The Political-Messaging Huckster Behind Roger Goodell's Awful PresserDave McKenna9/22/14 4:51pmFiled to: roger goodellray ricefrank luntzroger goodell press conferencehuckstersfrauds20259EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalink Roger Goodell was talking, but the words weren't his alone. "That speech was all Frank," says an associate of pollster Frank Luntz, lord of the dark arts of political messaging, who frequently works with Goodell and the NFL. "As soon as I heard Goodell's intro, I was laughing." Advertisement The part that got him giggling was the line "We will get our house in order first." The NFL commissioner used that same phrase minutes later, in response to a question from a New York Post reporter about whether he would resign. "That's textbook stuff that Frank uses all the time," says the source.Advertisement Why, yes it is: "Getting our house in order" shows up as No. 4 on Luntz's list of nine "Phrases that prioritize" from his book, Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary. At various points in the conference Goodell also said, "The NFL has to take care of its house," "There are things we need to clean up in our house," and, "We are going to clean up our house." As it happened, Luntz himself was watching the press conference, in his capacity as a Fox Sports 1 talking head (he moonlights as a Fox News commentator and analyst). Not long after the commissioner left the podium, Luntz gave his review.Sponsored "This," he puffered, "was language perfection." Good golly.Advertisement In other quarters of the media, Goodell was being fricasseed for his performance, which seemed to body forth the fecklessness of his overall response to Ray Rice's left hook. He'd been unavailable and withholding, parsing when not misleading altogether, and at the moment he took the podium the NFL's image was as tarnished as it had been since the post-JFK assassination weekend. His appearance ended the odd sabbatical, but not the criticisms. The New York Daily News gave Goodell a representative pummeling: "We waited 10 days for this?" read the lede. The piece then let various folks from the football world savage the commissioner. Even sober-minded ESPN mainstay Bob Ley tweeted: And yet here was Luntz, wreathing Goodell's press conference in kudos and hosannas.Advertisement "I'm supposed to be a professional," Luntz said on Fox Sports 1. "I couldn't have done it as well as he did." Luntz did preface the hummer with a teensy critique of the commissioner. "I would have told him, 'Don't read the opening, speak from the heart,'" Luntz said. (The opening, of course, featured the Luntzian riff about housecleaning.) And he did mention getting work from the league. "I've done a number of projects with NFL teams as well as the NFL," Luntz said, "and I want the viewers to know that."Advertisement Alas, the source close to Luntz tells us that disclosure was nowhere near full. The way the associate describes things, Luntz wasn't confessing his own bias so much as misleading the audience by downplaying his personal role in shaping Goodell's words, which, per our source, are apparently far from "language perfection." In response to a request from Deadspin for an explanation of his varnished opinions, Luntz emailed on Friday evening that it was "not a good time" for an interview because he had "to go to the hospital." On Saturday, Luntz did not respond to repeated requests for comment, though he was very active on Twitter (responding even early in the morning to somebody going by @cdz8506 who was inspired enough by the support for Goodell to call Luntz "fat fuck," "pathetic fat fuck," and "loving wife beating child beating fat fuck" in a since-deleted tweet).Advertisement The source close to Luntz did not profess to have direct knowledge of recent consultations between Goodell and the professional image crafter. And asked via email if Luntz worked with the commissioner to prepare for Friday's press conference, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded, "No." But there was more than just the serial housecleaning references that convinced the associate that the commissioner leaned on Luntz before Friday's debacle. Luntz, 52, made his mark conducting focus groups and crafting talking points for politicians. He is something of a pioneer in the field of political messaging. In truth, this is a little like calling someone a pioneer in the field of alchemy, but as grifts go, it's a lucrative one that ensures a long career floating along the periphery of power.Advertisement As a consultant, Luntz is probably most famous for having framed the GOP's message on the estate tax (or "death tax") and global warming (or "climate change"). His first noteworthy communications job came as a pollster for Pat Buchanan during a 1992 run at the Republican Party's presidential nomination. That campaign was one long open appeal to the racist, nativist, homophobic fringe of the right. Luntz rebounded the next year, working with Rudy Giuliani throughout his successful campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat David Dinkins as mayor of New York. He has often said he got the gig by bringing his baseball-card collection to his first meeting with Giuliani. "My whole interview with Rudy Giuliani in 1993 lasted for 22 minutes," Luntz told Frontline in 2003, "and at least 19 of the 22 minutes was focused on baseball."Advertisement The Giuliani successes got Luntz his GOP bona fides back, and soon enough he was again on the national stage, crafting messages for Newt Gingrich during his "Contract with America" phase. It was Luntz who helped frame President Bill Clinton's federal crime bill of 1994 as "the midnight basketball bill" by having Republicans bang away on the teensy amount of money the omnibus $33 billion package had earmarked for late-night athletic programs in urban areas. "I am torn about voting against an anti-crime bill," Gingrich said during one appearance in the hinterlands that summer. "But not one that contains midnight basketball leagues." Luntz has made his share of enemies, too. As the 2004 presidential campaign was being waged, David Brock of Media Matters blasted him for failing to disclose his employment by the GOP during appearances on MSNBC in which he plumped for George W. Bush. Luntz has also been censured at least twice by polling trade associations for his methodology, including a 1997 reprimand from the Executive Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research for ethical violations. ECAAPOR claimed its investigation uncovered that Luntz repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims about the amount of public support for the Contract with America. "He belongs in the same breath with pieces of shit like Lanny Davis," one D.C. crisis P.R. expert told me after watching Luntz's performance on Fox Sports 1. "He gives us a bad name."