Tuesday, October 25, 2005

And More On Ads

From the AP: Anti-Proposition 77 ads claim GOP 'power grab'.

If you watch the old lady spot and the judges spot, the message you, the voter, receives is: "politicians are terrible, so vote YES/NO!"

Really, they both say the same thing and pray on the same, tired political shorthands. It's nutty: one ad says politicians (legislators) are awful, good-for-nothings who don't deserve the power anymore so take it away. The other says politicians are grabbing at power so don't let them . . . give it away?

This analysis is a little more analytical than the Bee's version - which parses but never quite evaluates any claims - but only by a hair.

These analyses do, however, illustrate examples of faux-objective reporting. They aren't bad per se, but they do fall back on the "A says, B says" structure that stops short of what comes next - "A means, B means, A is lying, B is overstating, A is closer to the truth, B's claims don't hold up" that is so badly needed today.

Reporting one guy's, then the other guy's, talking points shouldn't cut it anymore.


Anonymous said...

In light of your recent (today's) conversation about advertisements, I'd like to broaden the discussion if I may.

It seems to me that nearly all political advertisements are inaccurate at best and fully deceitful at worst. No one should vote based on what they see in a commercial (no accusations intended).

I guess my question is how do we get people to be engaged and learn about propositions and candidates? I don't think that merely elevating the level of commercials would ultimately work either, because I think that 30 seconds, or even a minute, is not sufficient to learn a subject.

doughnut70 said...

I think in some ways you underestimate the American people. They are not as dumb as they sometimes like to lead those of us who spend a lot of time following politics to believe.

For example, I am strongly against the war and I supported John Kerry for President. During the last campaign I was privileged to sit in on a few focus groups made up primarily of Bush supporters and undecided voters.

I had always assumed up until that time that the so called "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" were killing Kerry with their falsehoods about his military service.

Instead, I heard something completely different from the people in the focus groups and nothing I saw in the rest of the campaign showed me that other Republicans weren't basically mirroring their views.

In every focus group I sat in on, participants said the same thing. They said that they knew the war in Iraq was an agressive move against a country that was no direct immediate threat to the United States (There was a strong disagreement in the different groups as to whether or not Iraq might be a threat in a few years and some people argued very strongly that Iraq was allied with Bin Laden just because of mutual hatred for America and would help him if they could) but they all came back to the same basic two points.

They believed that we lived in a world where someone could build an atomic bomb in their backyard and that it was so dangerous that waiting for legal niceties to play out or asking for help from an international organization many of whose members were jealous of our country, that it was just too risky for our future to put our trust in those kinds of things. In other words, not that they didn't hope those groups would be effective if it came to that, but that we just couldn't place our trust in them.

Second, they were fine with us being the worlds policemen (not at all happy with it, but viewing it as a necessity) and beyond that, they were afraid that Democrats in general were so tied into the special interest groups on the left, that they would be afraid to use military force quickly enough if danger really threatened. Many people pointed to how few Democrats supported the first Gulf war and were aware that the UN wouldn't act in any meaningful manner when Saddam invaded Kuwait.

Many said that they started off interested in supporting Kerry, but when he never broke with any Democratic interest groups they came to believe that he wouldn't have the courage to confront those groups if he had to, especially the more powerful liberal elements of his own party that would probably oppose the use of American troops in anything short of a direct attack (and yes they talked about exactly that. That America was not strong enough or safe enough to only fight if directly attacked and too much of our security also depended on having allies in the world).

I don't agree with them at all and I think the only long range solution is international cooperation to deal with terrorists (and I also believe that other countries have to be more afraid of lunatics getting dangerous weapons, than they have to be afraid of us) but these people had a very clear understanding of who John Kerry was and they also had great respect for his war record which I was stunned to find out.

But they also saw that record as something completely separate from his political behavior. One Bush supporter was asked directly about the "Swift Boats" ads after he mentioned admiring Kerry's personal courage and his response was "That's just politics and no one really believes it except a few yokels. But in the end, Kerry's a liberal and since Viet Nam liberals have been too soft on crazies and I am not trusting the future of my grandkids to somebody that wants to be an ostrich with his head in the sand while the world goes in the toilet around him."

My point is that the people I heard were in my estimation, not swayed by ads, very knowledgeable about issues and I believe coming to the completely wrong conclusion.

But most of all they just seemed to have a very Malthusian view of the world that believed that there were limited resources and the strongest would probably decide how those were appropriated and wanted to make sure that they and theirs were always in the top rung.

Not necessarily from just a selfish perspective, but also from wanting to not take chances for peace that they felt could endanger their families or the people they cared about.

I think that's still the basic problem, people don't realize how much more they can accomplish by focusing on working together and I am not convinced that political ads make the problem better or worse.

In some ways, political ads at least inspire discussion about what is going on in the world around us, so in that sense they are a force for good. But I also think a lot of people want to assign them an ability to persuade that they do not have. I just think people like to believe that if most people were just smarter that they would agree with them and as I found out in those focus groups with Bush supporters, I don't think it's knowledge about issues that's lacking, but it may be common sense and I certainly believe good judgement is not there in a lot of cases.

Anonymous said...

In which state did these focus groups take place?

Because I can tell you for a fact that the Swift Boat ads absolute made a real difference to real people in real states.

The ads reached West Virginians, and they mattered. They are not yokels, either.

I was there. I saw it.

doughnut70 said...

I attended eight focus groups were in Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania.

Since they all covered multiple subjects, I don't remember the breakdown as to how many got specific about those subjects, but foreign affairs came up in all of them, even in one that was specifically trying to stay away from the subject. Again, the point I was trying to make was that in that time I found the knowledge and the reasoning to be a whole lot deeper than I expected it to be.

I walked in expecting to find a lot of people basing their votes on simplistic emotional reasons and I found that most of them instead had given the issues a whole lot of thought even if I didn't agree with their reasoning.

Going in I thought Kerry needed to be more aggresive about defending liberal principles and now I still believe that, but I got reminded in a very direct way that a lot of people disagreed with John Kerry on some issues and I found myself wondering less about his defensiveness (and his silliness like going duck hunting ten days before the election) and ironically not being so concerned about foreign affairs as wondering what issues farmers for example agreed with John Kerry on. The adage that all politics is local came back to me in a jarring way because of a discussion about global affairs. These people saw the same things I did and some of them even knew a lot more about them than I did, but they arrived at completely different conclusions and at the end of the day, I understood and disagreed with them, but I had a lot more respect for their knowledge than I did going in.

Since the original post was about political ads, that was my point. I think people don't need to be talked down to like a lot of consultants assume. But I think a lot of things that many of us regard as shallow and wrong (Like George Bush with the Pledge of Allegiance against Michael Dukakis) I now feel are instances where the American people as a whole have different values than I do and choose to move the country in a different direction. After the focus groups I could remember casual conversations I had with people that I knew tended to float back and forth between the parties and the concerns they expressed and I realized how little John Kerry really did to stand out on issues of concern for example to farmers or to members of specific professions. I thought back to Bill Clinton in his first campaign taking on the Teachers union on competency testing, labor over free trade, the African American community over Sister Souljah and I found myself wondering what did John Kerry believe in that would get him the vote of anyone who wasn't a Democrat going in. Of course one thing anyone who has been in politics for any length of time will tell you as James Carville did in his book on Clinton's first race, it is almost impossible to win a race just by mobilizing your own base even if you are a majority going in. The reason is that the other side will promise enough to peel off just enough votes to win if they don't have to worry about protecting themselves. But now I am wandering which is what happens when you write at 2:00 a.m. The bottom line is that I think people know more than they are given credit for. You can agree and disagree and for what it is worth, I also think if they choose to vote against 77 which I hope they do, part of the reason will be because they are worried about Judges getting caught up in politics and I think retired Superior Court Judge Joseph Wapner is a good person to make that case.

Anonymous said...

This aint the thread, but when Gov. S. said he'd support a prop75 for corporations, the next question should have been (at to Lew also who's said the same in interviews), but will you support it with the same amount of vigor and personal money? I'd bet not.

Anonymous said...

Ads, ads, ads... How about fun flash videos?! And not just because I'm a Democrat, but this one is way better than the flash vid on Join Arnold dot com.