Was Frank Luntz Advising the White House While He Worked for Vice News?

Screenshot: Vice News (YouTube)

Republican pollster Frank Luntz’s rather confusing relationship with the Trump White House was the subject of a lengthy piece in Politico today. According to Politico, Luntz—a former Trump critic who engaged in a spat with the current president during the 2016 campaign—has finally come around (as have so many other Never Trumpers), and is even helping the White House navigate some of its thornier dilemmas.

Per Politico, emphasis mine:

Thanks to his longtime friend and Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Luntz has provided advice of late about the political messaging of major issues like immigration and the budget.

[...]

Since Mulvaney’s December arrival in the West Wing, Luntz has applied his signature rebranding tactics. Heading into the 35-day government shutdown, Luntz urged Mulvaney to move away from the dry phrase “funding the border wall” for the more evocative theme of “border security” — a language tweak the White House adopted.

Luntz has also given Mulvaney advice on Trump’s most recent budget proposal, and even turned up at an exclusive White House party with the president who once called for him to be fired.

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There’s only one problem with this: at the time that Luntz was supposedly giving the White House advice on how to navigate the shutdown, he was also doing a series of focus groups for Vice News Tonight, the Vice show airing on HBO. His most recent focus group segment for the show, which aired on January 28, covered the government shutdown. Vice News called the panel “one of the most hostile” that Luntz has ever surveyed.

A source at Vice News speaking on the condition of anonymity described Luntz’s relationship with the show as being on a periodic, “a la carte” basis. The source told Splinter that Luntz never disclosed that he was advising anyone, either on a paid basis or otherwise. If Politico’s reporting is accurate and Luntz did advise the White House on the shutdown while he was also doing focus groups on the same subject for Vice’s show, the source told Splinter, “That would not be OK with us.”

Luntz told Politico, which says it talked to “more than a dozen” current and former administration officials for the story, that he’d offered “zero advice” to Mulvaney during the government shutdown, and that he doesn’t have any relationship with the president. He also told Politico that Mulvaney was a genuine friend. (After a follow-up asking about advice he’d given to Mulvaney as acting chief of staff, Politico reported, Luntz didn’t respond.)

As for Trump, it appears that Luntz has long since left his beef with the president behind. After Trump’s first State of the Union address in 2018, Luntz wrote in a series of tweets that he owed the president “an apology.”

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While Luntz’s relationship with the White House is unclear at best, his work for Vice News Tonight, meanwhile, has been well-documented. Since 2017, Luntz has done focus groups for the show on Senate or gubernatorial races in Alabama, Nevada, West Virginia, Texas, and Georgia. He’s also done segments featuring focus groups of current and former NRA members about guns following the Parkland massacre, and one on Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony last April.

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According to FEC records, the strategist’s namesake firm Luntz Global Partners last did meaningful campaign work at the federal level in 2016. If Luntz was doing paid or political work for Vice while he was also doing consulting work for political candidates, that would constitute a serious conflict of interest.

Splinter reached out to Luntz via email to ask about his relationship with Vice and the White House, and whether or not there has been overlap. We also reached out to the White House about its relationship with Luntz, as well as to Vice for comment. We’ll update if we hear back from any of those parties.

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Regardless, the Vice source said, the company doesn’t “have any plans to work with him going forward,” although that decision was characterized as having more to do with the “particular kind” of television work Luntz does.

“You can only go to that arsenal so many times,” the source said.

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