from reality go without comment:
Kurtz: “The significance of the marching orders is that they were issued to the news division, which aims to be fair and balanced and is run separately from the opinion side, populated by the likes of Hannity and Glenn Beck.”
I would like to see Kurtz provide any evidence that the news division at Fox is run separately from the opinion side. Or that they aim to be fair and balanced. The significance of the marching orders is that they were marching orders. An ethical network would not impose such constraints, even on their editorial commentators. The only sort of enterprise that would do so is one that is focused, not on news, but on propaganda; one that has an agenda and seeks to maintain ideological purity in their messaging. In other words: Fox News.
The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy™ is revving up its media machine in response to news that Democrats intend to run a campaign for president against Republican John McCain. What gall! Unable to tolerate such impudence, Republicans, and their patrons in the press, are brewing a full-scale whine with a pungent aroma of fear and a nose for hypocrisy.
The object of their dread is the announcement of a new fund created in part to counter the media’s love affair with McCain. Progressive Media USA (PMUSA) was revealed in an article by Politico and described thusly:
“Wealthy Democrats are preparing a four-month, $40 million media campaign centered on attacks on Sen. John McCain. And it will be led by David Brock, the former investigative reporter who first gained fame in the 1990s as a right-wing, anti-Clinton journalist.”
As evidence of the trepidation with which the GOPress has received this news, here is a sampling of the headlines generated since the story broke this afternoon:
Without exception, the headline writers all adopt a negative tone that focuses on the group’s alleged mission to attack McCain, despite the fact that the group’s organizers have laid out a much broader, issues-oriented agenda.
Bill O’Reilly joined the chorus by devoting a major chunk of his program to the story including his Talking Points Memo, an interview with Politico reporter Jim VandeHei, and an extended segment with Stepford Pundit Laura Ingraham. His long-time obsession with Brock and PMUSA backer George Soros explodes all over the screen. He repeatedly calls Brock, president of Media Matters, a “vile assassin” and, when VandeHei suggests that the right has similar groups, O’Reilly says that he’s not aware of any (more on this lie below). He pretends to ask VandeHei to provide more info, but then just continues his non-stop ranting without providing an opportunity to do so. In the course of his coverage O’Reilly describes the Soros/Media Matters connection as…
“…the most frightening thing I have ever seen in American politics.”
Really? More frightening than the election debacle of 2000? More frightening than Watergate? More frightening than the McCarthy Hearings? More frightening than the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King? Does O’Reilly really believe that an organization that demands honesty from the media is evil, as he says on the Factor? Does he really fear a wealthy individual who has given hundreds of millions of dollars to promote democracy around the world? More likely he is afraid of being repeatedly shown to be a lying gasbag who is more aligned with theo-corporatism than traditional American liberty.
Earlier in the day, Election HQ on Fox News brought in Republican propagandist Frank Luntz (who is identified only as a pollster without affiliation) to offer his analysis. Luntz argued vociferously that any move by Democrats to attack McCain would fail. He looked straight into the camera to make an impassioned plea that they abandon such plans or suffer at the polls. It was heartwarming to see Luntz display such empathy for his Democratic rivals. Who knew that he was so concerned about the electoral welfare of the party he has fought against his entire career.
The most stunning assertion by Luntz in this interview was his response to a surprisingly reasonable question from Megyn Kelly. She asked Luntz whether the Democrats’ plan was an appropriate reaction to all the favorable press McCain receives. Luntz seemed astonished that Kelly would suggest such nonsense. He disputed her premise and went further to declare that it was Barack Obama who was the press darling. He actually said aloud that:
“The most negative story that they can use on Obama is that he can’t bowl. Give me a break.”
Apparently Luntz has been a coma for the past few months. If the idiocy of this comment were able to generate light, you would be able to see it from space. Anyone with a television has seen the attacks on Obama that range from accusations that he is a Muslim to casting doubt on his patriotism to belittling his experience. And always, always his association with Rev Wright, criticisms of whom could populate their very own cable network. In fact, the segment immediately following Luntz’s interview with Kelly was yet another story about Rev. Wright.
Amidst this conflagration of outrage over the Democrats’ desire to actually mount a campaign, the media is missing a minor development that just might have some relevance to the stories they are advancing. They might want to look into the fact that Republicans are also engaging in this thing called politics. Last year a group of Republican insiders corralled their biggest donors and created Freedom’s Watch (FW). The New York Times trumpeted their arrival:
“Founded this summer by a dozen wealthy conservatives, the nonprofit group is set apart from most advocacy groups by the immense wealth of its core group of benefactors, its intention to far outspend its rivals and its ambition to pursue a wide-ranging agenda.”
At its launch the group announced that they intend to raise $200 million – five times the goal proposed by PMUSA. FW was co-founded by former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is now its spokes-liar. FW’s new chief is Carl Forti, a former communications director at the National Republican Congressional Committee, and known for his unscrupulous dishonesty. FW is well off and well connected. And unlike PMUSA, its management is directly tied to Party operatives. Even Bill O’Reilly, who said he was unaware of any such organizations, was, in fact, well aware of FW. He interviewed its founding president Bradley Blakeman just four months ago.
Now the media is aghast at the thought that Democrats are coming to the field prepared to play. But not one of them has reported that the Republicans started this conflict, seeded it with more money, and even now are using it to escalate the propaganda war. Email from the McCain campaign has already gone out pleading with supporters to dig deeper.
“We need to be able to answer whatever smear campaigns the liberal left throws at us. Please help as we combat this base demagoguery with a donation of $50, $100, $250 or even $1000 today.”
It will be interesting to see if any of our observers in the 4th estate ever bother to fairly present the facts in this matter, or even to put it into context. But given the way they’ve misrepresented it thus far, I wouldn’t hold out much hope.
Update: In response to Obama’s request that third party groups not produce anti-McCain ads, Progressive Media USA has become Progressive Accountability. The new group will conduct research and tracking of the McCain campaign, but will not produce ads.
Any fair-minded observer of American media is well aware of the intrinsic bias of Fox News. It is a bias that is recognized by journalists and scholars, analysts and amateurs. Even Fox no longer tries to pawn the euphemistic “fair and balanced” nonsense off on their viewers. They now cast themselves as “the most powerful name in news.” That slogan should provoke an obvious question: Is “power” something that is desirable in a news network?
Many divergent camps in politics and media are answering that question with a resounding “NO!” Those camps may now be coalescing into a united front that shares a healthy disrespect for Fox News.
It hardly needs mentioning that progressives view Fox as a festering boil that serves only to stain the otherwise honorable pursuit of journalism. Democrats like John Edwards and Barack Obama decline to appear on the network. As a result, the network has escalated their already derogatory coverage, going so far as to refer to them as “fools“ for having the temerity to steer clear of Fox’s venom.
Having alienated the Left, Fox has now set its sights on estranging their natural allies on the Right. This approach began with the exclusion of Ron Paul from a Fox debate co-sponsored by the New Hampshire Republican Party. Not surprisingly, Paul’s supporters were aghast, along with others who saw the blatantly prejudicial intent on the part of Fox News. Paul commented on the affair saying…
“They are scared of me and don’t want my message to get out, but it will. They are propagandists for this war and I challenge them on the notion that they are conservative.”
Paul may have something there. While it is plain that everything Rupert Murdoch touches reeks of rightist propaganda, Fox viewers actually appear to be more loyal to Fox than to Republicans or conservatism (see The Cult Of Foxonalityâ„¢). The New Hampshire debate went on without Paul and without the state Republican Party who withdrew their sponsorship in protest of Fox’s candidate exclusions.
“While Fox has ended the Democratic monopoly in TV news, it is becoming disturbingly clear that it is perpetuating the pro-Big Government monopoly in TV news.”
Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson is peeved at Fox’s coverage of him which he thinks is excessively negative:
“This has been a constant mantra of Fox, to tell you the truth. [...] for you to highlight nothing but the negatives in terms of the polls and then put on your own guys who have been predicting for four months, really, that I couldn’t do it, kind of skew things a little bit. There’s a lot of other opinion out there.”
NewsBusters (the right’s lame answer to MediaMatters) doesn’t think Fox’s conservative bona fides are worth much:
“Even the allegedly “conservative” Fox News gave the New York Senator a softball interview.”
“Whatever Luntz is doing on Fox with his ‘focus groups,’ its not science and its not even social science. Instead, it is an example of yellow journalism and nearly undisguised political propaganda designed to be misleading and manipulative.”
So Ron Paul, Richard Viguerie, Fred Thompson, NewsBusters, the Republican Party, and the John Birch Society have come together in recognition that, whatever it is that Fox does, it isn’t news. They are now in an uneasy harmony with most of the progressive end of the political spectrum. Perhaps now they will join us in shunning the network that is more focused on its own welfare than on the ethical practice of their craft.
A network consumed with bias, that revels in its own “power,” is dangerous to all of its potential subjects and to democracy itself. The state of journalism, and of the union, is greatly enhanced by this unity against media corruption. And our nation could only benefit if we can all get together and expel Fox News from the body politic. On that count we may owe Fox a debt of gratitude for uniting such far flung elements of society behind a frothing opposition to Fox itself. Thanks.