Why did WaPo give discredited pollster Frank Luntz a platform for substance-free spin -- twice?

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

The Washington Post's decision to give Republican pollster Frank Luntz 1,500 words of op-ed space to prattle on about the GOP's "Pledge to America" was bad enough. Luntz began with a self-aggrandizing story about his role in the 1994 Republican "Contract With America," which he claims "contributed to the Republican landslide in 1994" despite the fact that it basically did nothing of the kind.* Luntz then moved on to an utterly pointless comparison of the 1994 Contract to the 2010 Pledge:

So, how does the Pledge stack up against the Contract -- and might it lead to similar success? Let's break them down, point by point.

First, their names: "A Pledge to America" vs. the "Contract With America." I have to give the edge to the 1994 version, though I have an even better word. Nobody trusts political promises or politicians' pledges, but a "commitment" suggests seriousness and a willingness to put your reputation on the line. I conducted polls on this wording this year, and an overwhelming 81 percent of Americans preferred a "commitment," while just 10 percent chose a "promise" and only 9 percent a "pledge."

It continued on like that at some length: Frank Luntz thinks "commitment" is a better word than "contract" which is a better word than "pledge." Riveting stuff -- and endlessly useful to Washington Post readers attempting to assess the Republicans' campaign promises, I'm sure.

Luntz's op-ed might -- might -- have been of some interest to PR Week readers, assuming that you can ever trust anything he says about his research. (You can't.) But it has very little value to the typical Washington Post reader.

But the Post didn't stop there: Today, it hosted an online Q&A with Luntz, giving the discredited pollster yet another opportunity to spin on behalf of his political party without anyone checking his facts or challenging his claims. And that Q&A demonstrated quite clearly the pointlessness of granting Frank Luntz such prominent space with which to assess the Pledge to America:

Q. Deficit Chickenhawks

How exactly do Republicans plan on controlling the deficit if they exclude defense, seniors and veterans from spending cuts?

A. Frank Luntz writes:

Fair question. And I want to emphasize I am a pollster, not a policy person. That question is better addressed to members of Congress. That said, the plan does call for a line by line examination of every budget and every expenditure. Frankly, I hope they do a forensic audit that holds each agency accountable for what they spend and how they spend it. At the very minimum Washington has a responsbility to spend your tax dollars a lot more wisely.

So, basically, Frank Luntz has absolutely no idea what he's talking about. He's completely unwilling, or unable, to address substantive issues, beyond offering meaningless platitudes like "line by line examination" and "forensic audit" and "spend your tax dollars a lot more wisely." After using Washington Post op-ed space to praise the Pledge's "intellectual heft," Luntz wouldn't or couldn't identify a single concrete way in which the GOP could reduce the deficit.

Then, incredibly, three questions later Luntz wrote "I want and demand accountability. … I care more about governing than about elections." Clearly!

So, basically, the Post just gave Frank Luntz a platform from which to spout content-free political spin on behalf of the Republican party. Twice. Oh, and the online Q&A didn't even identify him as a Republican, calling him simply "a pollster and communications consultant."

* Luntz's refusal to substantiate his claims about polling he did for the Contract With America drew a rare reprimand from the American Association for Public Opinion Research, which raises questions about why the Post would grant him op-ed space to brag about work for which he has been sanctioned.

The Washington Post
Frank Luntz
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.