Campaign-Ad Landscape Changes Bush and Clinton Strategists, Mindful of Past Criticism over the Willie Horton Ads in the '88 Campaign, Have Treaded Carefully with Political Advertising on TV. Instead, the Candidates Get Mileage out of Guest Slots on Shows from `Arsenio Hall' to MTV
Scott Pendleton, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
WHO will raise your taxes? Who will fix the economy? Whom can you trust? To ask - and answer - those questions for voters, this year's presidential candidates have been using the mass media in unprecedented ways.
The approach has been cost-conscious and increasingly sophisticated, media-watchers say, with more emphasis on TV talk shows and less on buttons and bumper stickers. The candidates are now unleashing the bulk of their television advertisements, including Ross Perot's half-hour ad on CBS last Tuesday. A second Perot ad airs tomorrow night.
Until this week, TV ads had played a smaller role than they have in the past, says Kathleen Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.
And that's good, says Clarke Caywood at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. "We were relying too much on a single vehicle. And it was jeopardizing political advertising," he says.
"People were so angry at political advertising in the last few elections that it was creating the threat that it would be regulated, which would be a First Amendment problem. This campaign is taking the pressure off of political advertising," Mr. Caywood says.
In the last election, Michael Dukakis's campaign was hurt by an independently funded ad about Willie Horton, a black convict who raped a white woman while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison. The ad was so widely reviled for its racial content that Sig Rogich, an advertising executive who assisted the Bush campaign and whom Mr. Bush later made an ambassador, had to deny responsibility for it at his Senate confirmation hearing.
Last month, Mr. Rogich was pulled from his diplomatic post to take over as senior media adviser for the troubled Bush campaign this year, which Caywood says had looked "a little bit like Dukakis's campaign, which was one of the most pathetic campaigns in the history of the country in terms of communications."
In the first TV commercial from Rogich, middle-class voters worry about how Bill Clinton's proposals might affect their taxes. Mr. Clinton's team quickly responded with an ad of their own that called Rogich's ad "scary" and "misleading."
Rogich was involved with another memorable anti-Dukakis ad, which mocked the Bay State governor as he rode in a tank. Does he have something like that in store for Clinton?
"There's a lot of issues that Bill Clinton has to live with," Rogich says. "We probably don't have enough time to put them all on the air."
Craig Sutherland, Texas media coordinator for Clinton, has been focusing on "George Bush's broken promises." Instead of simply running national ads, Mr. Sutherland has been taking the same idea and giving it a local twist. For instance, one ad that aired in Texas talks of Bush's promise to create 30 million jobs, and says he's 29 million short. Then it adds that in Texas, 160,000 jobs in the energy industry have been lost under Bush and Ronald Reagan.
"Essentially, Bill Clinton is trying to create the exact same arguments that Ronald Reagan used when he ran successfully against Jimmy Carter," says Tom Hollihan, chairman of the College of Communications Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California. …