Speaking Science 2.0

In a segment from the recent Frontline special “Hot Politics,” GOP pollster Frank Luntz explains his 1997/1998 memo that became the playbook for how conservatives like President Bush and Senator James Inhofe redefined climate change as really a matter of “scientific uncertainty” and “unfair economic burden.” (Luntz says he has since changed his views on climate change.) We detail the strategy and its impact on public opinion in our Framing Science thesis and in our talks as part of the Speaking Science 2.0 tour.

Below you can watch a clip of Senator Inhofe’s appearance on Fox & Friends back in February just before the release of this year’s first IPCC report. Inhofe stays on message with the “scientific uncertainty” and “economic burden” frames adding that climate change is really a campaign driven by the “far left” and “Hollywood elitists and the United Nations.” It’s a great example of how conservative strategists take advantage of framing and a fragmented media system to engage key audiences.


  1. #1 Inga Jern Zeller
    June 30, 2008

    How to organise a major terrorist scare
    The Big Dummy’s guide to security booga-booga

    By Gavin Gatenby, Possum News Network
    15 August 2006

    How easy is it to organise a major terrorist scare like the one that’s
    currently gridlocking the world’s airports? Dead easy. If you follow a
    few simple points you can panic the populace and stampede the media with
    virtually no risk of getting caught. All it takes is a little
    confidence. Here’s a simple “how-to” for aspiring top-level spooks:

    1. The politicians don’t want to know

    Have confidence that the government really doesn’t want to know what it
    is you’re getting up to, as long as the effect benefits them. By their
    very nature, secret police intelligence and espionage organizations
    operate in secret and often do, “in the national interest”, illegal
    things or stuff which ordinary folk would regard as grossly unethical –
    things that would embarrass the government if they were to be exposed.
    If anything goes wrong the politicians want to be able to “plausibly
    deny” they were involved. This relationship hands enormous,
    uncontrolled, power to your small, ultra-secretive, self-governing elite
    clustered at the top of the nation’s security “service”. Your colleagues
    are invariably drawn from the upper reaches of the political and
    economic elite and of course you know better than anybody what’s in “the
    national interest” and you have a God-given right to rule. Breaking
    ranks and talking isn’t in your colleagues’ class nature.

    2. Keep things on a need-to-know basis

    Keep your security organization compartmentalised and discourage
    specialist sections from talking to each other. You can plausibly plead
    security reasons for this. Make sure all information gets passed up the
    line to your small group at the top who compile and “assess” the overall
    threat and decide when to act. Thus you control the “narrative” and the
    timing of the scam. The foot soldiers may shake their heads and wonder
    at some of the things you come up with, but they’ll be in no position to
    contradict you. And if they do, it’s a very serious offence. It’ll ruin
    their careers and could land them a very long stretch in gaol.

    3. At the right time, get the president or prime minister involved

    When you’ve decided on the optimum time for your security scare and
    sorted out who your “plotters” will be, it’s important to involve the
    head of the government. He’ll want to broadcast to the nation, taking
    credit for keeping the people safe from the terrible plot. He’ll
    automatically be followed by the leaders of the mainstream opposition
    parties, all eager to prove their credibility, responsibility and
    patriotism. As soon as you’ve made the official line clear, the media
    and the state apparatus will fall into line.

    4. “Prove that we lie”

    Always remember: it’s breathtakingly easy to claim you’ve “thwarted”
    something horrible and almost impossible for sceptics to prove that you
    haven’t. This applies especially if you “thwart” the plot in its early
    stages. Invariably you’re acting against individuals from a group that’s
    already been demonised and will be scared to speak up or fight back. The
    majority will be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt.
    Questioning the government in a time of “national emergency” isn’t an
    easy gig.

    5. Don’t worry, they’ll all play their part

    Complex conspiracies involving lots of people are entirely unnecessary.
    All that’s needed is for your close knit, unaccountable group to order
    those lower down the chain to act on “information received”. They don’t
    even have to know what the information was. They just have to know the
    addresses to raid and who to arrest. When they do, they’re sure to find
    some political or religious literature, or something on the hard drives,
    or some household chemicals that will, under the circumstances you’ve
    created, look suspicious. If you’re using agents provocateur, they’ll be
    able to plant “evidence” and report suspicious conversations to “sex-up”
    the case. Of course, details will never be available officially or in a
    verifiable form, but fragments and hints of purported “evidence” can be
    leaked to selected journalists (see below).

    6. Feed the chickens

    Keep information in official news releases to an absolute minimum.
    There’s a plausible excuse for this: more information will harm ongoing
    investigations and might prejudice the case when it gets to court. In
    place of any hard attributable facts, provide a steady stream of small
    leaks “under condition of anonymity” to selected journalists from
    politically reliable mainstream news organizations. These people are
    carefully selected for political conservatism and journalistic
    “responsibility”. Even if they weren’t, they need a story and they’re
    totally reliant on you for one. It doesn’t matter if the leaked details
    are outrageously illogical. Even if they’re suspicious of the story,
    your contacts will run it rather than lose a scoop. In this way you’ll
    establish an unofficial official narrative that most members of the
    public will be inclined to accept as something like the truth. They’ve
    already been conditioned by the media attack-dogs to thoroughly distrust
    the group from which your victims come so they’ll figure that if the
    charges are a fit-up the victims are probably guilty of something and it
    would be prudent to put them away.

    7. Politicians who aren’t 100 per cent with you are friends of terrorists

    No politician enjoys being attacked as “irresponsible” or accused of
    being unpatriotic or soft on terrorists. Very few will dare question the
    allegations in case they’re proved wrong. Most are venal politics
    junkies making a very good living doing something they enjoy. It’s safer
    for them to join the chorus condemning terrorism and congratulating you
    on your vigilance. With any luck, some politicians will show their
    credentials by loudly criticising you for not acting sooner and more
    ruthlessly. Those few who are troubled will probably just say nothing.

    8. Don’t worry about proving links to real terror groups

    Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was felt necessary to show that
    your local “terrorist cell” was recruited by, and in communication with,
    al-Qaeda, or some group with actual form some time in the
    not-too-distant past. This requirement brought its own problems, since
    evidence of the links often failed to convince, or, worse still,
    unearthed shady figures with a track record of collaboration with the
    CIA or MI6 or Mossad.

    It’s still a good idea to hint at such links but it isn’t de rigueur
    because the problem disappeared with the happy invention of the
    “spontaneously-forming, self-activating” (SFSA) terror cell theory in
    the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings. According to the SFSA theory,
    terrorists don’t have to be recruited or trained. Wherever any three
    integrated, happy, and successful young Muslim men get together to
    discuss politics or religion or even just to play cricket, they
    spontaneously decide to set up a do-it-yourself terror cell. They scour
    the internet for recipes for powerful but highly unstable explosives
    made from sports drinks, peroxide, hair gel, acetone and baby formula.
    Without outside direction they select targets and decide the day. All
    you need to “prove” conspiracy was that they met, discussed politics and
    had in their possession common household chemicals, fizzy drinks and a
    mobile phone. It doesn’t matter if their conversations show nothing
    explicit. Just say they were talking in code. If you can show at least
    one of them has travelled overseas, that’s a plus. If not, assert that
    they “investigated” booking airline tickets or showed an interest in
    travelling overseas.

    The SFSA theory not only relieves you of having to prove connections to
    international terror groups, there’s a bonus: it also increases public
    fear. Any group of young Muslims kicking a ball around in the park is
    actually planning to blow up trains. Or airliners. Anything you do to
    these people is likely to be “overlooked”, if not vocally supported by
    patriotic simpletons.

    9. It doesn’t really matter if a court finds them innocent

    Your victims won’t get their day in court for months, maybe years, and
    if you’ve organised things well, you’ll be operating under laws that
    ensure that the public and your tame media are prevented from reporting
    key details or even excluded from court altogether. By the time your
    victims get to court, the scare you used them to create will have done
    its job. Even if your victims are found innocent, that fact will get
    little press attention from a media who are embarrassed by their role in
    such an obvious scam, and anyway, the accused terrorists’ acquittal will
    be lost in the next big scare.
    Good luck, and have fun.


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