DATE July 29, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: David Schwartz discusses "The Living Room Candidate,"
at American Museum of the Moving Image exhibit
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
You've been seeing the campaign ads for Bush and Kerry, but do you know what
Eisenhower's TV ads sounded like? You're about to hear a couple along with
several other influential presidential campaign ads from the past few decades.
The American Museum of the Moving Image in New York has a current Internet
exhibition called The Living Room Candidate, which is a history of
presidential campaign ads. It features over 250 ads from every election year,
beginning in 1952 when the first TV campaign ads were broadcast. The
exhibition is on the Internet at the Web site
livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us. My guest, David Schwartz, is the museum's
curator of film, and he's the co-curator of The Living Room Candidate. I
asked him what was the first TV presidential campaign ad.
Mr. DAVID SCHWARTZ (Curator, American Museum of the Moving Image): The first
televised ads for a presidential campaign were used by Eisenhower in 1952, and
it was a really innovative idea at the time. In 1948, there were television
sets in only a few hundred thousand households around the country. By 1952,
there were about 20 million TV sets, and "I Love Lucy" was a big hit on TV, so
it made television very popular. And the Eisenhower campaign had a strategy
which was to buy short spots of time between popular TV shows. And they would
do commercials that were only 20 seconds long. These were the original
soundbites. They did a series of commercials with Eisenhower on camera,
answering questions from ordinary people.
Now the Stevenson campaign felt that television was undignified, and
Stevenson, Adlai Stevenson, did not appear in his own television commercials
that year, because he felt it was beneath the dignity of a presidential
candidate to be on TV in a spot ad.
GROSS: Well, let's hear one of the first presidential campaign ads, and this
was for Eisenhower in 1952. The ad is basically a jingle with a cartoon
behind it. Would you describe what's happening in this cartoon?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: This cartoon was actually made by the Walt Disney Studio, and
you're seeing a parade of people marching towards Washington. And it's
animated. It's an old-fashioned cartoon.
GROSS: And they're all carrying signs that say, `Eisenhower for president,'...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: `We...
GROSS: ...and `I like Ike,'...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Right.
GROSS: ...and things like that.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: And `We like Ike.'
Mr. SCHWARTZ: That's right.
GROSS: OK. So let's hear this 1952 campaign ad for Eisenhower.
(Soundbite of 1952 Eisenhower campaign ad)
Unidentified Vocalists: (Singing in unison) Ike for president. Ike for
president. Ike for president. Ike for president. You like Ike. I like Ike.
Everybody likes Ike for president. Hang out the banner and beat the drum.
We'll take Ike to Washington. We don't want John or Dean or Harry. Let's do
this big job right. Let's get in step with the guy that's hep. Get in step
with Ike. You like Ike. I like Ike. Everybody likes Ike for president.
Hang out the banner, beat the drum. We'll take Ike to Washington. We've got
to get where we are going, travel day and night for the president. Let Adlai
go the other way. We'll all go with Ike for president. You like Ike. I like
Ike. Everybody likes Ike for president. Hang out the banner and beat the
drum. We'll take Ike to Washington. We'll take Ike to Washington.
Unidentified Narrator: Now is the time for all good Americans to come to the
aid of their country. Vote for Eisenhower.
GROSS: Wow. It's really the jingle era, isn't it?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: That is catchy, yeah.
GROSS: Truth in advertising, was Ike really a guy that's hep? What a great
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, Ike was a guy that was very well liked, and it was really
his personality and his likability that fueled his campaign. In 1952, both
parties, both the Democratic and Republican parties wanted Ike to run on their
ticket, and he chose the Republican Party. But what this commercial really is
selling largely is a combination of Ike's personality, and there was a lot of
disillusionment with Washington. Harry Truman had decided not to run for
re-election this year. The country was stuck in the Korean War. There were
corruption scandals in Washington. So there was a real anti-Washington
feeling that year, and Ike was able to, you know, cash in on that.
GROSS: Whose idea was it to do a campaign ad in the Eisenhower campaign crew?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: It was Madison Avenue's idea. There was an advertising man
named Rosser Reeves who, his earlier claim to fame was the M&M `Melts in your
mouth, not in your hands' campaign. And it was really his strategy to produce
these 20-second ads. He thought that would be very effective. He thought
they could reach a lot of people. The Stevenson campaign made a very
interesting choice, and it was a big mistake that year, with their TV
strategy. They purchased half-hour time slots, a series of 18 time slots
between 10:30 and 11:00 at night, where Stevenson would go on the air and do
speeches, half-hour speeches. Now it sounded like a good idea at the time,
and he was a very good speaker, had great oratorical skills. The problem was
that the only people who were really tuning in to watch these half-hour
speeches were people who already were going to vote for Stevenson. The
strategy with the Eisenhower spot ads was they could go onto popular TV shows
like "I Love Lucy" and catch a captive audience that was already there.
GROSS: Let's listen to another Eisenhower ad, also from 1952, in which a
woman expresses her concern about high prices. Before we actually hear this
ad, set it up for us. What's happening visually?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Each of these ads--this is the `Eisenhower Answers America'
spot--consists of two shots. The first shot in the ad--and I think of these
commercials as short movies, and this is a very short movie--you see an
ordinary person; you know, in this case, a woman is concerned about the high
cost of living, high prices, and they ask a question of Eisenhower. And the
person who's asking the question is filmed from above. The camera's sort of
looking down at them. And then we cut to Eisenhower, and in those shots, the
camera's looking up at Eisenhower, so he looks kind of heroic. And he answers
the question of the ordinary person, so he's connecting with the voter.
GROSS: OK, so here we are, an ad for the Eisenhower campaign in 1952.
(Soundbite of 1952 Eisenhower campaign ad)
Unidentified Narrator: Eisenhower answers America.
Unidentified Woman: You know what things cost today. High prices are just
driving me crazy.
General DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER: Yes. My Mamie gets after me about the high
cost of living. It's another reason why I say it's time for a change, time to
get back to an honest dollar and an honest dollar's worth.
GROSS: A couple of things I find really interesting about that 1952
Eisenhower ad. One is that they both absolutely sound like they're reading
the script for the first time. They're not very good at acting the part of
Mr. SCHWARTZ: No, they filmed about 40 of these commercials in one day.
They basically took Eisenhower into a studio in Midtown Manhattan and set him
up in front of a bunch of gigantic cue cards where they had the scripts. And
Eisenhower was a little bit uncomfortable doing this. At one point, probably
about halfway through the session, he said, `It's kind of a shame that an old
soldier should have to come to this.' And he was just reading these answers
off of big cue cards. And he was a little bit stiff perhaps, but probably not
as stiff as Stevenson came across in his TV appearances. But the commercials
look kind of crude. Eisenhower's answers were filmed separately from these
ordinary people who were rounded up in front of Radio City Music Hall and
brought in. After Eisenhower's answers were filmed, ordinary people were
brought in to ask their questions.
GROSS: The other thing about this ad is that it sounds so condescending to
women now. It's like, you know, the woman complains about high prices, and
Eisenhower basically says, `I've never made a purchase in my life, but there's
a woman in my home, she's my wife, she's shopped, and she's told me that
prices are high.' You know, that's how it kind of comes off.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, it was 1952.
GROSS: I know. I know. I know.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: And those were the rules for the time.
GROSS: Everything in retrospect.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: And Eisenhower did try to reach women voters, actually, in both
'52 and '56. There was a growing suburban population and sort of an
increasing importance of the housewife, you know, at the time as a voting
block. So this was Eisenhower's pitch to the woman voter. But also, the
Eisenhower campaign identified three key issues to focus on. One was high
prices. Another one was the war in Korea. And then it was corruption in
Washington. And these ads keep hitting on these three key issues.
GROSS: So was this, you know, quote, "ordinary people ad" effective?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: It's hard to say if this ad was determinative in the election.
Eisenhower would have won this election almost under any circumstances. It
was a landslide election. But I think it was effective, because the
Eisenhower campaign spent about a million dollars putting their ads on TV, or
actually close to $2 million. The Stevenson campaign only spent about $77,000
in TV ads that year. In 1956, when it was a rematch of Eisenhower vs.
Stevenson, Stevenson decided to do his own series of ads called "The Man From
Libertyville," and he appeared on television. So after 1952, it was evident
that candidates would have to do these commercials and style themselves as TV
stars, even though they were reluctant. Even though Stevenson and Eisenhower
both were kind of reluctant to become TV actors, they realized they had to do
GROSS: Now Kennedy was--John F. Kennedy was very telegenic. What were his TV
Mr. SCHWARTZ: John Kennedy's TV ads really reflected the spontaneity and
freshness of his campaign. He was great on television. Of course, it's very
well known that the debates--that he looked much better than Richard Nixon in
the debates. He was a lot fresher and more spontaneous. And the spontaneity
of the campaign was captured by documentary film cameras. At the time, in
1960, filmmakers were starting to use lightweight portable cameras. And
often, Kennedy's campaign appearances were filmed. Cameras would follow him
into--you know, follow him around making speeches, follow him into people's
living rooms. There's one ad that we have on our site which is Kennedy in an
ordinary living room, talking to average voters. Really the personality and
freshness of the Kennedy campaign came across in his TV ads.
(Soundbite of Kennedy campaign ad)
Unidentified Announcer: This is the Sills(ph) family. Recently, John F.
Kennedy visited the Sills.
Senator JOHN F. KENNEDY: Mr. and Mrs. Sills are facing one of the great
problems that all American families are now facing, and that is the great
increase in the cost of living.
Mrs. SILL: Our rent has gone up. Our food, our cleaning of our clothing,
buying of the clothing, our gas and electric and our telephone bills have gone
Sen. KENNEDY: What's been your experience, Mr. Sills...
Mr. SILLS: Well...
Sen. KENNEDY: ...as far as keeping those two daughters of yours going?
Mr. SILLS: We're very concerned with their future. We would like both of
them to go to college.
Sen. KENNEDY: Have you been able to put much aside as far as that?
Mr. SILLS: No, unfortunately, not right now.
Sen. KENNEDY: One of the things which I think has increased the cost of
living has been this administration's reliance upon a high interest rate
policy. My own judgment is that we're going to have to try to do a better job
in this field.
Unidentified Announcer: Yes, we can do better, but to do so, we must elect
the man who cares about America's problems. We must elect John F. Kennedy
GROSS: That's a TV ad from John Kennedy's campaign in 1960. The ad is part
of an exhibit of political ads called The Living Room Candidate, which is on
the Web site of the American Museum of the Moving Image. My guest, David
Schwartz, is the co-curator of the exhibition. We'll be back after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Schwartz, and he's the
chief curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York,
and co-curator of their new exhibit, The Living Room Candidate, which is an
exhibition of political ads, ads which you can also see on their Web site on
Let's skip ahead to a 1964 ad from the Johnson campaign against Barry
Goldwater. Now it's very famous, but it was only run once as a paid political
ad. Would you describe what's happening visually in this ad? And then we'll
play the audio.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: The visuals are, again, two very simple shots that are
juxtaposed. The ad starts off with an image of a young girl who looks like
she's five or six years old, and she's in a field, picking petals off of a
daisy and counting up to 10, and that's the first shot. And as she approaches
10, the camera is zooming in, and it closes in on her eye. And then we start
to hear an ominous voice, a countdown to a nuclear explosion. And the ad
actually ends with an image of a huge mushroom cloud and the nuclear
GROSS: OK. Let's hear the audio from this 1964 ad by the LBJ campaign.
(Soundbite of LBJ campaign ad)
Unidentified Girl: One, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine,
Unidentified Man #1: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two,
(Soundbite of explosion)
Vice President LYNDON JOHNSON: These are the stakes, to make a world in which
all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love
each other, or we must die.
Unidentified Announcer: Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The
stakes are too high for you to stay home.
GROSS: That's probably the first and the last time that nuclear apocalypse
was used in a campaign ad. Why was this ad taken off the air after one run?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, this was a very effective ad, because it really played
on the fear that Barry Goldwater could get us into a nuclear war. Now
supposedly, Johnson was reluctant to run this ad. It was pretty over-the-top
in a way, because what it was saying was that if you vote for Barry Goldwater,
the world could come to an end. I mean, that's pretty extreme, even for an
attack ad. And it was controversial. As soon as the ad aired--it was shown
during a Movie of the Week broadcast of the movie "David and Bathsheba." As
soon as it aired, the switchboards lit up at the White House and also at the
network, and there were a lot of complaints from the Goldwater campaign that
this ad was just unfair.
Now what's interesting is that Barry Goldwater's name is never even mentioned
in the ad, but the public really knew that he had made some extreme statements
at the convention that year. He said that extremism in the defense of liberty
is no vice, and he had advocated the possible use of nuclear weapons in
Vietnam, tactical nuclear weapons. So this ad really played into that fear.
This was the year of "Dr. Strangelove" also. And a lot of times, what you'll
find is that the commercials reflect other things going on in the culture at
that time. So the country was afraid of nuclear war.
But the Johnson campaign tried this ad out, and they had a lot of other attack
ads that they had also made. And their idea was to just run this one time.
They thought that if you ran an ad too many times, the audience might get
bored with it. They wanted to keep trying out different ads. But what
happened was the ad instantly went from a paid advertisement to a major news
story. So as soon as the Goldwater campaign complained about it, the network
news broadcast started replaying the ad and talking about it. And so the
Johnson campaign didn't have to pay for it anymore to be on the air. It
became a news story.
GROSS: Oh, is that why they never ran it again, not because it was
controversial, but because it was getting played for free as a news story?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: It was get--sure. It was getting free play all over the
airwaves. Everybody was talking about the ad. And the networks were
rebroadcasting it for free, so why should the Johnson campaign, you know, pay
to put it on again? And they had other campaign ads that were not quite as
strong as that but were strong attack ads, and they were running those other
ads as well.
GROSS: What was the common wisdom about the lessons of this controversial
nuclear war ad?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, I think the lesson from this ad was that attack ads can
be very effective, because we saw Humphrey and Nixon in 1968 do really strong
attack ads. The ad really did two things that really worked at an emotional
level. And I think ultimately if an ad is going to be effective, it has to
work on an emotional level. One thing it did was evoke fear, fear of the end
of the world, but also fear that this little girl would be hurt, who you see.
And then the other thing that the ad did was use children, use an image of a
child. And I think children really touch a deep emotional chord. And
children can be used in ads for a lot of different purposes. They can evoke
fear; they can create a kind of warmth, an image of warmth for the candidate.
And then children can also represent the future; they can represent hope in
the future. So we started to see children in a lot of ads.
GROSS: Let's move on to an ad from 1980 for the Reagan campaign against the
incumbent, Jimmy Carter. And I was really surprised to see this ad. I don't
remember this one from television, but it's an ad featuring Nancy Reagan
sitting in a chair and talking. Describe what's happening visually in this
ad, and then we'll play it.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, we see Nancy Reagan. She's dressed in red. She looks
like a conventional image of a candidate's spouse, a potential first lady in
this case. And she's just talking directly to the camera. So we seem to be
being set up for a sort of upbeat, positive ad, where we're going to hear from
the candidate's wife maybe about how great her husband is.
GROSS: OK. Here's Nancy Reagan in 1980.
(Soundbite of political ad from 1980)
Mrs. NANCY REAGAN: I deeply, deeply resent and am offended by the attacks
that President Carter has made on my husband, the personal attacks that he's
made on my husband, his attempt to paint my husband as a man he is not. He is
not a warmonger. He is not a man who is going to throw the elderly out on the
street and cut out their Social Security. That's a terrible thing to do and
to say about anybody. That's campaigning on fear. There are many issues that
are at stake in this campaign. I would like Mr. Carter to explain to me why
the inflation is as high as it is, why unemployment is as high as it is. I
would like to have him explain the vacillating, weak foreign policy so that
our friends overseas don't know what we're going to do, whether we're going to
stand up for them or whether we're not going to stand up for them. And the
issue of this campaign is his three-and-a-half-year record.
Unidentified Man #2: The time is now for strong leadership.
GROSS: That's Nancy Reagan in a 1980 campaign ad for her husband. Did she
have to be convinced to do this ad, do you know?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Oh, I don't know. I think that Nancy Reagan was quite happy to
be, I guess you could say, an attack dog for her husband. She was very strong
and outspoken. And the idea in the 1980 campaign was to let other people do
the dirty work and have Reagan come across as a nice guy, you know, saying,
`There you go again,' in the debate to Jimmy Carter, being affable. So I
think Nancy was quite happy to do some of the dirty work in this ad.
GROSS: Was this ad effective, do you know?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: I think this is a very effective ad because it does a really
neat trick. It starts off as a defense of her husband; it's Nancy defending
her husband from attack. And then halfway through the ad, she turns it around
and she goes on the attack against Jimmy Carter. And she's lecturing him.
She's saying, you know, `I want Jimmy Carter to answer to me.' I mean, that's
a pretty amazing way to talk to the president of the United States. And I
think some of the best politicians, the real masters of the form, know how to
sort of start off seeming nice and then go on the attack. And the whole 1980
campaign that Reagan campaigned against Carter really had to attack Jimmy
Carter as president. You know, when you have an incumbent president, you
really have to convince the country that they've done a bad job or that they
should be replaced. So I think this ad really, really did that trick.
GROSS: David Schwartz is curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving
Image in New York and co-curator of its Internet exhibition of political
campaign ads, The Living Room Candidate. You can find the exhibition at
movingimage.us. Schwartz will be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, investigating the claims of Bush and Kerry campaign ads.
We talk with journalist Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political Fact
Check. His analyses are on their Web site, factcheck.org. We'll also listen
to and discuss more campaign ads from the past with David Schwartz.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with David Schwartz,
co-curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving Image in New York and
co-curator of its Internet exhibition, "The Living Room Candidate." It
features over 250 presidential campaign ads from every election year,
beginning with 1952 when the first TV campaign ads were broadcast. You can
find the exhibition at the Web site movingimage.us.
Now the most famous political campaign of the Reagan era was the "Morning in
America" ad, which is, I think it's fair to say, one of the more famous
political ads in political ad history. This was in the 1984 re-election
campaign. Again, I'm going to ask you to describe what's happening visually
before we hear it.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Basically, we're seeing a montage of images. It's almost like
a moving Norman Rockwell painting. We're seeing a sort of white picket fence,
series of shots of people in a small suburban town going about their business.
It's very upbeat and positive. We don't see Ronald Reagan in the ad, and if
you're just watching the ad, it could be for almost anything. It could be an
ad for an insurance company, a beverage, any kind of product. It's an upbeat,
positive-looking, idealized view of America.
GROSS: OK, let's hear it now. And this is the "Morning in America" ad for
the Reagan campaign in 1984.
(Soundbite of music; "Morning in America" ad)
Mr. HAL RINEY: It's morning again in America. Today more men and women
will go to work than ever before in our country's history. With interest
rates at about half the record highs of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will
buy new homes, more than at any time in the past four years. This afternoon
6,500 young men and women will be married. And with inflation at less than
half of what it was just four years ago, they can look forward with confidence
to the future. It's morning again in America, and under the leadership of
President Reagan, our country's prouder and stronger and better. Why would we
ever want to return to where we were less than four short years ago?
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: The Reagan campaign, 1984, "Morning in America" ad. What is your
reaction to listening to that ad about 20 years after it was made?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: What's interesting about looking back at these ads is that they
really evoke what the campaign was all about. You know, even though these are
one-minute or 30-second ads, this "Morning in America" ad really encapsulates
and summarizes what the Reagan presidency and the re-election campaign was all
about. It was really, you know, premised on this idea of optimism, and that's
what this ad evokes. I mean, what it evokes is why people liked Reagan and
why he won that landslide re-election. So that's one thing that these ads
really do, the ads in our exhibition. They just evoke a time and they evoke
the key issues and feelings of the campaign.
GROSS: I don't know if you'll agree with this, but just in terms of, like,
the music and the announcer's voice...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah.
GROSS: ...it just kind of exemplifies what `middle of the road' meant. You
know, that kind of soothing, non-inflected voice...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: ...with that Muzaky music behind it. And I think now, in 2004, if you
see a movie or hear an audio track that's meant to parody a certain type of...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Right.
GROSS: ...earlier `middle of the road' sound, that's the kind of sound it
would try to evoke.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Yeah. That voice that you're hearing is Hal Riney, who had
done hundreds of ads for all sorts of products. It was a very familiar voice,
that particular voice, that you heard. And...
GROSS: Well, no, he's actually an advertiser, isn't he? He's not just, like,
an announcer. He's...
Mr. SCHWARTZ: I'm sorry. Yes, Hal Riney was a creator of ads; he was an ad
producer. But he had a great voice.
GROSS: I didn't realize he did his own voices.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: And he did this voiceover. This is Hal Riney that you're
listening to. Yeah, it's true the ads really used sort of the tricks and
tools of their time, and they can tend to look a little bit dated. So you can
look back at the old ads and say, `How did they get away with that technique?'
You know, the techniques become kind of transparent over time. But they
worked. And, you know, you couldn't always get away with a "Morning in
America" kind of ad, but it just happened to work at this time in 1984. The
country had gone through traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, and the country
really wanted to believe this ad. They wanted to believe it was morning in
America. Now if you tried to do a "Morning in America" campaign this year, I
don't think it would ring true. I don't think the general feeling now is that
it's morning in America.
GROSS: Four years after the Reagan ad that we just heard, Michael Dukakis
took out an ad saying that he had a (audio loss) with George H.W. Bush's
misleading ads. What was Dukakis reacting against?
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Dukakis was reacting against a number of really strong attack
ads. The 1988 campaign was very, very nasty. The Bush campaign that year was
headed by Roger Ailes. And Dukakis was in very solid shape after the
Democratic convention, about 17 points up in the polls, and the ads were just
very, very strong. It was a classic campaign where the Republicans tried to
paint the Democrat as a weak Massachusetts liberal, which I guess we're
hearing a lot again this year.
And there was one ad in particular that really got Dukakis upset, where he
was--they used a photo opportunity where Dukakis was riding around in a tank
in a military helmet. I mean, everybody can visualize this ad, I think,
because it's been replayed so many times. And the ad ridiculed the idea of
Dukakis as commander in chief and said that he was going to cut all these
important defense programs. Factually the ad was untrue. I mean, it was
making claims that were just plain not true. But what was really effective
was this image of Dukakis in a tank and the idea that he would look kind of
silly as commander in chief.
GROSS: So let's listen to this 1988 Dukakis ad. And, again, before we do,
I'm going to ask you to describe what we would be seeing if we were, in fact,
Mr. SCHWARTZ: What we're going to be seeing is an angry Michael Dukakis
turning off the TV set after having watched a Bush attack ad against him. And
he's in a white shirt, sort of the Harry Truman look: you know,
plain-speaking, tough, angry Democrat. And he's talking directly to the
camera, directly to the voters.
GROSS: OK, let's hear it in 1988.
(Soundbite of 1998 Dukakis ad)
Governor MICHAEL DUKAKIS: I'm fed up with it. Haven't seen anything like it
in 25 years of public life, George Bush's negative TV ads: distorting my
record, full of lies and he knows it. I'm on the record for the very weapons
systems his ads say I'm against. I want to build a strong defense; I'm sure
he wants to build a strong defense. So this isn't about defense issues. It's
about dragging the truth into the gutter, and I'm not going to let them do it.
This campaign is too important, the stakes are too high for every American
family. The real question is: Will we have a president who fights for the
privileged few, or will we have a president who fights for you? George Bush
wants to give the wealthiest 1 percent of the people in this country a new tax
break worth $30,000 a year. I'm fighting for you and your family, for
affordable housing and health care, for better jobs, for the best education
and opportunity for our children. It's a tough fight, I know that, uphill all
the way. But I'm going to keep on fighting because what I'm fighting for is
GROSS: A Michael Dukakis campaign ad in 1988.
Well, this is a very literal counterattack. I mean, he's watching the TV with
the ad against him. He turns it off, says to the audience, `This is
misleading. They're misrepresenting me.' How do you think it played? Do you
have any idea if it registered on the American public? I'm sure it's what a
lot of candidates would like to do (laughs)--You know what I mean?--who feel
that they've been misrepresented by an ad.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, what's really interesting about this ad is that Dukakis
had been criticized earlier in the campaign for not responding to attacks. He
was being attacked every day by the Bush campaign, and he wasn't fighting
back. And then he decided to fight back. And I think the problem with
fighting back and being so direct in your response is that you can start to
look defensive. You know, if you go on the air responding to every single
attack, it puts you in a defensive position. And I think what's really
interesting is to compare the John Kerry strategy of this year to the Dukakis
strategy in 1988 because we're hearing the same exact attacks from the
And one of the real interesting things when you look at the ads from 1952 to
the present is there's some very basic strategies that are used over and over
again. The Republicans love to say that they're strong on military, and that
if you vote for the Democrat, they're going to cut our defense system and
they'll be weak. And they love to say that they're going to cut your taxes.
The Democrats love to say, `We're going to fight for the average person.' And
that's what you hear in this ad, and that's what you hear over and over again.
And we're hearing the same exact issues and themes coming up in this year's
GROSS: Well, David Schwartz, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. SCHWARTZ: Well, thanks a lot. It's been a pleasure.
GROSS: David Schwartz is curator of film at the American Museum of the Moving
Image in New York and co-curator of its Internet exhibition of political
campaign ads, "The Living Room Candidate." You can find the exhibition at
Coming up, fact-checking Bush and Kerry campaign ads. We talk with journalist
Brooks Jackson of Annenberg Political Fact Check. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Brooks Jackson discusses the accuracy of this year's
presidential campaign ads
TERRY GROSS, host:
Kerry's and Bush's campaign ads are making many claims about themselves and
each other. Journalist Brooks Jackson is investigating the accuracy of these
claims. He's the director of Annenberg Political Fact Check. The group's
analyses can be found at their Web site, FactCheck.org. Jackson has
covered Washington and national politics for The Wall Street Journal and CNN.
I asked him to describe how this year's presidential campaign ads are defining
the candidates, starting with the Bush spots.
Mr. BROOKS JACKSON (Director, Annenberg Political Fact Check): Yeah, they
follow a historical pattern here. If you go back to 1996, the last time we
had an incumbent running for re-election against a challenger, Bill Clinton
ran something like $50 million worth of ads against Bob Dole in the same
period before the convention and after the opposition party became known. It
worked for Clinton. He was able to define Dole as a Newt Gingrich clone who
wanted to take away your grandmother's Medicare. And by the time Bob Dole had
the nomination at the convention, the election was pretty much over because
Dole didn't have any money to spend against Clinton during that period.
The Bush folks now have tried to do the same thing to John Kerry. In this
case, though, it's the Democrats--both Kerry and allied Democratic groups on
his side have plenty of money, and it has been a battle royal. But the Bush
campaign has run primarily negative ads trying to define John Kerry, who isn't
known very well by the public even now, in very negative terms: as a big
taxer; as a fellow who does not support the military, even in times of war;
and, generally, an untrustworthy fellow.
GROSS: And what about the John Kerry campaign ads? How would you
Mr. JACKSON: Well, I'll answer that by saying on the Democratic side, you've
had a balance. You've had John Kerry, the campaign itself, being
predominantly positive--kind of out of necessity. They need to introduce John
Kerry, and they're trying to portray his biography, his Vietnam service, his
years in the Senate. So you see a lot of full-color ads often with Kerry
speaking directly to camera about his lofty goals for the presidency, should
he be elected, and not doing a whole lot of attacking of Bush himself.
However, there are tens of millions of dollars' worth of ads being run by
independent Democratic groups, primarily MoveOn.org and allied groups--they
have a pack; they have three different groups--and by The Media Fund. And
they have been almost 100 percent attacking Bush. So you've had a one-two
punch on the Democratic side: Kerry trying to boost himself and introduce
himself to the public, while other groups have been beating up on the
GROSS: Well, Brooks Jackson, I'd like you to choose an ad from each side that
you think has actual problems and kind of typifies what happens when one
political ad is misleading. Let's start with the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Mr. JACKSON: OK. Well, one good example here of the way facts get
manipulated is a Bush ad called `Patriot Act.' And this ad falsely implies
that John Kerry would repeal wiretaps of terrorists.
GROSS: Let's hear it.
(Soundbite of Bush-Cheney ad)
Unidentified Announcer #1: President Bush signed the Patriot Act giving law
enforcement vital tools to fight terrorism. John Kerry--he voted for the
Patriot Act, but pressured by fellow liberals, he's changed his position.
While wiretaps, subpoena powers and surveillances are routinely used against
drug dealers and organized crime, Kerry would now repeal the Patriot Act's use
of these tools against terrorists. John Kerry playing politics with national
GROSS: We just heard an ad for the re-election of President Bush. And my
guest, Brooks Jackson, is the director of Annenberg Political Fact Check,
which fact-checks political ads.
So, Brooks Jackson, what are some of the facts that are misleading here?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, the wording of that ad could leave some of our listeners
and viewers who saw it with the impression that Kerry opposes wiretapping
suspected terrorists across the board, and that's false. What Kerry has been
advocating is stronger oversight by judges for some particular types of
wiretaps, roving wiretaps, that are contained in the Patriot Act. This ad
says he would repeal the Patriot Act. He's called for replacing it, but the
reforms that he would make of it are not a wholesale getting rid of the
Patriot Act. They are, as I mentioned, things like providing stronger
judicial oversight for these kinds of wiretaps for what are called
sneak-and-peek warrants, where the subject of the search warrant isn't
informed even after the search of what's going on, things of that nature.
GROSS: Now this ad also says that he changed his position on the Patriot Act
after being pressured by liberals.
Mr. JACKSON: Well, you know, that's such a laugh because if you look at who's
against this, sure, lots of liberals are against it. The American Civil
Liberties Union is apoplectic about this. Librarians are up in arms even.
But guess who else is up in arms against it? Bob Barr, the former congressman
who was pushing to impeach Bill Clinton, and a number of Republicans in the
Senate have sponsored the same legislation that John Kerry has sponsored to
bring about some refinements to the Patriot Act. So the opposition to what
are seen as intrusions of personal liberties in the Patriot Act is a
bipartisan thing. And to suggest that John Kerry was pressured only by
liberals and that's only a liberal position really misstates the case.
GROSS: Let's listen to an ad in support of John Kerry that you think is
factually misleading. Now you said before most of the official ads from the
Kerry campaign have been just trying to put Kerry in a positive light, talk
positively about his life and his politics. And it's mostly been the
independent groups that are taking out the independent, negative ads. So
should we listen to an ad from one of those independent groups?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, a good example of an independent ad on the Democratic side
is one run by an environmental group saying that, `The president opened up
Florida's coast to offshore drilling.'
GROSS: Well, let's hear it.
(Soundbite of music; political ad)
President GEORGE W. BUSH: As you can see, there is no ambiguity in my
position on drilling off the coast of Florida.
Unidentified Announcer #2: There sure isn't. President Bush opened up
Florida's coast to offshore drilling, and he supported an energy bill that
could lead to even more. Well, what would you expect from a Texas oilman?
Just one accident can destroy a coastline.
Pres. BUSH: So we've got to put programs in place to help Mother Nature.
Unidentified Announcer #2: Mr. President, your oil drilling off Florida's
coast isn't one of them.
GROSS: So that's an ad for Kerry that was funded by the League of
Conservation Voters and ran only in the state of Florida. Brooks Jackson,
what do you find factually misleading about this ad?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, I think when most people hear the phrase `opened up the
coast,' they think of oil wells offshore, perhaps within view, but pretty
close. The fact is that what George Bush did was not allow drilling anywhere
within 100 miles of any point on the Florida coast. There was a proposal in
the Interior Department during the Clinton administration that would have
allowed oil and gas drilling on a tract that, at one point, came within 16
miles of some Florida beaches. The Bush administration proposed going forward
with that. There was an uproar, and they cut it back severely. And as I say,
the tract that was eventually approved at its nearest point is 100 miles out
in the Florida Gulf. Now the League of Conservation Voters will tell you--and
they wrote us a letter about this--that 100 miles is still too close. But the
impression, I think, most viewers would get from that ad is that what Bush
approved was a lot closer to the Florida coast than 100 miles away.
GROSS: My guest is journalist Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political
Fact Check. His analyses of campaign ads can be found at their Web site,
FactCheck.org. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is journalist Brooks Jackson. He's now director of Annenberg
Political Fact Check, and this is a group that fact-checks political campaign
ads and writes up their results on FactCheck.org.
Now what recourse does a candidate have when they feel that an ad about them
has been factually misleading?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, what recourse? You know, one thing people are a little
surprised to hear is that it's perfectly legal for candidates and campaigns to
lie just as much as they want in a TV ad. We don't have the same protections
when it comes to politics that we have when it comes to commercial products.
The Federal Trade Commission polices ads for commercial products, and they
levy fines even when advertisers run ads that are misleading about silly
things like toys and dolls and things. But because of the First Amendment and
the Constitution, we don't have the federal government lurking about trying to
censor political ads. And in my personal view, that says it should be.
GROSS: You don't think they should be some kind of truth-in-advertising
Mr. JACKSON: I just don't know how that would work. We actually wrote an
article on this on our Web site. A couple of states have tried it, two or
three states. They've run into problems in the courts. And those that have a
valid law, the enforcement is--it's just not much and not very effective.
It's really up to the voters and up to journalists to sort these things out.
Nobody said democracy was going to be easy, but I think that's our job, as
journalists, to help voters sort through these conflicting claims.
GROSS: How have you seen the candidates responding to misleading ads this
Mr. JACKSON: Well, not by pulling them off the air, that's for sure. They're
incorrigible. We found plenty to criticize on both sides, Democratic and
Republican. In a couple of instances we've had protests, and we've published
letters of people who say they still disagree with us and think they were
right. But the campaigns, even though they're called out on these things,
continue to run the ads.
GROSS: And what about the target of these misleading ads? How effectively do
you think Kerry has responded to misleading ads by the Bush campaign? And,
vice versa, how effectively do you think Bush has responded to misleading ads
that support Kerry?
Mr. JACKSON: Well, they both respond, that's for sure. And you get plenty of
help when you're in my business, fact-checking these things, from both
campaigns. They'll tell you in a minute what they think is wrong with the
other side's campaigns. Sometimes they just try to change the subject.
Sometimes they point to things that really do have some substance to them.
But I don't know how much trust any undecided voter is going to place in what
either side says about the other's ads. That's why it's important for some
trusted third party--and that's really where voters need to go: find some
neutral party that they trust that is willing to sort through these things for
them and help them out.
GROSS: Were there any ads this year that you felt, `This is a paragon of
accuracy. This ad is informative and accurate and helpful to voters'?
Mr. JACKSON: You know, I think ads in general, for all the criticism we make
of them at FactCheck.org, are in general somewhat helpful to voters. If they
are viewed and listened to with a critical eye and ear, if they're
supplemented with additional information from trusted sources, they make you
curious about what the campaign's talking about. They are helpful. And the
majority of ads we don't find a reason to fault on our Web site. Many of the
ads on both sides are close enough (laughs). If there's a little puffery here
and there, it's within bounds.
But I think that, in general, the 30-second ad is a poor medium for getting
across a whole lot of information. You can't--if all that you knew was what
you saw on television ads run by the candidates and run by their allied
groups, you would be a very poorly informed and sometimes misinformed voter.
But as a supplement to reading the newspapers and watching the candidates'
actual speeches and perhaps seeking out additional information on the Internet
or other places, they do get across some useful information.
GROSS: So do you get to see these ads for the first time on television and on
the Internet, or do the political campaigns actually, you know, alert you to
the fact that these ads are about to premiere?
Mr. JACKSON: Yes, they're actually quite systematic now. Both campaigns and
the parties and even the independent groups will e-mail to interested
reporters press releases about their upcoming ads. Sometimes there are
conference call to explain and take questions about them. The ads are
normally available on the various Web sites before they ever hit the air. So
we get them pretty efficiently now. When I first started doing this, you'd
need to send messengers around to get videotape, and that's not necessary
anymore with broadband access. You can take a look at these things right at
GROSS: Well, Brooks Jackson, I want to thank you very much for talking with
Mr. JACKSON: Terry, it's been a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: Brooks Jackson is the director of Annenberg Political Fact Check. The
group's analyses of the Bush and Kerry campaign ads are on the Web site
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.