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6 How Receivers’ Characteristics Matter D URING THE FALL 2004 presidential election, two major controversies rocked the political world. The first involved a 60 Minutes II story aired on September 8, 2004, about George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard in the late 1960s. The story claimed that Bush’s father, the Republican Congressman George H. W. Bush, pulled strings to get his son into the Texas National Guard, thereby shielding him from being drafted to serve in Vietnam. The broadcast produced a significant backlash, however, when some alleged that the documents used to verify the report were not genuine. In the days following the broadcast, CBS was unable to convincingly prove that the documents were real. In the aftermath of the 2004 election , an independent panel determined that 60 Minutes had not followed “basic journalistic principles” in investigating the story, leading the reporter, Dan Rather, to retire from CBS News after more than forty years with the network (Steinberg and Carter 2005). The second controversy involved the Vietnam service of John Kerry, Bush’s opponent in 2004. A collection of Vietnam veterans formed a group that year called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and sponsored thousands of television ads challenging Kerry’s patriotism and military service (Franz, Rivlin, and Goldstein 2006). In one particularly memorable ad, which aired in late September, an announcer 104 Î Chapter 6 told viewers, against the backdrop of images of a youthful John Kerry and Jane Fonda: Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris, though we were still at war and Americans were being held in North Vietnamese prison camps. Then he returned and accused American troops of committing war crimes on a daily basis. Eventually, Jane Fonda apologized for her activities, but John Kerry refuses to. In a time of war, can America trust a man who betrayed his country? We highlight these two controversies because they represent a fundamental difference in the type of political information that voters encounter during a political campaign; in short, some is quite complicated , while some is easy to understand. For our purposes in this book, we believe that different types of voters should respond in unique ways to the 60 Minutes story and Swift Boat ads. The National Guard report, for example, and the ensuing controversy over its veracity, represents complicated political information with a number of subplots. One involved Bush’s entry into the National Guard. Another involved his absence from a physical during his stint in Georgia. Some of the supporting characters in the story had died twenty years earlier, and some were still close friends of the Bush family. Most important, the basics of the story were conveyed chiefly through punditry on cable news, in print media, and on blogs. Thus, it was a story that was likely difficult for those who are low in political knowledge to comprehend. Indeed, a Gallup poll in late September 2004 reported that only 22 percent of Americans were paying “very close” attention to the story.1 In contrast, the Swift Boat Veterans spelled out quite clearly the narrative they hoped to convey: John Kerry had lied about his military service, and he betrayed his fellow American soldiers by protesting the war when he returned to America. To be fair, this story had some complicated elements, as well. It was, for instance, nearly thirty years old, 1 The same poll found that 35 percent of respondents reported paying “not much” or “no” attention to the controversy, while 43 percent reported paying “some” attention to the story. Retrieved from the “Gallup Brain” search engine, at, http://brain.gallup.com/home .aspx, on April 10, 2008. How Receivers’ Characteristics Matter D 105 and it was debated ad nauseam on cable and talk radio. But unlike the Texas National Guard story, the Swift Boat narrative was contained in attractive thirty- and sixty-second ads that were hard to ignore and easy to understand—even for those with low levels of political knowledge. Consider this: between September 1 and Election Day, the New York Times ran ninety-four stories that contained some reference to the Swift Boat Veterans. It featured fifty stories that made note of 60 Minutes’ National Guard report. On CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, the Swift Boat Veterans were noted 400 times, while the National Guard story was discussed 255 times.2 Both stories received ample news coverage. In the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781439903346
Related ISBN
9781439903339
MARC Record
OCLC
719377497
Pages
186
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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