Friday, December 9, 2011

Media in Politics

I wonder if Frank Luntz is a Green Day fan.  When I was in seventh grade, the band’s song “American Idiot” happened to be on of my favorite tunes, though the thirteen-year-old version of myself failed to grasp any meaning behind it.  Now however, I understand the messages Green Day is trying to convey to its fan base, and I can’t help but feel that Mr. Luntz may have been an inspiration behind the angry single.
“Don’t want a nation under the new media”
            This is the second line of the song, and could almost be a direct reference to Frank Luntz, who has made a career as a political consultant by figuring out what kinds of words trigger which emotions from people.  In doing this, he can invent phrases or terms for Republican candidates to use in their speeches, as to get a better reaction from viewers.  There’s only a teeny tiny little problem with this:  One basic rule in the media world is that media personnel must tell the truth, and a lot of times, Luntz “rewords” things to a point where it is no longer accurate.  For example in 2007, in an interview on Fresh Air, Luntz talked about his new term for oil drilling, which was “energy exploration.”  He said that this term was appropriate because, when he showed pictures of oil drilling to people, they agreed that the pictures looked more like exploring than they did drilling.  Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air, responded to this by asking Luntz, “Should we be calling it what it actually is, as opposed to what somebody thinks it might be?  The difference between exploring and actually getting out the oil – they’re two different things, aren’t they?”  And I have to say, I agree with the host on this one. 
            Similarly, Luntz has stated many times that he is good at what he does because he is a good listener, and by being a good listener, he gives people what they want.  I couldn’t agree less.  In politics, when people don’t agree on an issue, they’re typically looking for a change in policy, not a change in the way the issue is worded.  If people were really listened to, politics would be less about marketing and Luntz’s “pretty words”, and more about, well, politics.  Take the issue of global warming, for instance.  Luntz told republicans to start referring to the issue as “climate change” instead, because it doesn’t sound near as severe, and would therefore help conservatives to gain more support on the issue.  The only thing wrong with this is that it turned out the global warming actually was a serious problem, and by making it sound milder, Luntz only delayed work that needed to be done. 
“I’m not a part of a redneck agenda”
            This next line, while a bit stereotypical, does hold a little truth behind it.  A few years ago, Luntz sent a memo to President Bush, giving him a marketing tip:
The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science....Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.
            I don’t know about you, but to me it kind of sounds like Luntz is trying to keep the truth from the people, in order to make this country into a more conservative agenda. 
Now everybody do the propaganda”
            Luntz uses a few different types of propaganda in his marketing techniques, but I’m not so sure propaganda should be involved when politicians are talking about issues.  Maybe if a candidate has to spice up his word choice in order to convince people that something is a good idea, he should spend less time changing words and more time revising his ideas.  Two main types of propaganda that Luntz uses when he’s working are name-calling and glittering generalities.  Name-calling is where you use negative words to associate with something that you don’t want people to be in favor of, like when Luntz renamed the estate tax as “death tax.”  Glittering generalities is where words with positive connotations are used to advertise something that you want people to be in favor of. 
            In the future, I hope we see politics start becoming more about the politics themselves, and less about marketing and advertising.  If Mr. Luntz continues with his work, I hope also to see a decrease in the amount of manipulation used.  I hope he sees the error of his ways if he has not already, and starts using his talent for good instead.  I want to hear political issues stated as plainly as possible, because I, Mr. Luntz, am no American Idiot.  

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