Guilt by associationWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“ … and I don’t approve of this message.”
Sometimes guilt by association is a very legitimate campaign issue.
I’m not talking about Barack Obama and William Ayers. And I’m not reaching back into the 1980s to talk about John McCain being one of the Keating Five. I’m talking about the candidates being associated with their own campaign ads.
I’m watching TV, and an ad comes on making outrageous, slanted charges obviously based on the narrowest interpretation of the facts. If they’re facts at all. I’m certain that at the end of the spot, I’ll see that it was sponsored by some nutcase right-wing or left-wing political action committee. But instead, I see the face and hear the voice of either of the two main candidates saying
“… and I approve of this message.”
Wow. If you approve of this message, I can’t vote for you. Sorry, but I kinda lean toward people with character, integrity and some appreciation for honesty and full disclosure. Really I do.
It’s very telling that, starting just this campaign season, a number of the news networks regularly air fact checks on the candidates’ campaign ads. The CNN Truth Squad. CBS News Reality Check. ABC News Fact Check Desk. But since most of us aren’t news junkies of my ilk, we don’t see these reports and we assume that what we’re seeing and hearing in the ads is, at least for the most part, the truth.
News networks have created entire segments of their newscasts dedicated to telling us when the next leader of the free world is lying to us. Before he even gets the job. What’s wrong with this picture?
Try this analogy: Suppose you were an employer, and during a job interview, an applicant told you a glowing story of his professional accomplishments. You later find out that, yeah, he worked there when those things were done, but he had nothing to do with those accomplishments. You’d strike a red line through his name and move on to the next applicant. Lying is bad.
Now I know that a presidential candidate who’s stumping from 6 a.m. into the wee hours can’t micromanage every little detail of their campaign. I don’t hold them responsible for every gaffe committed by a campaign staffer who decides he’s going to make his mark with some boneheaded move. But c’mon, candidates! The content of your ads is all most people will ever know about you! Many voters, unfortunately, make their decisions based on the impressions they receive from the campaign ads. The catch is that politicians know that, and the research shows that these negative ads, well, they work.
In April the Journal of Consumer Research published a study of younger voters and found “… that 14 percent of the young voters — after viewing an ad that attacked their preferred candidate — were influenced by the ad’s content and weakened their support, moving in the direction of the advertising candidate. Viewing positive ads did not lead to significant voter movement.”
The scientific conclusion: We are positively influenced by attack ads the same way we’re attracted to dust-ups on “Jerry Springer.” Groan.
Washington has tinkered with campaign finance reform. How about campaign integrity and honesty reform? Short of lying under oath, we can’t codify honesty. But there’s case law miles long covering slander and libel. And some of the charges made in the negative campaign ads border on inciting panic.
Yup, panic. And continual exposure to these negative ads can actually make us physically ill. So says Samuel Bradley, an advertising professor at Texas Tech University’s College of Mass Communication. His study, based on observations of a physical response known as the eyeblink startle reflex, concluded that the negative campaign ads alter our emotional circuitry, which has a negative impact on our physical well-being.
Turn on the TV but keep Pepto Bismol close. We’re going to get sick, and they’re going to get elected.
And you thought it was just your shrinking 401(k) that had you feeling nauseous.
Contact columnist Jim Harpen via e-mail at email@example.com.