Pollster Frank Luntz has come a long way since the presidential race days when he used to trade public barbs with Donald Trump and call out the then-candidate as little more than a circus act who ought to shut his campaign shop and go home.
Now? He’s defending Trump from “fake news.”
In recent tweets and TV chats, he’s taken on the mainstream media, calling out the press for needless and unfair attacks on the president — and saying yes indeed, Trump has a point when he scorns “fake news” for false and distorted coverage.
This, from the guy who once ran a focus group that called out Trump as “dumb.” Go figure.
This is what’s going on, starting with Trump’s tweet about NBC and CNN coverage of his historic meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
“So funny to watch the Fake News, especially NBC and CNN,” Trump tweeted, as Mediaite noted. “They are fighting hard to downplay the deal with North Korea. 500 days ago they would have ‘begged’ for this deal— looked like war would break out. Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News so easily promulgated by fools!”
Brian Stelter from CNN called out Trump’s tweet in an on-air chat with Poppy Harlow and Jeffrey Toobin as “absolutely disgusting — disgusting!” And yada yada, Trump’s the worst president ever, and so forth and so on and so forth, he went on.
Then came Luntz, with some tweets of his own.
“Over half of Americans (51%) say they approve of how President Trump has handled North Korea. And this is what you’re focused on?” he wrote, in a tweet linking to a clip of CNN talking heads bemoaning the fact that Trump called them the “country’s biggest enemy.”
Stelter apparently didn’t think so and shot back in his own tweet: “I think it was worth 4 minutes of air time, yes. NK was a far greater part of the hour. Most Americans don’t think Trump is fit for office, and these kinds of tweets are one of the reasons why.”
The two were just getting started. But let’s just say: Luntz won the argument.
“There’s a whole world outside of Blue Checkmark Twitter,” Luntz tweeted. “And most of them (77%) think the media does indeed report fake news.”
Ouch. Especially the part where he backed that claim with a link to an actual poll that showed — get this — most of America thinks the media does indeed report fake news.
And then this, in response to another back-at-ya from Stelter: “I’ll give you a free idea, so I’m not just attacking without solutions: Cancel your show, and replace it with a Heartland news show covering issues affecting people outside of the Beltway and Blue Checkmark Twitter. You can call it ‘First-Hand Accounts,’ ” Luntz wrote.
Here’s a good one, too — likely to drive the left to even greater heights of anger.
“Why are Trump’s approval numbers higher than Obama’s were at 500 days?” Luntz tweeted, alongside words like “economy,” “jobs and taxes,” and “national security.”
Later, on “The Ingraham Angle,” Luntz kept up his defense of Trump.
“You know what? It’s ‘disgusting’ that they don’t give [Trump] credit for what he’s done [in North Korea],” Luntz said, Mediaite noted. “That they don’t give him credit for an economy that is truly improved. That they’re getting what they deserve by the tone and the demeanor of the coverage. They’re actually helping not just the Republicans, they’re helping to re-elect Donald Trump, should he run again.”
And what’s most remarkable about Luntz’s remarks is that he’s a guy who used to pretty much detest all-things-Trump.
In mid-2015, Luntz went on CBS and talked critically about “the Trump situation, now where he says just about anything, and it doesn’t seem to affect his support. It is not about issues. It’s about tonality, and the public seems to respond to those who are the sharpest, most divisive, most outwardly negative.”
That was during the same time frame Luntz conducted a focus group interview that mocked Trump, post-Republican debate, as “dumb.”
Trump responded with this tweet: “@FrankLuntz is a low class slob who came to my office looking for consulting work and I had zero interest. Now he picks anti-Trump panels!”
And he responded with this statement to the press: “I watch this guy [Luntz] do a really negative report on me. And the only reason he did it, in my opinion, is because I didn’t want to hire him commercially. I think it’s disgusting.”
Luntz denied; Politico shortly after ran this headline: “Fox’s Luntz Blasted Trump at Koch Seminar.” And the big news of that day was Trump called on Fox News to fire Luntz from its contributor line-up.
That was the state of Trump-Luntz relations — until Trump’s State of the Union.
“This speech,” Luntz wrote in a tweet in the aftermath of Trump’s widely hailed January remarks, “[had] a perfect blend of strength and empathy.”
And this: “This is the Trump his voters wanted him to be. #SOTU.”
And this: “This speech represents the presidential performance that Trump observers have been waiting for — brilliant mix of numbers and stories, humility and aggressiveness.”
And this: “Only one word qualifies. Wow. #SOTU.”
And most significantly — this: “I owe Donald Trump an apology. … #SOTU.”
Interesting how times change, yes?
Fact is, members of the media have indeed taken it on themselves to tear off the lapdog collars they wore for Barack Obama and put on their bulldog and pitbull ones, pretending as if they actually performing some sort of greater good for the nation with their coverage of Trump. But as polls show: The public’s not impressed. The media bias is evident; the unfair and skewed reporting an offense to the intelligence of even the most casual of political watchers.
It’s great Luntz is intellectually honest enough to speak this truth. Too bad more in the media can’t find the moral compass to do the same.
• Cheryl Chumley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @ckchumley.