Letter to MSNBC urging disclosure of pollster Luntz's GOP ties, questionable standards

Richard Kaplan
One MSNBC Plaza
Secaucus, NJ 07094

Dear Mr. Kaplan:

Based on your channel's programming and editorial decisions during the 2000 presidential debates, I anticipate you are considering featuring Republican pollster Frank Luntz, CEO and president of Luntz Research Companies, as part of the network's analysis of this year's presidential debates. I'm writing to ask that, if you have already chosen to include Luntz as part of your coverage, you reconsider that decision in light of Luntz's partisan Republican ties and history of questionable scientific methodology. If Luntz must be a part of MSNBC's lineup, I would expect that its viewers will be informed of these facts on-air.

As Salon.com reported in 2000, there is little reason to trust a poll taken by Frank Luntz, who was reprimanded in 1997 by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) for his work polling for the Republican Party's 1994 “Contract with America” campaign platform. According to Salon.com: “Luntz told the media that everything in the contract had the support of at least 60 percent of the general public,” but when a member of the AAPOR “filed a complaint requesting to see Luntz's research and verification of the figure,” Luntz refused, citing “client confidentiality.” Salon.com described Luntz as “possibly the best example of what we could call the pollster pundit: someone who both purports to scientifically poll the opinions of the public, and then also interpret that data to support his own -- in Luntz's case, conservative -- point of view.” Salon.com added that, according to David W. Moore, author of the book The Super Pollsters, Luntz's work is little more than “propaganda” disguised as research. Luntz has explained his own methodology as follows: “Say you poll on an environmental issue, and on eight of the 10 questions the numbers are in your favor. Why release the other two? It's like being a lawyer.”

I sincerely hope your channel will not repeat the mistakes made during its coverage of the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, when MSNBC anchors and commentators failed to even once mention Luntz's partisan Republican ties or questionable polling standards during three appearances in which he touted flawed focus groups.

Though the overall results of Luntz's convention studies were not overtly in favor of either presidential candidate, three of his four focus groups were institutionally biased toward President George W. Bush. One Luntz focus group held during the DNC compared the views of Gore 2000 voters to Bush 2000 voters. Yet in three other groups (one during the DNC and two during the RNC) Luntz compared Republicans' reactions to speeches to the combined reactions of Democrats and Independents and then wrongly labeled the groups as “Republicans” and “Democrats” during his September 2 appearance on MSNBC.

Your channel's failure to identify Luntz's party affiliation notwithstanding, this pollster has made clear his preference for the 2004 presidential election. The St. Paul 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 noted on September 1 that “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.”

I trust that as a reputable media organization, MSNBC will agree to provide full disclosure of all relevant information regarding its commentators and pollsters in the future. I look forward to monitoring your channel's coverage of the upcoming debates.


David Brock
President and CEO
Media Matters for America