the North Carolina Senate campaign, Republican incumbent Jesse Helms
was several points behind Democrat Harvey Gantt in polls taken shortly
before the election.
a weekend, political consultant Alex Castellanos wrote and produced
an ad called "Hands." Gantt's support of affirmative action
had been identified on surveys as an unpopular position.
controversial "Hands" featured a close-up shot of two hands
holding a letter and crumpling it as a narrator says "You needed that
job, but they had to give it to a minority."
made up the difference in the polls and won re-election.
JAMIESON: The evaluation of visual
symbols is extremely tricky. But there are two things about that ad
that are worthy of discussion. The first, when you look frame by frame
at the ad, there are frames in the ad in which the hands are crushing
the head of one of the candidates. And I reproduce those pictures in
Secondly, there is a black mark on the letter that's shown in the ad
that is supposedly the rejection letter that a blue collar worker has
just gotten telling him that he hasn't gotten the job and the ad's implication
is that it was given to someone who was an unqualified minority. Well,
when talking to people in focus groups about the ad, first most people
didn't recognize that at almost an imperceptible level there was the
hand appearing to crush the head of the candidate. But a number of people
did see that and when you point it out to people they do see it. Now
we don't know what that does to audiences. But it's interesting that
it's there. Secondly, there's a black mark on the paper. And when you
ask Castellanos how did it get there, he says, 'I don't know it's just
a piece of paper we picked up.' But there are some people in some focus
groups who see that as a black hand holding a black gun. Different people
bring different meanings to different symbols. We don't all respond
to the same message in the same way.
The question becomes for an ad like that, is that ad subtly activating
racial fears? Illegitimate fears that are not about the explicit content
of the ad, but are about something else. Or were those just production
accidents that elicited that unintended response in some members of