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Jeffrey Feldman Headshot

Flim Flam Frank (a.k.a. The Luntz)

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A "con," a "scam," a "grift," a boo-boo, a bunko, a flim flam. All these are synonyms for what street crime experts call the "Confidence Trick." I will add one more synonym to the list: The Luntz.

The Confidence Trick has many names: Three-Card-Monte, The Spanish Prisoner, The Protection Scheme, The Free Pet Scam, Pig-in-a-Poke, Lottery Fraud by Proxy, The Pigeon Drop, Psychic Surgery.

The list is long long, but the lure of the Luntz is always the same: easy money. Relieve the mark of his cash. And it works just about every time.

This weekend, Bill Maher was the mark and HBO's Real Time was the venue for a scam being run coast-to-coast by the grand master grifter of American Politics: Flim Flam Frank, who runs this scam under the name "Frank Luntz."

The name of the Luntz? Let's call it the "Advice to Democrats Scam" or even better: "The Angry Dem Flim Flam" Posing as a expert on winning elections, give advice to Democrats about winning elections by not being "angry." Insulting by nature, the advice leads to contentious arguments the end goal of which is to create a ruckus that drives book sales.

Other grifters who work the Angry Dem Flim Flam on TV include Bunko Coulter (a.k.a. "Ann Coulter"), Boo-Boo Bill (a.k.a. "Bill O'Reilly") and a shadowy figure known on the street simply as
"Scamsouzah" (a.k.a. "Dinesh D'Souzah"). They all work the same Luntz, but nobody does it better than Flim Flam Frank.

Like any good Luntz, the key is to realize that the mark cons himself. Once a good Luntz is up and running, the only way to get out of it is to stop playing. You can't beet a flim flam artist at their own game. If you are in their game, you are losing.

Ultimately, then, the only way to prevent more and more people from becoming the next victims of the Angry Dem Flim Flam is to spread the word on how it works. Warn your children. Tell your friends. If you see this scam or someone pushing it, do no't bite. Do not play along. Keep your hands and your money in your pockets. Stop talking, keep walking.

Anatomy of a Luntz - Spotting the Sleight of Hand
Ultimately, anyone can spot the Angry Dem Flim Flam if they just take a minute to think about these basic tricks and how they work. Just like a sleight-of-hand magician does not really make that lit cigarette disappear into the palm of his hand, none of these statements used in the Angry Dem Flim Flam are actually what they appear to be. They are key acts of misdirection designed to lure the mark away from the end goal: money.

"Democrats Are Angry": It may be hard to see at first, but when Luntz says this he is not actually giving advice to Democrats. He is lighting a fire. It is the heart of the scam. Remember the vacuum cleaner salesman who starts his presentation by throwing a bag of dirt on his customer's clean white carpet--all so he can show how well his vacuum removes dirt? "Democrats are angry," is the bag of dirt in the Angry Dem Flim Flam. Say that line to any Democrat and the end result is always the same: they get angry. Works like a charm. "Democrats are angry," always elicits the same reply, "We are not!!"

Remember: The Angry Dem Flim Flam cannot begin unless somebody takes the bait and debates the line "Democrats are Angry." That is the door you have to walk through. Walk away and there can be no game.

"I Listen To People": But let's assume for a second that we fell into the trap: we took the bait. We heard "Democrats are angry," and now we are in an argument. The next sleight-of-hand in the Angry Dem Flim Flam is for the Luntz to establish authority, to make the con artist look like an expert whose advice everyone should buy. The Angry Dem Flim Flam is not about "listening." It's about buying: cash for books. The key is for the flim flam artist to say something along these lines, "I know what I'm talking about because I listen to people and you don't." The trick here is to see that this is just a tactical lie. By "listening," the Luntz artist means the he paid people to sit in a room and then elicited their reactions to political language using deceptive marketing techniques. The Luntz does not listen. The Luntz pays cash for conversation that he uses to find trigger words that he can use to run the grift. The Luntz listens not to understand, but to learn how to deceive.

Remember: The Angry Dem Flim Flam uses the "I Listen to People" gimmick to create authority. When we hear this con, we cannot respond. Just keep walking.

"I Only Take Money From People I Believe In": There comes a time in every grift--in every Luntz--when the con man tells the mark, "I do not want your money." In fact, that is all he wants: your money. But the con is built on that tension between the true goal of the con and the script. A street con will say, "Do not give me any money. I don't want it. Take this for free and if you want to pay for it, pay me what you think it's worth." In the Angry Dem Flim Flam, this line typically comes near the end of the con: after an angry spat has been sparked, after the authority of "I listen to people" has been set. At this point, the Luntz then says, "I am not saying this to make money...I only work for people and causes I believe in." Slippery, but easy to spot. The truth is that the Luntz believes only in the Luntz--takes money from anyone. Money, money, money. Every scam, every flim flam, every Luntz is about the cash, the dough, the cheddar. You have it. He wants it.

Remember: The Angry Dem Flim Flam is about one thing and one thing only: money. So when the Luntz says, "I only take money from people I believe in," do not listen. Walk away.

Follow the Lady: Now, the heart pumping in every Luntz is misdirection: we are asked to look here so we do not notice the scam going on over there. Three-Card-Monte is the classic. "Watch the lady!" shouts the Luntz. The end result is that we do not think that everyone standing on the street is in on the game, that we cannot win even if we appear to be winning. That is the game. In the "Angry Dem Flim Flam," the conversation about politics is "the Lady" we are supposed to watch. In fact, the game is about book sales. We are not supposed to think about why the Luntz is on the talk show or why the Luntz is talking about politics in the first place, which is: to make money. Lots and lots and lots of money. We are told the flim flam is about truth, honesty, understanding, issues, clarity--and that is what we want to believe. Because we really believe in a politics that is about truth, honesty, understanding, issues, clarity. We even work to make it so. But the Luntz is not concerned with any of that. The real subject? Book sales. Want to know what number really concerns the Luntz, head over to Amazon.com and check out the sales rank following the Maher scandal.

Remember: The Angry Dem Flim Flam is not about what the Luntz says it is about. It is about selling not communication.

Get 'Em Off The Street
The tricky truth about flim flam artists is that they inhabit a world we firmly believe they should be free to roam. We believe that laws should protect citizens from scams, but ultimately we also believe that citizens must educate themselves so as not to be suckers. So flim flam scam artists cannot just be banned by law. We have to make the choice to walk away from them.

So that is what we should do.

We hear the Luntz, we keep walking.

Money stays in our pockets.

But even if we walk away, we have to stay on guard. The Luntz is good at what he does and the next con, the next scam, the next boo-boo, the next flim flam--is always just around the corner.

(cross posted at Frameshop