PBS to use “noted pollster” Luntz for presidential forum, despite GOP ties and reported reprimands

According to an April 4 press release, Republican pollster Frank Luntz will participate in the Public Broadcasting Service's coverage of the June 28 Democratic presidential forum, which will be televised live and moderated by PBS host Tavis Smiley: “Immediate public feedback on the performance of the candidates will be conducted by noted pollster Frank Luntz, who will also appear on 'Tavis Smiley' on PBS the following evening to discuss his findings.” Fellow pollsters have criticized Luntz, a longtime Republican strategist, for mischaracterizing the results of his research, as Media Matters for America has noted. The PBS press release does not mention Luntz's Republican ties, repeating a pattern in the media identified by Media Matters.

According to a January 29, 2007, article on The New Republic's website, Luntz “not only helped write Republican House member Newt Gingrich's Contract with America; he was also responsible for its presentation to the public. Four years later, he advised Republicans trying to impeach Bill Clinton.” Luntz's 2002 memo "The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America" coached Republicans on new ways to talk about global warming and warned the party that the environment “is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general -- and President Bush in particular -- are most vulnerable.” A June 2004 memo by Luntz, “Communicating the Principles of Prevention & Protection in the War on Terror” urged Republicans to use concepts such as "[i]t 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 since.

As Media Matters has documented, Luntz's credibility has been a recurring issue. In 1997, the American Association for Public Opinion Research reprimanded Luntz for comments he made to the media regarding his polling work on the Contract with America, according to a 2000 Salon.com article. Similarly, Washington Post polling director Richard Morin reported in 2000 that the National Council on Public Polls “censured pollster Frank Luntz for allegedly mischaracterizing on MSNBC the results of focus groups he conducted during the [2000] Republican Convention.”

On the June 14 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, discussing the June 5 Republican presidential debate with Luntz, co-host Sean Hannity claimed to be “frustrated” by purported differences between the Democratic and Republican debates: “The Democrats don't get the questions on partial-birth abortion or asked if they've read the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE]. It seems like the Republicans are getting more scrutiny.” In fact, during an April 26 debate, the Democratic presidential candidates faced a question on the abortion procedure that critics call partial-birth abortion, and at a June 3 debate, several Democratic candidates were asked whether they regretted not reading the September 2002 NIE on the threat posed by Iraq. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's (D-NY) response to the NIE question was specifically noted by Luntz on Hannity & Colmes June 4 -- but Luntz did not point out Hannity's mistake during his June 14 appearance.

In September 2004, MSNBC dropped its plans to include Luntz in coverage of that year's presidential debate following a letter from Media Matters that outlined Luntz's GOP ties and questionable polling methodology.