MSNBC Cans Luntz

Posted September 29, 2004 at 6:47pm

The watchdog organization Media Matters for America was none too pleased that MSNBC had scheduled GOP pollster Frank Luntz conduct on-air focus groups following tonight’s presidential debate.

In a letter to MSNBC President Richard Kaplan, Media Matters President David Brock (who used to call himself a conservative), said he hoped the network would disclose Luntz’s “partisan Republican ties and history of questionable scientific methodology.”

[IMGCAP(1)] Brock cited a number of examples, including Luntz’s work on the 1994 Republican “Contract with America,” pointing out that Luntz was reprimanded by the American Association for Public Opinion Research for refusing to disclose data on how he surmised that 60 percent of Americans supported the Contract. Brock also noted Luntz’s published remarks counseling swing-state Republicans on what to say about Iraq and homeland security.

Looks like the letter had an impact. Although MSNBC did not respond to Brock, a spokeswoman for the network told HOH late Wednesday that the network has decided “not to go with Frank for the debate.” In fact, MSNBC won’t conduct polling at all now, she said.

Brock was delighted to hear the news. “It is encouraging that MSNBC responded to criticism in a constructive way. Clearly they realized that employing a partisan pollster does not reflect well on them as a responsible media outlet.”

Action! Director Robert Altman says it’s a no-brainer why he’s voting for Democratic nominee John Kerry: “Because I hate the Shrub.”

The legendary director of “M*A*S*H,” “Gosford Park,” “Nashville,” and many other movies stopped by Roll Call’s newsroom Wednesday to tout his upcoming Sundance Channel series “Tanner on Tanner.” He waxed poetic on politics, filmmaking and ways of life. Altman was joined by actor Michael Murphy who plays Jack Tanner, a failed Democratic presidential candidate who is the subject of a documentary by his daughter, played by Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame.

The bizarrely intertwined part mockumentary, part reality series was shot mostly during the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer. “Tanner on Tanner,” the sequel to “Tanner ’88,” features dozens of cameos by real-life politicians, including a number of failed presidential candidates ranging from former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo (D) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). But “Tanner on Tanner,” Altman said, “has more star-f—king” in it.

Altman and Murphy said they didn’t even have to twist arms to convince the real-life politicians to go along with their fiction filming. The idea was to have the character Jack Tanner chatting with real-life also-rans. If the camera was there, they came running, Altman said. And some of them wouldn’t go away.

“[Delaware Sen. Joseph] Biden, he just went on and on and on,” Murphy said.

Biden says he doesn’t recall talking to the “Tanner on Tanner” folks. “If I did, I might have thought I was doing a real live interview,” Biden told HOH, adding, “I talked to a lot of people” at the Democratic convention.

Only a few politicians ran the other direction from the Sundance cameras. Lieberman “didn’t have doodley squat” and “got out quick,” Altman said. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), not an also-ran but perhaps a will-run, also “got away,” he said.

Splitsville. Rep. Loretta Sanchez is now singing Loretta Lynn’s tune

The California Democrat’s husband of 14 years, Stephen Brixey, has sued for divorce. The Orange County Register reported that Brixey cited “irreconcilable differences.” He filed for divorce in San Diego in January, the paper said, but the proceedings have been under tight wraps. The court filing did not cite specific problems. It said the couple have been separated since Dec. 30, although it noted that Brixey had been living in San Diego County — not with the Congresswoman in Santa Ana — for at least three months before the Jan. 15 filing, according to the Register. “Brixey and Sanchez appeared together on her holiday greeting card in December,” the paper noted.

Sanchez had no comment on the divorce proceedings. But her press secretary, Carrie Brooks, said in a statement that Sanchez and Brixey “remain close friends, and their divorce will become final shortly. Loretta and Stephen have reached an amicable resolution on all matters surrounding this step, and both hope that the public will respect what is a very private matter.”

Tie a Yellow Ribbon. Who knew that the House was full of Republican tree-huggers? (And who knew that term wasn’t an oxymoron?)

It became pretty evident Tuesday, when the House approved legislation to officially recognize the oak tree as America’s national tree. Perhaps to sneak it past non-tree-huggers, the tree-huggers tucked their measure inside a bill to fight online piracy. The oak tree designation is one of the proud accomplishments incumbents can tout on the campaign trail as they head out, perhaps late next week, for an election-year recess.

The occasion is even more joyous since the oak is not bigfooting some other, more delicate tree as the new King Daddy of American trees. Until now, there was no national tree. The measure amends Title 36 of the United States Code to designate the tree genus Quercus, commonly known as the oak tree, as the national tree of the United States. And voila.

HOH never would have pegged the bill’s sponsors for crunchy granolas. Consider the lot: Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) and Porter Goss (R-Fla.), before Goss resigned to become CIA director. HOH doesn’t recall smelling the patchouli, or seeing any of them wearing tie-dyed tees and Birkenstocks to work. Maybe that’s weekend wear.

Goodlatte, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, said he appreciates “how trees and forests enhance the environment, add recreational opportunities” and — his less crunchy, although still genuine, motivation — “provide for the livelihoods of millions of individuals in the forest industry.” All in all, he said, “The oak has long been an enduring and mighty tree.”

Thank goodness they got that out of the way this Congress.

Emily Pierce and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.