Quick, try to remember when you realized you hate Nancy Pelosi. Did you hear everyone hated her before you even knew who she was?The invented lie that everybody hates Nancy is the handiwork of uber-propagandist
Frank Luntz, one of the central figures in the conservative dominance of all media. Even if you haven’t heard of Luntz, you probably know his words. Have you said or heard the phrase ‘tax relief’ recently? How about ‘climate change’? Calling the government ‘Washington?’ ‘Right to Work’ laws?
This clever double-speak is just a sampling of Luntz’s success at getting Americans to talk–and ultimately think–the way he wants us to. Maybe at one point, he really was just an intuitive pollster, but it’s become clear he doesn’t objectively take polls, he shapes them. In other words, when he wants your opinion, he’ll give it to you.
Take the constantly repeated refrain that Nancy Pelosi is one of the most hated politicians in the country. Luntz has been banging this drum since before Pelosi led the Democrats in the House. According to former intern Jonathan Riehl, Luntz picked Pelosi out of thin air decades ago because he thought she was a good example of a particular “California liberalism” that he wanted to use to intensify the culture wars.
How did he do it? Simple, if you’re a dedicated conservative wordsmith who figures out how to market an ideology.
It probably went something like this: “83% of your neighbors report that Nancy Pelosi is their most hated politician. How much do you agree or disagree with this statement?”
Or “How much does the California liberalism of latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, tax-hiking Nancy Pelosi bother you?”
Luntz would be using several different kinds of mental strategies here to lead people to his conclusion. One is a highly effective marketing technique called social proof or social influence. If “eighty-three percent of your neighbors” hate this woman, shouldn’t you too?
The other is a method called framing. Luntz is expert at putting ideas into the larger narrative of a frame, a moral concept that evokes all kinds of subconscious associations in the listener. As Riehl explains:
“What made the Pelosi scapegoating work was more than just cartoonish characterizations and their repetition–the importance of “framing.” … Pelosi fits into a much broader conservative narrative about the nation’s cultural divide — about elites and common folk, the cultured class and the heartland, one type of professional woman and another.”
In other words, Luntz invented the “We Hate Nancy” club and tricked much of America into thinking they were already members.There are other reasons for his success. One is that like any good marketer, he knows how to play on the subconscious. Here’s a video from 2006 where Luntz makes fun of Pelosi’s looks: “You get one shot at a facelift.”
Although he might seem like just another Fox News misogynist dillhole, he’s actually tapping into deeply embedded feelings most of us have about women and aging and power. Couple this with distrust of Pelosi and the Democratic establishment from the far left, and you have much of America playing along with a made-up fantasy of a national pariah.
Finally, there’s the common response of many liberals to the constant assaults from the right: run away. There was almost no objection or defense of Pelosi from the left. This complete lack of a strategic response has remained the norm ever since.
Now Luntz is spreading his propaganda all over the media that swing voters hate Nancy even more than ever thought possible. And Democratic candidates are dying on this hill over and over as they succumb to ‘We Hate Nancy’ fever. Conor Lamb recently won election in Pennsylvania partly by knuckling under to their disinformation campaign and declaring he hates Nancy too and won’t support her when he gets to the House. One of the most powerful politicians in the country is being turned on by her own party. Tidy little framejob, huh?
So how do we stop acting like reactivists and get out of this vicious frame?
First, stop repeating it. Just stop. Propaganda works by strengthening neurons in the brain. The more repetition, the stronger the falsehoods get. Never say any right-wing messaging without putting your own frame on it first.
Make a truth sandwich.
1. Say the truth that the lie is meant to cover.
Many Americans feel Nancy Pelosi has been a strong, clever leader for her party for decades.
2. Shine a light.
GOP spin doctor invented the lie that she’s wildly unpopular in order to manipulate public perception. But polls by objective parties don’t support this falsehood.
3. Flip the script to a true narrative.
Nancy Pelosi is a fighter for liberal values. As one of the most powerful women in the nation, she has held her own against the relentless GOP attack machine.
Interrupting, correcting and reframing the right-wing narrative that rules the airwaves is a crucial step in reasserting progressive values in the national conversation. Spread the news far and wide that GOP polling can’t be trusted. And stop hating on Nancy.
Pelosi and Luntz: Building a Scapegoat