|THE 2000 AD WATCH: DEMOCRATS|
December 7, 1999
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from
the Pew Charitable Trusts.
TERENCE SMITH: For practical, academic, and regional perspective on these ads, we turn to John Carroll, a longtime media and advertising critic who is now managing editor at WGBH-TV's Greater Boston News and Public Affairs Program; Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania; and David Gergen, an adviser to Presidents who is now a Professor of Public Service at the Kennedy School of Government. Welcome to all three of you. John Carroll, let me begin with you and ask you your first impression of these first ads.
|A candidates first step|
JOHN CARROLL: Well, I think it's essentially a nice-off; they're trying to be as nice as they possibly can, and it's a little bit of shadow boxing, I think. They're trying to draw distinctions between the two of them, and they have these sort of thickly-veiled jabs at each other. Al Gore talks about his health care plan being workable within a balanced budget. That's a criticism of Bill Bradley's health care plan, but if you don't know that Bradley has a budget busting health plan or don't believe that, then you don't really get the reference. Similarly, in Bradley's ads, he's trying to talk about his legislative achievements in the Senate, trying to convince people that he was not the Chauncy Gardner of the U.S. Senate. And he's going after the tax issue, which Al Gore has gone after him, but in a way the public, unless they're steeped in knowledge about the positions of these two candidates, doesn't really know what these references are about. So, on the one hand, they're staking out their own ground. On the other hand, they're trying to be critical without being critical, and I think that's the part that doesn't quite work.
TERENCE SMITH: Of course, they're laying the first positions, as they do it. Kathleen, you've seen a lot of these ads and studied them. What do you think?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: I think two things are important about the ads. First, you're learning biographical information about the candidates. They have long, distinguished careers. The question is: What do they feature from across their history? And, among other things, what legislative accomplishments do they feature? How does that position them in relationship to the campaign promises that they're making now? Good, strong, clear biographical statements are important. The policy positions don't just live out there in the ether. They live embodied in a biographical past with a temperament, with an ability to either get things done or not.
TERENCE SMITH: So you think that's an essential first step for a candidate?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: It's an essential first step, and it is substantively valuable to the electorate, because part of the way we judge the credibility of a message is by the ethos of the source, and that means the credibility of that biography. The second thing that's important about these ads is the candidates have each now spoken to us directly on camera. That gives them a chance to try on the role of President. You know, Presidents don't usually speak to us in the format of presidential debates once they become President, or the ads. The genre of discourse that is the keystone of the presidency is the sit-down in front of you in the Oval Office and talking to you about a moment of crisis or something significant. They both have given you a chance to experience your sense of them in that kind of a role in advertising. That's important, to give to you kind of the first feel for whether you'd be comfortable with either one of them in the Oval Office, or with both.
TERENCE SMITH: And a chance to determine if they're credible, I suppose.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: And a chance to assess whether the positions that they're taking, whether the ways in which they're articulating their vision of the future reside with you, resonate with you ideologically, but also, whether or not the ways in which they're articulating these points of view suggest that they would be an appropriate representative for your party, since what we're about right now is not yet who will be the President, but who will head the party.
TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, what caught your eye from these?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, two things. One, you made mention in the beginning of the fact that these are so gentlemanly. After so many years when negative advertising has apparently worked in politics, but people are so sick of it as voters, it's striking how much more positive these are in de-emphasizing the negative in favor of the positive. I think that's a welcome development.
TERENCE SMITH: And that might suit the mood, I suppose.
DAVID GERGEN: I think it does suit the mood. I find the other thing, Terry, that surprised me about the vice president's ads is that you would never know from that ad that he had been vice president, and you particularly would never know from that ad that he had worked for Bill Clinton.
TERENCE SMITH: Didn't hear that name, did you?
|Appealing to New Hampshire voters|
DAVID GERGEN: You didn't hear the name, and you didn't hear anything about the economy. I find it mystifying that the vice president is early advertising. He's not talking about the strength of the economy, especially in a state like New Hampshire, which was on its back when Bill Clinton was elected.
TERENCE SMITH: John Carroll, I'm curious if you heard or saw anything that you think would resonate particularly in New Hampshire, that being so important?
JOHN CARROLL: Well, I think the education message is probably going to have some impact in New Hampshire. They're going through some problems within the state on their education funding, how that's going to happen without an income tax, which they've always resisted up there, and they're trying to forge a compromise. I also think that the... What David says is right. It's interesting that Al Gore is introducing himself essentially the way any other candidate would to the United States public when he has been the vice president for so long. One of the things that's a bit jangly, I think, about his ads is that he comes out for positions that you would think you could have done something about this perhaps while you were vice president in the administration. It's as if he hadn't been there for seven years. So you wonder, when he talks about health care, which is an important issue in New Hampshire and across the country, when he says, "yeah, we need to do something about this," you start to say, "well, you know, what happened over the last seven years since 1992?"
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen, there is also some cosmetic things in these ads that are interesting. In Al Gore's ads, for example, there's a sort of upscale casual look, sort of L.L. Bean, I'd say. Is there a motive here? What do you think it is?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The President has to simultaneously... a presidential candidate needs to simultaneously suggest that he has the gravity to be the President, the stature of the office, but also identifies with us enough that we would trust him with that serious responsibility. And part of the way that the consultants telegraph that through their candidates is to make sure that you see them in a range of dress, all of them appropriate, none of them goofy, but also in environments that let you envision, for example, the person in your living room talking comfortably to you, as well as the person in the Oval Office talking comfortably to you. I think that's what's going on here.
|Truth in advertising|
|TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, as you look at these, can you
discern any distinct ideological difference? Is one staking out a more
liberal or more centrist position?
DAVID GERGEN: Not in the advertisements. I think the Republicans are clearly trying to use those ads you heard right at the end to say, you know, they're both riding the same liberal boat. But I don't think the distinctions as John said earlier, you know, some of the references in the Gore ad, you have to be a real political junkie to get what the argument is all about with Bill Bradley, because they're so... the jabs at Bradley are so indistinct that they are hard to pick up on. But, no, I don't think there are many differences. I think it's more a matter of style. I do believe that the vice president in its ads is actually, as a speaker, more effective than he is on the stump. You know, the new Gore comes across, I think, on those ads just in the way he speaks-- now, this doesn't go to content, that's a different question-- but in the way he speaks I think is more effective than his stump presentations.
TERENCE SMITH: Is that the alpha male at work? Is that more forceful? Is that what you mean?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, I think it's somewhere between alpha and beta. It's got a nice mixture of, you know, living room style that Kathleen was talking about that makes you feel a little more comfortable. You're not on edge when you hear him speak. He seems to be comfortable in himself.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. John Carroll, anything in this that you found misleading or incorrect?
JOHN CARROLL: Well, certainly the Bradley ad, I think, as the piece pointed out, is pretty misleading as far as this woman and the sequence of events that happened during her having the second and third child that she had. And I think that, you know, that's a leap that I'm not sure Evil Knievel would attempt to say, you know, I had the confidence, and they don't even disclose this information. You have to go to other sources to find out that Bill Bradley's bill in 1996 gave me the confidence to have a child in 1998. The way it's phrased in the ads, it sound likes Bill Bradley is an EMT. So you look at that, and you say, that's not really dealing straight with the public. And Bill Bradley is lucky if he that doesn't get out too much, because he's really running on a platform of authenticity. He's the straight shooter. He's the one that is going to be honest and not deal in sound bites, which is a sound bite itself in a way.
TERENCE SMITH: Right.
JOHN CARROLL: But he's building his campaign on that sense that he's the genuine article, and I think if he walks that line too much that people will eventually catch on, and that could damage the foundation of his campaign.
|Ads make the difference?|
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen, how dangerous is that, if he's caught out-- he or any candidate is caught out on something that is either incorrect or at least a reach?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: One of the things that is important to note about the ads is that Bradley is promising us a different kind of campaign in the ad that suggests that we're going to have more detailed plans. At least you're going to know where he stands. The positive side of that is, it is a promise for a different kind of campaign. But the negative side from Bradley's standpoint is that any lapse, such as a lapse in factual accuracy of an ad, or something that looks like politics as usual, or that looks like a cheap shot or doesn't actually show how you would pay for something, is going to look as if he didn't keep the promise made explicitly in that ad. And so it suggests the higher road and a different kind of campaign, but that holds him to a higher threshold test.
TERENCE SMITH: David Gergen, is there anything that Senator Bradley can do with these ads or future ads in your view, if you were advising him, to close the gap with Al Gore, who leads in all the polls?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, I find it striking, Terry, that back on November 24, it was announced in the press that Bill Bradley was going to go on a blitz with his advertising in New Hampshire, and he outspent the vice president quite considerably-- by as much as 10-1 over about a ten-day period. And two weeks later, when Newsweek went into the field and took a poll, Bradley, who had been falling behind Gore, had reversed that, and was up by 49 or 42. He was up six or seven points. Now, I don't know whether that's directly tied to the ads or not, but it suggests that that advertising blitz actually helped him.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. We'll be back on this subject again. David Gergen, John Carroll, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you all very much.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, indeed. Terry and his crew will look at republican campaign commercials next week, and will, as a regular NewsHour feature, continue to monitor and report on all such advertising for the duration of the election campaign.
The NewsHour Media Unit, including this site, is funded by grants from: