Spinning the Lockout

After a US polling firm apparently found that most fans think that hockey owners are to blame for the loss of this year’s season, the owners suddenly tabled an offer — the first bit of negotiating on their part since locking out the players back in August. Although pretending that they don’t care about public relations, the owners have hired Frank Luntz to polish their image. Who is Frank Luntz? He’s the guy who taught people to say “climate change” instead of “global warming”, to call estate taxes “death taxes”, and to term the US Affordable Health Act a “government takeover”. The Luntz mantra: It’s not what you say that matters, it’s what they hear. “They” being you and me, members of the public who are manipulated.

Frank Luntz [time.com]

Luntz got together a focus group in the Washington, DC area and quizzed them in order to discover how to frame the contract dispute in ways that would make the owners look good. But among the thirty hockey fans who made up the group, there was at least one person who was a bit put off by the entire exercise. This individual took pictures of the written portion of the test on his/her cell phone and reported back on the other parts of the three-hour session. All this info can be found in an article by Barry Petchesky on deadspin.com and it’s pretty interesting. Petchesky calls the owners’ message “bullshit” which drew a response from Frank Luntz: “My focus group research was made public today in attempt to discredit NHL efforts to reach agreement w/ players on new CBA.” Do you see how that was framed? Let’s ask Mr. Luntz, “Is your research so twisted that simply revealing it would discredit the owners’ position?” If this is such a clean enterprise, why are you upset that it’s been made public? On the other hand, as Puck Daddy points out:

The greatest irony in the National Hockey League pulling together a focus group to test its messaging in the lockout: That hiring GOP toad Frank Luntz to handle said focus group probably further tarnishes their image.

(This isn’t meant to be a partisan comment, mind you; rather a definition of terms, in that Luntz frequently works for the GOP and is, in fact, akin in his demeanor to an amphibious reptile that lives in a bog and devours insects for sustenance.)

Of course, it may be that Puck Daddy is a little miffed because one of his columns was taken as the basis for an entire page of questions: “Imagine our surprise when we discovered Puck Daddy’s “What We Lost When The NHL Lost Opening Night” column — word for word for word for word — served as the basis for one of Luntz’s exercises.

A page from the focus group. “Which FOUR statements make you feel MOST negative about the owners?” [deadspin.com]

This isn’t the first time that Luntz research has been leaked — the entire 28-page document on how to frame health care hit the internet back in 2009 — and it isn’t the first time that Luntz has shown himself to be a bit prickly about these matters. At one point, he was castigating Democrats for using terminology they derived from polling, which caused some to label him as irony-challenged.

Anyway, the upshot of the focus group seems to be that “fairness” and “shared sacrifice” will be the new touch-words for the owners. The new offer asks players to give up 7% of revenue, this sacrifice will be shared by the owners who previously were asking for 10%.

The owners have looked pretty bad during these negotiations. There were the moves by certain owners to violate the very rules that they are trying to impose — for instance, the huge contracts that are back-loaded so as to get around salary caps at the same time as the league is demanding that contracts be made shorter so as to prevent backloading. And there is the question of why a lockout in the first place? Why not have the season while negotiations continue? That’s the way most contract disputes are handled, but this is the third time that the League owners have locked out the players and crushed a season. It’s my way or the highway, they say, take it or leave it. After all, as one owner put it, the players are all cattle anyway.

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