“Communications Specialist”

We haven’t fired up the framing wars in a while, fortunately, but I just have to point you to this interview with Frank Luntz, the Republican Party’s favorite spin doctor. “Communications Specialist” apparently means simply being able to lie persuasively to the public — it’s the antithesis of what scientists should want to do.


  1. Glen Davidson says

    All that being true, we do try to spin issues like evolution vs. ID in various ways. Whether we call them charlatan or “IDiot” we’re selling a message.

    Our advantage is that these are not untruthful terms (IDists may not be “idiots” in some sense, but are trying to spin a stupid idea as smart and sophisticated), but there’s no question that they’re spin.

    Glen D

  2. iambilly says

    Was that a real interview? If I wanted to write a piece of fiction designed to make Luntz sound like a manipulative macchiavellian rapidly oxidizing rectum, I couldn’t have done it better. He is not a communication specialist, he is an obfusctation specialist. And he is a perfect example of why it is impossible to have an actual debate about differing political views — no communication is involved. Only obfuscation.

  3. mattheath says

    If I wanted to demonize a bunny, I would use a word like rabbit.

    I LOL’d

    I may have perfected the language that gets people to vote certain ways, and buy certain products, but I haven’t perfected the language to get some woman to buy me.

    I just vomited slightly in my mouth

    On the subject of Wingnut communications slime: It’s Nick Clegg’s fault

  4. mattheath says

    HAHA! Sponsored ad on side of Pharyngula for a joke campaign to make José Mourinho’s wife a saint.

  5. Mystyk says

    Ugh! Frank Luntz has made me ill ever since the infamous 2003 memo to Republican leaders advising them to refer to “Anthropogenic Global Warming” as “Climate Change” to simultaneously make it sound less ominous (and more cyclical) and to drop all reference to the human-induced factor.

    To this day, AGW deniers continue to claim that the switch to CC was a liberal spin-job. Conveniently, they never ponder why anybody who accepts the evidence for AGW and believes we must mobilize to take action would want to soften up the language…

  6. Teshi says

    Is that a real interview? What kind of interviewer makes snarky personal comments when there’s seriously more interesting and important stuff to be talked about?!

    I think the interviewer failed almost as much as the interviewee.

  7. Sastra says

    Years ago there was a very interesting article in Skeptic magazine written by a former New Ager. She wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill believer, either. She had written books, given seminars, and been considered a significant figure in the New Age community. Unfortunately for her status, she took the label of being an “open-minded seeker” very seriously, and of course ended up renouncing all the pseudoscience and spirituality she had formerly promoted.

    The theme of her article, however, was about how skeptics ought to talk to the “other side,” as she could see the situation from both perspectives. On the whole, the skeptics were not tailoring their message correctly. She felt they were too harsh and dismissive — and thus the True Believers couldn’t be receptive to the science. Skeptics weren’t framing their arguments in the right way.

    Instead, she had managed to write a number of her later books from the skeptic perspective, but knew how to couch it all in the kind of language which New Agers liked. They bought her books, came to her talks, and raved to her about how much they loved what she wrote.

    See, it worked.

    Except, she did admit that her fans didn’t really seem to “get” what she was saying. She was so tactful, so gentle, so non-threatening, so positive and affirming that she suspected that her actual points went over their heads. They heard and read, what they expected to hear and read. They didn’t realize she’d turned to the Dark Side.

    As I said, the article was interesting. I understood her general point, but thought the honest little admission at the end was even more enlightening.

  8. iambilly says

    Teshi: I don’t think the interviewee (Luntz) failed. I frequently am interviewed on TV or radio and, going into the interview, there are certain goals that I have: certain information such as dates and times, why we are doing this. I sometimes will spin a question sideways in order to force in the information I want out there. I’m sure Luntz went into the interview with a set of goals in his mind — spin this question this way, don’t answer that one, use language as a tool to blurr reality — and, depending on the goals he set himself, he may have succeeded.

    The interviewer let him get away with it, of course. But he’s a Republican so it’s okay. And normal.

  9. dWhisper says

    Penn and Teller instructed me that the only response to seeing or hearing from him is by yelling “Fuck You, Frank!”

  10. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    And the envelope, please. This year’s Geobbels Communication Award goes to:


    Damn, well, it’s Frank Luntz again!

  11. Equisetum says

    Solomon: Your new 28-page memo, “The Language of Health Care,” was sent to Republicans in Congress and recommends that they speak about health care reform in ominous phrases. For instance, you suggest that they refer to “a Washington takeover.”

    Lutz: “Takeover” is a word that grabs attention.

    Solomon: Is it a correct description of the president’s plans for reform?

    Lutz: We don’t know what he is proposing. We want to avoid “a Washington takeover.”

    We don’t know what it is, but we’ll call it ominous, because ominous is always good.


  12. broboxley OT says

    scientific discourse should be

    here is the experiment and the results thereof
    here is my conclusions based on the evidence
    This will lead to

    as long as the 3 are clearly delineated a critic cant easily weaselword

  13. Teshi says

    iambilly, I mean, he fails. He’s clearly a successful communicator. He managed to make the interviewer look like an idiot. He fails as an ethical, honest human being.

  14. Naked Bunny with a Whip says

    I haven’t perfected the language to get some woman to buy me.

    Funny how women aren’t falling over themselves to snag a guy who’s proud of his ability to demonize anyone and anything, including rabbits.

  15. tsg says

    Lisa: If I’m going to bail the country out, I’ll have to raise taxes, but in my speech I’d like to avoid calling it a, “painful emergency tax.”

    Milhouse: What about, “colossal salary grab.”

    Lisa: See, that has the same problem. We need to soften the blow.

    Milhouse: Well, if you just want to out-and-out lie … [Lisa doesn’t object] Okay, we could call it a, “temporary refund adjustment.”

    Lisa: I love it.

  16. Caine, Fleur du mal says

    Naked Bunny with a Whip:

    Funny how women aren’t falling over themselves to snag a guy who’s proud of his ability to demonize anyone and anything, including rabbits.

    I, for one, am grateful this guy isn’t married and breeding. I wonder, for all his word spinnin’, if he’s aware of what people used to think of “a bachelor of certain age.”

  17. RamblinDude says

    There’s something clinically fascinating about that interview. It’s like watching a praying mantis take apart an insect to see this guy carefully dissect precise language and careful fact-finding and then patiently reshape it all into “framing.” Yes, it’s the exact opposite of what scientists are trying to do, and that is the message people have to understand and do not.

  18. iambilly says

    RamblinDude: True. But mantis’ have a useful role in the ecosystem. I don’t think anyone could parse the English language far enough to show that Luntz has a useful role in the political system.

  19. Sastra says

    bloodredsun #17 wrote:

    @Sastra, do you have a link to the article?

    Alas, no; I’m just relying on recall (as a skeptic, that’s not good.) Out of curiosity, I started looking through the indexes of my back issues of Skeptic, and, when I still couldn’t find it, then started wondering if it was Skeptical Inquirer after all. Sorry…

  20. Holytape says

    The problem is that it works. Luntz is a festering boil on the ball sack of humanity, but he is good at what he does. I remember first seeing him in an interview about new air pollution laws. He was so proud in the fact that he could get the public to support allowing more pollution, and getting them to believe it was actually better. All the time, he failed to grasp that he had to breath that polluted air. Reality to him is subjective.


  21. realinterrobang says

    I’m a “communications specialist,” too, PZ. The phrase isn’t synonymous with “professional liar.” The difference is basically, to use an example from policy, he’s out there calling government’s act of raising revenue “the tax burden,” and I’m calling it “your civilisation bill,” or a “membership fee.”

    The funny thing about communication is that it is fundamentally different from (most of) science, in that where you stand depends on where you sit. Context is really important. Either of those two formulations is equally true, from a certain perspective: If you’re an evil scumbag intent on making the world worse by undermining the legitimate state, taxes are a “burden.” If you’re a liberal who likes the benefits of a well-run, well-organised society, taxes are your membership fee for same. It’s not exactly like math; there isn’t one correct answer; it’s more like those frustrating multiple-choice questions where you have to pick the “most correct” answer, where “most correct” is synonymous with “most persuasive.” Scientists ignore suasion at their peril, really.

  22. jcmartz.myopenid.com says

    It seems that right-wingers would rather live in a fantasy world than face reality.

  23. https://me.yahoo.com/a/O.jullMj0I2VvJaxMMVeNKSfOPf73voLSxJAe9PdlOWwi8Y-#258ec says

    It is not that the repub’s prefer fantasy to reality it is that want power regardless. they will talk against things that they proposed a few years ago if the other side now makes the same proposal. They manipulate the christian right wing and the “tea party” folks saying anything with the only goal is to regain and/or maintain power and control.
    which in the end only serves their personal wants and “needs”. They simply do not care about anything else regardless of what they may say about the general welfare or history or our traditions and Constitution.

    The really amazing thing is to have an “interview” with someone bragging about it out loud.

    uncle frogy

  24. stevieinthecity#9dac9 says

    They would much rather hold onto their perception of reality than really accept reality.

    “Hey did you know that Obama gave tax credits to 95% of americans this year?”

    “I don’t accept that. It’s not true.”

  25. Ichthyic says

    but are trying to spin a stupid idea as smart and sophisticated), but there’s no question that they’re spin.

    it depends on the intent of the construction.

    so, I certainly would disagree that there is no question of phrases being intended as deliberate spin.

    when i say “xian” instead of christian, regardless of what christians might think, the intent is abbreviation, not spin.

  26. mothra says

    Out to Luntz- a pharyngula short play

    Luntz: See there, Robin Hood. Look, on the commons, there is a crow looking for offal.

    Robin Hood: I must say Frank, your powers of observation are keen, you have been in England less than a fortnight and already you are noticing the wildlife, but I fear you have made a slight error, it is a blackbird.

    Luntz: You disagree! You lie, it is a crow, foul fowl that attends carcasses and spreads filth. Small wonder this Island is so dank.

    Robin Hood: It is a blackbird,searching for worms to feed her nestlings.

    Luntz: Robin, take your bow and shoot it, we’ll settle it and see who is right.

    Robin Hood: Why would I wish to kill a harmless blackbird?

    Luntz: And now you will not take even the most elementary step to resolve the argument!

  27. Ichthyic says

    Either of those two formulations is equally true, from a certain perspective: If you’re an evil scumbag intent on making the world worse by undermining the legitimate state, taxes are a “burden.” If you’re a liberal who likes the benefits of a well-run, well-organised society, taxes are your membership fee for same.

    bah, this is entirely irrelevant to whether or not you are deliberately acting to change the appearance of a specific message.

    that’s what spin is, and that’s what you do.

    face it and be honest with yourself.

  28. Sastra says

    llewelly #26 wrote:

    Maybe this article, about Karla Mclaren’s conversion to skepticism? I think you’re just mis-remembering the ending.

    Yes, thanks — that’s the one! What I remember from the end, was actually in the middle:

    You see, I’ve been speaking to people in this New Age culture in their own language, and though I certainly was heard, I don’t think that, in the end, I really did any good. Growing up as I did in nutty, kooky Marin County, I was able to see some of the most egregious examples of New Age chicanery—and as I matured into a writer and healer, I always warned against them. The problem is this: In my culture, you can’t openly attack anyone or their character, and you can’t use truly focused skepticism. In my culture, personal attacks are considered an example of emotional imbalance (where your emotions control you), while deep skepticism is considered a form of mental imbalance (where your intellect controls you). Both behaviors are serious cultural no-nos, because both the emotions and the intellect are considered troublesome areas of the psyche that do very little but keep one away from the (supposedly) true and meaningful realm of spirit. When I wrote my books and recorded my audio programs, I had to write and speak so carefully that it took most people two or three readings to figure out that I was directly challenging many of the foundations upon which the New Age is built. Actually, my culturally sensitive capacity to attack without attacking and criticize without criticizing was so effective that some avid readers still don’t know what I was saying.

    I think she makes some interesting points in the whole “tone-and-style” debate. It’s also interesting that the above was the part I remembered best.

    Since my own real-life encounters with believers tend to be with New Age, I recognized the basic mindset. Because they immediately interpret skepticism as personal attacks, I learned to keep as impersonal as possible. I’m just not so sure the warm, friendly, kid-gloves communication treatment is really the best and only way to get them to ‘listen.’ If you adopt it, it quickly forces you to back off.

  29. Deluded Creodont says

    Yeah, New Agers are particularly fond of the “polite” disagreement. If you disagree with them, you’re not being polite.

    Had one accuse me of being rude when, after she told me that she’d read “in a medical journal” that crystals, homeopathy, and prayers worked, I asked her which one it was.

  30. Ing says

    I dream of a world where Frank Luntz can’t exit his home without hearing a chorus of “FUCK YOU FRANK” and lives in perpetual fear of being pelted with soft gooey ripe fruit.

  31. Ichthyic says

    I dream of a world where Frank Luntz can’t exit his home without hearing a chorus of “FUCK YOU FRANK” and lives in perpetual fear of being pelted with soft gooey ripe fruit.

    Frankly (pun intended), you should be throwing the ripe fruit at the people who pay his salary.

  32. Ichthyic says

    …and when it comes right down to it, they wouldn’t be paying him to spin shit, if there weren’t so many gullible rubes to eat that shit up.

    so toss a rotten tomato at the majority of americans who apparently have so little ability to critically think that when frank tells them “Rabbits Ravage Rudabegas” they become firmly convinced that all rabbits must die.

  33. AHuertas says

    Oddly, Luntz has done work with the environmental community on climate legislation: http://www.edf.org/pressrelease.cfm?contentID=10735.

    During a briefing on his work I attended, he said his old advice to spread misinformation about climate science was really just to “celebrate” scientists with a different point of view. Thus, he attempted to reframe his framing.

    I do think it’s important for scientists to understand framing and adopt some best-practices communication techniques, but obviously the public expects 100% accuracy from scientists. That’s why they are so trusted.

    Aaron Huertas
    Press Secretary
    Union of Concerned Scientists