NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's press conference, last Friday afternoon (held late in the afternoon to avoid the midweek media onslaught) was a scripted disaster. Social media users and pundits agreed that the press conference was essentially a botched attempt at saving face, set up only because a public relations team forced Goodell to come out of hiding due to an angry public. Try as he might to stick to the message, the tense presser was filled with pointed and difficult questions from tough reporters; evasive disclaimers; and even a security breach, when The Howard Stern Show's Benjy Bronk was dragged out of the room screaming "Don't take me to an elevator."
At the start of the press conference, Goodell read, almost word for word, from a statement the NFL released earlier that day. Though it was full of apologies and promises of future plans, the speech essentially lacked humanity, honesty, and candor about the sad state of America's most popular sport and the future of its players. It was, arguably, Roger Goodell's version of Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." In a careful parsing of the language, Goodell continued to insist that no one at the NFL saw the tape of Ray Rice hitting his fiancée "to my knowledge." To your knowledge, indeed, Mister Commissioner.
For this mess, we may have one particular speechwriter to thank. Deadspin reports that Frank Luntz, who reporter Dave McKenna aptly refers to as the "lord of the dark arts of political messaging," was the real voice behind Goodell's words. The Wire reached out to Luntz for comment, but was told he was "unavailable for comment at this time."
Luntz, who admits that he has worked with the NFL on other "projects," but not this one, has a history of loving Goodell's speeches:
Roger Goodell's apology today was perfect. Plainly state past mistakes, then how you'll correct them moving forward. http://t.co/5wQULU9kKF— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) August 28, 2014
And of course he likes the one from last week, calling it "language perfection":
Luntz says he didn't consult with Goodell on this particular press conference and the NFL denies it as well. Spokesperson Greg Aiello was asked "if Luntz worked with the commissioner to prepare for Friday's press conference" by Deadspin and replied only, "No."
Yet, McKenna reports that Luntz is on retainer with Goodell's office and claims the speech had his fingerprints all over it. The words that Luntz praises so highly came right out his actual playbook.
One of the most overused phrases by the Commissioner during the press conference was "We will get our house in order," in which house = league. As Deadspin found, this sentence is quite literally from Luntz's book. Seriously, it's fourth on this list from Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary:
The source said, "The way Frank sees things, he's already conquered politics, and he's tired of being this nerdy politics guy. So now it's all about sports. Sports are really Frank's passion, and have been since he was a little kid."
As for Luntz, he's decided to use the negative feedback from his involvement in Goodell's trainwreck to sell his wares:
Don't tweet your insults at me -- tell me them in-person at my next focus group! Sign up here to join one near you: http://t.co/eJxpYi195S— Frank Luntz (@FrankLuntz) September 22, 2014
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.