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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Republican Word Master Comments On Political Language

Republican pollster Frank Luntz. (AP)

Today Congress begins debating what Republicans have named the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” Notable health economists don’t think the health reform will kill jobs and Democrats tried to get Republicans to remove the word “killing” from the bill after the Tucson shootings. But the phrase “job-killing” remains in the bill’s title, though House Speaker John Boehner has also referred to it as the “job-destroying” bill.

What does Republican pollster Frank Luntz think about the “job killing” language?  He came up with other phrases that have scored big for the GOP, such as “death tax” instead of estate tax, and PolitiFact’s 2010 Lie of the Year: the “government takeover” of healthcare.

With the call for post-Tucson civility in Congress, we ask Luntz about political language, and why he says “what matters is not what you say. It’s what people hear.”


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  • Private Sector Frog

    In the wake of the Tucson shooting….I just looking at Billboards Top 100 chart today. It turns out the #1 song is “Grenade”….I looked up some of the lyrics…”I would go through all this pain, Take a bullet straight through my brain, Yes, I would die for ya baby; But you won’t do the same”…..this is what our kids are listening to!…and we see a connection between violence in society with political speech and not with this!? IT’S THE #1 SONG for Pete’s sake!!

    Oh, and by the way I noticed WBUR used the term “dead on arrival” when it described what would happen to the “job-killing” health care repeal bill when it got to the Senate.

  • Alison S

    I find it ironic if not telling, that a man who advocates that Republicans be more forthcoming, direct, and not avoid questions, did everything he could to avoid answering the first two questions he was asked in this interview.

    I also believe that calling him a wordsmith as opposed to a spin doctor, or less generously, a manipulator and downright liar is using the same kind of spin that he employs.

    His job is to manipulate the public, not to inform it.

  • rhonda strahler

    I came in on the end of this piece and it took me about 2mimutes to
    determine that this” expert”was undoubtedly a republican.
    That much BS could only be from a republican-
    sure enough at the end of the piece I was right!

  • Mary Sultzbach

    Robin…I’m disappointed to hear you furthering the un-important debate on the use of the phrase “job-killing” by the Republicans. I would expect that WBUR would be more interested in focusing the argument on a more substantive analysis of the usage of the phrase — whether it actually kills jobs or not — and ignore such trivial battles over semantics. Or, at least, challenge some Democrats on their focusing of the debate on semantics.
    The public radio audience depends on WBUR’s refusal to contribute to the blather.
    Thank you for all that you do,
    Mary Sultzbach

  • Carol Chapman

    I had looked forward to the interview with Frank Luntz as I am very interested in the use of language.
    What a boring disappointment. He simply used the interview to politic! Too bad.

  • Eva in Boston

    Frank Luntz is a shameful spin doctor. I don’t know why Robin Young gives him any air time (it’s hardly necessary, Robin, especially since you don’t even try hard to rebut the nonsense that he is saying.)

    Luntz’s job is figuring out ways to distort facts and confuse the public to suit the goals of his power-hungry republican masters. (A certain word comes to mind to describe that kind of relationship, but I will refrain from saying it.)

    It’s NOT about achieving what is best for the people. It’s about him and them (“perfect together”) I don’t know how someone like that man sleeps at night.

    Luntz said, with his usual hutzpah confidence, that the American people didn’t want democrats to focus on healthcare reform, but on job creation. Humbug! Spin! Why does it have to be one or another?

    It’s also lie. The vast majority of people in the U.S. DID want the Obama administration to tackle healthcare reform as soon as possible (whether he did it the right way is a different story). When jobs are a problem, access to healthcare is also a problem. It doesn’t take a genius to know that. People are getting ruined by healthcare costs when a serious disease strikes.

    Luntz said that if he worked for the democrats, they would fire him. And rightfully so. This man’s lack of integrity is so obvious that using his spin would mean forgoing any vestiges of decency in our public life.

    The republican spin, on healthcare and other issues, is going to unravel soon enough though. America is being fooled right now, but no one can fool America indefinitely.

  • Greg B

    Frank Luntz Stinkz! he is an obfuscator of the first degree. We need more clarity and simple language in order to have an informed electorate, not some connotator who replaces the words “strawberry ice cream” with “summertime delicious redness”… he needs to be stopped rather than given a forum such as this! He is about getting power, not getting power to those who deserve it. Frank Luntz Stinkz (on facebook…)

  • Mike Fish

    What a boring interview – he didn’t say anything.

  • MM

    yeah, you want my comments, dont have schmucks like Frank Luntz on the show

  • Mike

    I would have much rather listened to an interview regarding the psychological influence that language has on individuals and groups rather than the ‘same-ole-same-ole’ political manipulation of language. And I would have much preferred a more independent perspective (like te sound bite you played from a previous interview) than one obviously slanted to republican political branding.

  • Private Sector Frog

    Frank Luntz I have no problem with…but that David Axlerod…he really burns me up! (-:

  • David

    Mr. Luntz said that the November 2010 election proved that either Democrats’ policy actions were faulty or that Democrats’ explanation of their actions failed.

    Suppose we needed to explain why the Nazi Party gained a plurality of the vote in 1933 Germany. There are at least three other possibilities. 1) Voters were so despairing of their economic difficulties that they voted against their own interests, or failed to vote. 2) Shameless Nazi propaganda overwhelmed the efforts of responsible politicians to explain the complicated issues. 3) The mainstream German media did not make clear to the mass of German voters what the facts and the stakes were.

    Sound familiar?

  • Private Sector Frog

    Nazis, huh? That’s really toning done the rhetoric.

  • Wende

    Frank Lutz made a statement to the effect that the Democrats lost seats at the election due to either their policies or their message. This statement was not challenged as perspective rather than fact. Why not? Why not challenge him by saying something like “are you sure those were the two reasons?” Could their have been other reasons? How about the economy? How about the fact that Citizens United gave Republicans a huge advantage in false advertising from shadow groups? How about the fact that the party in power usually loses seats in a midterm election? How about the fact that many of the seats lost were ones the Dems should not have had anyway because they were red districts but people had been sufficiently disgusted by the GOP in 2008? Etcetera… Journalists must stop blindly accepting the Republicans’ contentions are fact when they are merely their perspective. It is bad enough that they have 24/7 coverage of their perspective as facdt on Fox and many AM radio stations. Let’s focus on challenging people to understand the difference between opinion and fact. I would expect the same on both sides from a professional journalist. Thank you.

  • Drusha M.

    As much as I dislike Frank Luntz (and I admit that I dislike him only because he’s so effective for the Republicans), he’s right about one thing, if he had been working for the Democrats the last two years, he would be fired for not doing his job. The Democrats need a clear message!!! It’s not like the Dems haven’t seen/heard examples of good messaging. It seems they are willfully resisting good messaging techniques.

    But….Frank Luntz was wrong when he said of the Democrats that their “rhetoric did not match reality.” He should have said “their rhetoric did not match PERCEIVED reality.”

  • Chagrined

    When the Trotskyites (Irving Kristol and fellow dolts) were no longer wanted in the Democratic party, they became Republicans at which time Mr. Kristol labeled the Republican Party the “Stupid party.” Now, Neocons have become so toxic, no party nor country wants them! “INVASION OF THE PARTY SNATCHERS – How the Holy Rollers and the neocons destroyed the GOP” by Victor Gold recounts how the pernicious neocons took control of the Republican party and destroyed it. (Much like the destruction they have inflicted on our country)!
    Frank Luntz, a neocon, is an instrument of deception to guide the”stupid party” on its path to ‘kill’ healthcare and any policies that are ‘good’ for the American people. Do Republicans become ‘liars’ or do ‘liars’ become Republicans?

  • Gail

    Frank Luntz out-Luntzed you Robin. His new “Word” being over-used by Republicans is “bad.” Mr. Luntz closed the segment bashing Democrats with a false premise, “bad words or bad policies.”

    Mr. Luntz’s books contain Orwellian phrases that undermine Democrats and prop up Republicans, even in his anecdotes. Luntz does not care about facts, he packages reality that emotionally manipulates voters primarily through anger and fear.

    We need politicians who truthfully explain policies and programs that help people without the intention to dupe or control them. Frank Luntz reminds me of a snake oil salesman. The November 2010 election was won primarily from Luntzian talking points pounded into people’s brains through Fox News and Talk Radio. Democrats have to get their message out better over the uncivil rhetoric on Fox that has taken its cues from the wordmeister Luntz.

  • ken

    It is incredible that an entire party is mouthing the inanities fostered by Luntz… even the one-day old freshman Republican congressmen fall into line… and the news media rarely, if ever, calls them on it… This man, with the complicity of the Republican Party, has significantly contributed to the cheapening and coarsening of our political discourse. I would love to see Jon Stewart take him to task.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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