It’s no wonder that CBS News deploys pollster Frank Luntz as a contributor. He’s quotable.
In a segment on the news of the day — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss to challenger Dave Brat — “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose asked Luntz why Cantor hadn’t seen the loss coming.
Luntz ate it up: “Right now there are 230 House Republicans who are waking up praying that they do not have Eric Cantor’s pollster. Honestly, and I’m one of them, we Republican pollsters suck. We have no ability to be able to analyze the electorate.”
Good, fun TV.
Yet as Media Matters’ Eric Hananoki points out, compromised TV, too. Luntz is the CEO of the political strategy firm Luntz Global, which has received more than $15,000 in fees from Cantor for Congress, as Hananoki details via Federal Election Commission filings.
Accordingly, it may be little surprise that Luntz lamented Cantor’s electoral fail: “I think for the GOP it’s going to be very dangerous now for a Republican to talk to Democrats, as it was Democrats to talk to Republicans a few years ago. That this a blow for conversation. This is a blow for some sort of cooperation and I think it’s bad for the country, not just bad for the Republicans,” said Luntz.
Also, this: “I think this is such a great loss not just for Virginia, but for the country. Eric Cantor had the ability to negotiate. Eric Cantor had the ability to sit toe to toe and make concessions and make agreements. And maybe that hurt him in the primary, but that’s exactly what we need in Washington, and now we’re losing him.”
Through all that, CBS News didn’t disclose to viewers that Luntz’s firm had worked for Cantor. The network did identify him as a “Republican strategist.”
Rose, perhaps in an attempt to even the segment’s take on Cantor, noted that the Virginia Republican was a “pipeline to Wall Street” for raising funds. Luntz amplified on the tubular metaphor, insisting that Cantor was a “pipeline to Americans who just wanted people to get things done.”
What does CBS News have to say about this? “His work as a strategist for Republicans was disclosed on the broadcast,” noted CBS News spokeswoman Sonya McNair.
There’s some logic here: Saying that Luntz strategizes for Republicans could be interpreted to encompass his work for Cantor, who is a Republican certainly in need of political strategy.
Yet this is an on-air title, not an on-air disclosure. When it comes to getting people to say favorable things about other people, there’s nothing like a consultant-client relationship to facilitate things. When money changes hands, journalism ethics must pay heed.
CNN last year tried a similar trick: Critics were blasting the network for failing to disclose the connections of “Crossfire” co-host Newt Gingrich to politicians on the show. CNN blasted back:
We are clarifying the policy and making it clear Newt Gingrich is not in violation. The policy: If a Crossfire co-host has made a financial contribution to a politician who appears on the program or is the focus of the program, disclosure is not required during the show since the co-host’s political support is obvious by his or her point of view expressed on the program.