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A Qualitative Exploration into Voters' Ethical Perceptions of Political Advertising: Discourse, Disinformation, and Moral Boundaries Author(s): Steven

Kates Reviewed work(s): Source: Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 17, No. 16 (Dec., 1998), pp. 1871-1885 Published by: Springer Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25074024 . Accessed: 07/02/2012 16:07
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A Qualitative
Voters' Ethical

Exploration
Perceptions and Moral

into
of Steven Kates

Political Advertising:
Disinformation,

Discourse,
Boundaries

ABSTRACT. Political campaign advertising continues to be a controversial policy topic in advertising and
marketing research. It is also a prime subject for inves

Many political article,

academics advertising. Faber (1992)

have

studies

the

effects

of

In a recent summarized the conclusion evolved.

comprehensive the relevant that various The so-called

the ethical evaluations of consumers (or tigating The following draws from postmodern voters). study
communication research intimate methodology and subjective theory and in employs to order about qualitative voters' explore politics, candi a

research, reaching streams of research 'limited the effects' and model 1950's

have

views

1960's

dates,
emergent

and political
themes

advertising.
relating to

The
significant

findings
media

include
rituals

tingency believed certain

perspective. to work under

(see Rothschild, 1978) of to a con has given way is Political advertising certain conditions types types for of

in voters'
a 'game',

lives, the cynical


and the widespread

perspective
disapproval

of politics
and suspi

as

cion with advertising.


ical

which
as

voters

Additionally, upon. Findings


of

regard negative political the a priori theme of polit


was proposed and

and for certain types of voters such as image development, purposes or attacking The opponents. setting, have been asked questions which still being include the asked) political advertising issue agenda (Iyengar determine

agenda of are

(and indeed,

information

'disinformation'

expanded
greater

are discussed
the appropriateness perspective

in light of a
of of the polit of

can following: the electorate's 1985)? Do to damage

understanding versus traditional the ical communication,

postmodern informants'

construction

'moral boundaries'
from wrong, in behaviours this

which

help
vs.

them determine

right

negative polispots the opponent's credibility Hensen, 1991;

have

and Kinder, the potential and

acceptable particular

unacceptable context.

political

Johnson-Cartee

image (James and and Copeland,

1991; Pfau

and Kenski,

1990; Hill,

1989;

enhance Merritt, 1984)? Can political advertising the sponsor candidate's and chances of image elected and Sigelman, (Meadows 1982)? being stream of research, Another just as critical
but not as extensive as the previous one, seeks

Introduction Since mercials the United expressed marketing President in his Eisenhower 1952 used television com

in presidential campaign academics and critics have States, concern are their that politicians

devaluing this time, politicians in many and varied to create platforms, messages

'like soap' or are somehow the democratic system. Since political themselves have the media

to explore the ethical nature of political adver con rather than its efficacy under various tising, ditions 1991; Cooper, 1991; (Banker, 1992; Kaid, kind of Cronbeck, 1991; Sabato, 1981). This asks the following types of questions: inquiry does voters political from or encourage discourage or thus promoting participating, Do politicians the democratic process? advertising claims or stretch impression Atkin, a the truth, creating of the political system and Cole, Pinkleton, 1990)?

employed it contexts, using ostensibly and develop their images, explain their and communicate various types of to the public.

harming exaggerate negative

(Garramone,

1998. Journal of Business Ethics 17: 1871-1885, ? 1998 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in theNetherlands.

1872 Steven Kates Can a cynical envi are discouraged from from independent Can advertising voting? parties as political action committees known (commonly or PAC's) voters to favour influence special negative advertising ronment voters in which create interests (Garramone such as and latter anti-abortion Smith, 1984; or free trade Garramone, to capture the atti study is unable experimental an entire tudes and thoughts of voters during nature or entirety The holistic of the campaign. out left is and process (Johnson-Cartee Copeland, studies, or those 1991). Longitudinal effects over an appropriate investigating period of are one unknown. time, virtually Certainly, polispot may or may not have the effect of alien some voters. be runs over However, the course a campaign or months, an impression is which during of weeks

1985)?
are undoubt types of questions a democratic as in system, edly critical political issue of the societal they allude to the perplexing and advertising. So contro effects of marketing These versial ments, Britain govern questions those Great of Canada, including and the United States, have attempted to place restrictions communica upon political their respective elections tions during through legislative bodies (Michalos, (1976). Usually 1991; Laczniak these bills and are these that various

ating which

a voter may entirely toward

left with

of his or her sentiments independent one political commercial. A campaign of political is a conglomerate ads, other campaign activities media coverage, (such and leaflets), and a number of other much of the influences. Furthermore, potential environment's external stimuli is viewed from prior knowledge or issues. candidates concerning opinions our to build in order and extend Thus, upon current of political understanding advertising's in society, a phenomenological study was impact a small of here, exploring performed sample to understand and expand their voters, upon and intimate, concerning
communication.

as debates

Caywood,
Heretenbaum denounced

1987; Elebash,

1984; Szybillo

and
are

the perspective

of

candidates'

as infringements the right to upon and are free expression in a democratic society in the courts. Yet, the uneasy question challenged still remains: do the marketing activities of polit deleterious influ ical activities have potentially ence attitudes ramone is more voter turnout upon toward politicians? academic et al.'s (1990) than imagined decried and widespread

detailed

knowledge advertising

and

sentiments and political

campaign

Previous

Gar studies, including have argued that the threat real. Yet, the media activities ad have such campaign 'Willie Horton'

(The 25, 1992) of the presidential January of 1988. Academic work has previously campaign studies of the psy focused upon experimental et ads (Garramone effects of particular chological and Boydston, 1987; 1989; Kaid al., 1990; Hill, 1985; Garramone Garramone, 1984; Garramone, Economist,

generally as the controversial

certain

The Ethics what

ethics

of

political

communication

the discipline of determining is, essentially, one ought and out not to do (Tsalikis and there has the last decade, Fritzsche, 1989). Over in marketing research been considerable work

and Smith,
While these

1984; Merritt,
studies are

1984; Kaid,

1976).

they do have point, that the dubious conclusion leads one to question a ads do not harm or prevent healthy political political time. often First, do not take thus, voters groups, gories. who debate from election occurring during use and students studies into account the views of different socio-economic

up to a enlightening limitations serious which

business ethics (for a comprehensive studying and Fritzsche, review, please see Tsalikis 1989) in various and situations Vitell 1992; (Armstrong, and Chonko, 1992; Hunt 1987; Krohn Muncy, a valid scale and in developing and Milner, 1989), of measuring (Reidenbach, Reidenbach advertising perspective, negative acceptable the general evaluations Robin, and Robin, has also been with Banker of marketing and Dawson, 1990, discussed activities 1991; 1988). Political from an ethical arguing that is in Kaid

are from

or other age groups, and perhaps Further,

cate demographic more an seriously,

political as another

(1992) in advertising source of of

particular information and

'marketplace

ideas'

Discourse,

Disinformation,

and Moral
. .

Boundaries
the

1873
traditional that take

various pertinent issues relating (1991) reviewing to the ethical nature of political ads: the truth fulness of the ads, their manipulative qualities, and their deceptive attributes. technical What this area tion and seems to unite in the body of literature is the positivistic, orienta quantitative the implicit that consumers assumption

. unlike

approaches

individual
what

freedom

and choice
ethical

as the ground
postmodern

for

constitutes

behaviour,

take such individual and freedom approaches choice to be the end that ethical behaviour seeks. Consequently, political advocacy can be examined on individual freedom and choice. for its impact In the the assumptions view, postmodern to become according problematics, If the political discourse is such that

and actors in the private (or voters) (or public) are able to evaluate in a realms information manner. This 'traditional' meaningful stresses open which debate, choice, approach and democratic process may be con rationality, a postmodern one which would trasted with rational, the notion that voters are in challenge to evaluate the veracity of claims, any position or meaningfully to persuasion, offer resistance explicitly in the political system (Cooper, 1991). participate to the traditional As an alternative approach on 1991), thee postmodern (Cooper, perspective as expressed ethics, by the French philosopher the voter Michel Foucault 1985), views (1980, to be entrapped in a number of previously created political 'discourses' defined here as the of historical, of reality or the web structuring forces and cultural social, political, linguistic which the world 1990). Ethics, (Pronger, shape one as the relationships is defined furthermore, to have with and with others oneself ought (Foucault, perspective in the various tions?", 1980). which In contrast to the traditional might forms of ask "is 'truth' present communica

or givens Foucault. the voter

to ratio is, in fact, unable or unwilling a campaign or participate in the nally evaluate ? or to a plethora democratic is subjected process are of ads which and financed by sponsored interests include those of (which may special mainstream then the 'market political parties) described of ideas' concept previously place becomes may a problematic. Political problematics include
. . . the tells categories us neither why of the rhetorical occasions, situation. speakers, It and

certain

nor what unspoken interests topics are privileged, are served, nor what audiences excluded [are] (Charland, 1990, p. 262). In other words, the participation is significantly constrained of the 'received view' of 1980). Within of the ordinary by the bound established this dis theoretical

citizen aries

political the postmodern begins by perspective of freedom whether the assumptions questioning and choice within the existing political discourse are valid, legitimate ones, for if they are not, then or not 'truth' is contained it is irrelevant whether

(Foucault, one may it is questionable whether framework, exer the voter as a rational being conceptualize reasonable and cising independent judgment within the context the Elaboration (Petty of, say, the central for Likelihood Model, 1983; Cacioppo route of example and Petty,

course

and Cacioppo,

within rational

the

advertisements is unable

of not.

if a voter

or unwilling

example, to evaluate the

For

1985).
If one sion the not that so-called rational accepts persua is not always occurring in the minds of is happening? what While electorate, just on to in the literature eluded explicitly it is likely that the of quantities absorbing an election campaign. used extensively in the is defined as follows:

claims

antipathy laziness, or other reasons), of the truth. As a minimum, become persuaded must the "truth, process political provide and access to channels of information, adequate communication" very modernist these 1991, p. 25). It iswith basic assumptions which the post takes issue as expressed perspective (Cooper,

in a polispot toward government

(due to cynicism, or politicians, then he or she cannot

communication, is receiving and public 'disinformation' during political Disinformation, field of military a term

intelligence,

quite succinctly by Cooper

(1991):

. . . The dissemination mation especially when


its agents to a foreign

of deliberately false infor or supplied by government


power or to the media, with

1874 Steven Kates the intention of influencing receive of those who or the policies it; false informa Dictionary; the with and a discussion for future of work these will

study,

findings,

opinions tion so supplied (The Oxford 2nd edition, 1989). The disinformation

English

findings now follow.

implications

constitute research, harmonious

of view (which will point a priori of this the theme single the rest being emergent ones), while with the ethics postmodern view of (Foucault, with more is not 1984), traditional per the false recognize

Methodology
Qualitative methodology have made an phenomenological over considerable progress in fields such as marketing research 1989; Guba, Glaser 1991; (Hirschman, and Tybout, Calder 1987; Hirchman, and Strauss, 1967).

communication entirely

techniques the last ten research O'Guinn 1987;

spectives explicitly or misleading nature of some polispots (see Kaid, 1991 for a comprehensive of specifi summary or misleading). What cally how ads may be false

incongruous which do

years or consumer

and Feber, Lincoln and

to be the difference the tradi between appears one is that tional view and the postmodernist assumed that with the former, it is automatically voters will duplicity of to recognize the and willing in the vast 'market of misinformation be able (Banker, and evaluations is more becomes ideas' adjust The appropriately. to postulate likely a critical element 1992) and their latter that of in An in the

1986; Kvale, 1983; The of such work the is to explore purpose consumer 'lived (or voter's) personal subjective, terms. in rich, thick descriptive experience' While such a number upon asMcCracken of researchers have research researched methods and Ozanne and written qualitative

place

opinions view, however, disinformation accepted

(1986), Murray all of the qualita and Hirchman (1991), (1986), an origin share in common of tive perspective to penetrate, endeavours which phenomenology the subjective world and illuminate understand, view of the participant. these While types of or focus as personal interviews methods (such groups) validity they do explore do not make among have general claims of to external consumers, large populations the advantage of being able to or 'gestalt' of a phenomenon the whole at enlightening smaller samples, arriving observations. arise Often, among common participants for further five men voters patterns which research, and five in the

discourse, adding oppressive weight of power. balance the current maintaining is described similar to this situation analogy George Ministry Orwell's of Truth classic 1984 in which

in charge of lies) (which was false information disseminated which routinely as 'doublethink' was subsequently processed term for the complex web of lies, deceit, Orwell's con which and fabrications (i.e. disinformation) stituted
discourse.

among and useful and

his

fictional

world's

political

reality

or

categories other provoke often

of the present purpose study is to inves with political experiences tigate voters' personal Some of the and with disinformation. advertising The questions in the phenomenological Are voters aware information which this study of or are to explore, attempted are as follows: tradition, critical of the in type of

questions nature. of a quantitative In this study, ten participants, all of whom system, were of the author. A are

women, Canadian contacts

eligible selected through taken diverse from

Care was

personal to ensure ranges of

that the participants ages and occupations. with Figure. some Once relevant

came

receiving political they seem to Do they trust it and do they polispots? in' by it? Most do they be 'taken importantly, construct which 'moral boundaries' consciously dictate right standards versus versus unacceptable, acceptable as applied to this political wrong is the level of their context? What The methodology of the

listing of the participants is given in the information interviews selected, (one per long

one hour and a half of approximately informant) to two hours as described (1988) by McCracken were the spring the author during conducted by of 1993 the Canadian constitutional (after both referendum election and in 1992) the American to probe in order presidential in depth the

marketing apparent

sophistication?

Discourse,

Disinformation,

and Moral

Boundaries

1875

Name

Sex M

Age 43

Comments

Jack

voted in last federal general Architect; and in last federal referendum voted in last federal Retired; last federal referendum Office election

election

Ruby

51

and in

George

48

voted in last federal manager; and in last federal referendum voted in last federal

election

Suzanne

24

Secretary;

referendum

Arthur

18

school student; has never voted but is High federal election eligible to vote in upcoming Undergraduate federal election arts student; voted and in last federal in last referendum election

Cari

22

Martin

35

Interior designer; voted in last federal and in last federal referendum Factor worker; voted in last federal election

Francine

29

election and in

Beatric

77

voted in last federal Retired; last federal referendum

Murray

44

voted in last federal Electrician; in last federal referendum

election

and

Figure.

memories, attitudes, opinions, polit participants' ical identity, 'moral codes,' and expe ideologies Ten communications. rience regarding political (which is eight) and is considered for research of this type. Interviewing appropriate was performed until redundancy of themes was discovered. asked and At first, 'grand tour' concerning personal more participants As the politics. penetrating were questions media exposure interviews were pro asked participants by McCracken exceeds the number recommended

ested

are willing to devote the who a diversity to interview I attempted of on the criteria informants of gender, and age, race in order to receive diverse perspectives volunteers time. would both

which

reinforce and challenge my the age dispersion of the Thus, interpretations. was males and females coincidental. As the author, of the Iwas also the interviewer I do not interviews. and interpreter claim that this small

gressed,

on regarding political political and opinions, senti leaders and past campaigns, ments and subjective about 'codes of conduct' the
enced.

questions views advertising,

of the general Canadian, sample is representative or North American American and population, the qualitative, in which humanistic perspective I am working voting alizability. habits, precludes I also asked attitudes extrapolation informants toward about or gener their

commercials In order

they

have

personally

experi

among

my

informants, in order acquaintances

to obtain

I networked to find inter

attitudes parties, political about positive and negative habits or regimens, political

and politicians toward and beliefs media espoused,

advertisements, ideologies

1876 Steven Kates interest them in the I asked and particularly, were issues they believed and elec views. tions Glaser generally and the were order Such member the checks are recommended

to tell me

issues, what

to ensure

trustworthiness and Guba,

important tions focused During established participant. uncertain quickly candour advertising, 'Leading' interviewer independent imposing viewpoint Once scribed

and whether upon the

parties political these issues. rapport was interviewer

(Lincoln and Strauss, further to clear

interviews, between the

While of what 'warmed' their

were somewhat participants was at first, they expected to the topic, expressing with

in the participants which any misunderstandings up and to further elaborate may have occurred upon the meanings of the themes. In almost of all the cases, the participants agreed that the interviewer had faithfully and clearly presented the informa and perspectives to convey. attempted tion which they had originally

1967). with discussed

of the interpreta 1987; Kvale, 1983; The emergent themes

of political opinions campaigns, leaders. parties, and political political were avoided. Rather, the to capture the participants' attempted views of the political world while

questions

a minimum them. upon the interviews and read over to

of

structure

and personal

The Findings: communication After

ethical

nature

of

political

attempted was generated. between interviews monalities with a

tran audiotaped, the researcher times, the data which 'sift' through Comparative analysis was made several to find differences In and com

were

and interpreting reading the various interviews, comparing coherent themes themes suggested constitute

the

data

and of

a number These

themselves.

among participants. keeping rather than approach, phenomenological to impose a preconceived interpretive attempting I searched the for framework data, upon are themes which dictated emergent by largely of polit the participants' lived experience subject ical activity empirically Obviously, itself dictates to media, exposure in the data itself. grounded and and are in pre

or patterns or central topics of the majority of tative literature, is, suggested performed be found being
and

ideas underlying are shared by interests which In much of the quali subjects. themes are either of relevant a priori (that literature

by to prior to the research and expected in the data) or emergent, the latter to the those which themselves suggest after the
As

the review

interpreter a priori

data
stated

is read

several
the

times
one

the postmodernist perspective a certain bias and an existing toward the some evaluation enquiry. political of the under The

cross-compared.

previously,

disposition of information labelling mation'

of even is a value

type a priori ads as 'disinfor to ensure extra field study this

theme as advertising themes which follows:

the integrity to caution research would so not

In order judgment. I took of the research findings, the neutral appear during that participants I accomplished prejudiced. the in the

be

ticularly as instrumental in the lives (which is reviewed as a game to be search for objectivity), politics and won, and the perceived unethical fought nature of the tactics employed in negative polit ical ads.

is the recognition of political The 'disinformation'. emergent arose from the data itself are as ? rituals the central place of media par ? in voters' those including television

that I was not the informants goal by reassuring that their views involved with any political party, that and faithfully would be respected conveyed, and their identities would be kept confidential, my primary on views political ical parties. As a final were interest was to discover media, their own advertising, and polit

Media

rituals and

the search for

objectivity

step

presented believed researcher

with

in the process, the participants the themes which the relevant to their own inter

The and importance of media rituals centrality actions which and serious repeated, scripted, in a and formality take on a major significance to day life (Rook, became 1985) person's day the interviews. apparent during immediately

Discourse, When azines, ticipants of their asked whether or watched

Disinformation,

and Moral

Boundaries

1877

mag they read newspapers, news on the television, par with automatically responded long lists activities. describes Here, his daily

daily media viewing one of the participants, 'Jack', media 'regimen':

to watch a lot of programs to get a It's necessary balanced point of view . . . [news programs] seem to be somewhat more objective and detailed and to people's rather than their appeal rationality
emotions. ? Ruby

On a recent

the other Canadian


allow

I have a regime which I follow. In the morning, news on the radio at six, NBC it's CBC morning news on TV at six-thirty. I read the Globe [and in the morning if I have time. newspaper Mail] There's lots of news so I pick out bits and pieces. ... Then there's CBC TV in the evening Jack Well every developed single media rituals life: I'm bored
while eating

hand, campaign political initiative: referendum


people to sit back and

ads in

. . . didn't

have

an

objective

view

of the issues.

Ruby as a central

had

a place

in

participant's

Iwatch
nothing

the news whenever


else to do, or

and there's
dinner. ?

advertising. Participants to be "okay" that for a communication agreed or moral to be behaving and its sponsors in an ethical the information contained manner, to a significant degree, therein must be perceived, as being free from bias. was described Objectivity in various ways by participants including "logical free of emotions", "a balanced argumentation "what the hell is really going on point of view", in the world", and "accurate and complete infor mation". What participants implicity recognize is that while environment is their tion their elements may contain of the communication lies or distortions, it to obtain enough informa falsehoods truth. and forge In this manner, ensured by the

Overall, objectivity feature and a necessary cation ethics in political

emerged condition

for communi

Arthur A critical of certain of feature the of the media rituals in accepting is the or

selectivity rejecting interviewees great pers), mation deal and

participants communication

unanimously the media

The messages. that they use a agreed and newspa (television

amount this overwhelming of infor to decide for gives them the opportunity what is true or not and evaluate

themselves accordingly:

responsibility to discount in order own version of the ethics

You gotta be choosy about what you watch. What Imean is that there's lots of [news] shows, and you have to watch a few of them to get a good idea of
what's really going on. ? Francine

communication individual Most utilizing

be may the media.

It's not very good [coverage of political events]. It's fairly distorted. You have to read many articles to find little bits of information. - George The both Conscious news acceptance rejection and political lends some advertising to Banker's credence concep (1992) of is free a marketplace to choose own of ideas various in which and of

it was agreed among par interestingly, that the news provided in much more ticipants and objective issue coverage and analysis depth political contradiction observation issue oriented than ads do. This to Patterson that political than news is in direct finding and McClure's (1974) are more ads generally

empirical tualization everyone and for his

among reports each Indeed, opinion. in the study was absorbed in discov participant on" in the world, "what was ering 'really' going a search for paradoxically pursuing subjective and truth. One of the chief criticisms objectivity or her of both ads was media that and political of politics coverage were not they 'objective' enough:

the latter coverage, events without tending campaign going on issue into detail or depth It could analysis. be speculated that in twenty years following the of their book, The Unseeing Eye, news publication ana has gradually into a more evolved coverage to cover after the (particularly more scandal), offering Watergate analysis AND a wider to viewers. of news programming variety lytical All were ads aside, nevertheless, speculation political as peripheral viewed and relatively unim in the context of various media rituals portant and critical vehicle

1878 Steven Kates news pro and in the pursuit of objectivity, while considered was, overall, gramming indispensable: Political negative political
watch

by to

Progressive critical approve

the

Conservation changes to

government the Canadian skepticism con

or if they're positive ads, no matter will tell you what the powerful, only you to know. If you don't parties WANT
the news, you won't get the facts, you won't

in expressing their Constitution) the political process: cerning ...

get analysis, you won't get an idea of what's going on. I don't know how anyone votes if they don't
watch any news ... Murray

I don't know. It depends on the intent [of the political ad]. I got the sense that the idea was to win a Yes vote notwithstanding anything, win the a Yes vote. - Jack game by getting Do you think half of those ****** in power
give a **** what the average Canadian voter wants

perhaps and of advertising political advertising to the search for objectivity in relation in the following assertion: is expressed Advertising
accurate.

And

the most

serious

indictment

of

in general and truth

or needs? Mulroney was not for for Mulroney,


scaring everyone into

trying to win the Canadian


voting for the

greater glory people. By


referendum,

he would
ernment.

have pulled off a victory


It's just a game, and

for his own gov


the government

by
That's

definition
why it's

isn't
called

complete
advertising.

and

spent millions
itself. Murray

of OUR

money

to win

. . . for

itwould be called information. It's very Otherwise, in the sense that it propagates biased information a point of view. - Ruby

In the context to be won, the process as political itself

the ethics

as a game of viewing elections of politicians, their ads, and becomes suspect. Tactics or other forms of level with of such cam

Politics Both

as a game press and academics and have noted

the popular voter widespread with the

paigning a result, and the motives attributed desire What to to serve

advertising are degraded the messages of the

to the are viewed those

'play'. As suspicion, them are

sponsoring

cynicism

and disenchantment

process government political and Rath, 1991; Gagnon 1991; Kaid, (Cooper, Even the 7, 1991). 1991; Maclean's, January some degree interviewer of (who was expecting matter toward the after subject pessimism literature and watching extensive of the 1992 presidential election) by the participants' high level of and

goal of winning, the public:

not

to any

the reviewing media coverage was unprepared cynicism,

if we take the benefit of the doubt and say that Prime Minister Mulroney believed in his heart and soul and his mind that the economy would in the referendum]? [if voters voted No collapse But I don't believe that. So he may have been have been playing a game. The lying, or might extent of the negativity [referring to certain adver tisements sponsored by the government during the how it's presented to instill panic, and referendum], amoral background to it. -Jack it's strictly without

directed toward disgust and the electoral government, politicians, In this context, process. political advertising was as a tactic in a 'game', a term used by viewed anger, many of those interviewed. Participants expressed were the unambiguous that politicians opinion a game in which in playing involved often polit ical power was the stakes and would go to great lengths game to (i.e. 'win'. the The terminal was objective of this election) strictly achievements victory. in office

to the participants in this study, in According the game which politicians routinely play during and faith in the election time, truth, morality, political Political force process are the most only outlook. serves serious casualties. rein advertising this pessimistic to widely

to the subjects, According and serving the public was

or incidental periph of obtaining office. eral to the all-consuming goal to the recent Canadian referred often Participants referendum (in which voters were expected

Discourse, The perceived ads Previous unethical

Disinformation,

and Moral

Boundaries

1879
unfair. were to

nature of negative political

. . . that's to get glad

pretty

They And

wrong work.

try I'm

everyone about that.

so ?

scared. Cari

it didn't

that while suggested voters of negative generally disapprove political amounts advertising, they do learn considerable of information from it (Johnson-Cartee and

research

has

I remember
oriented. really There nasty, both

ads which
was ways. a hostility When

were
there

more
...

locally
it seemed 'don't

it's negative,

vote

for
it's

1991). This has often been attributed Copeland, to the involving nature of negative information and the resulting of cognitive processing depth and Copeland, 1991; Kanouse, (Johnson-Cartee and Hanson, 1984; Fiske, 1980; Kanouse 1971). in this study, for the most The data collected part, One must mation do not contradict these question, voters which mentioned however, recall. Overwhelmingly, previous findings. the type of infor the

purpose.
fear, the message, he can

I think it's defeating the someone', It's trying only to win something out of
trying to 'don't ruin create vote a fear for It this in the receiver because That of candidate panic.

something.' -Jack

creates

disturbs

me.

Thus, negative Many

issue and

attack

ads which

are deemed

very

"disturbing" of them

to instill fear were attempt judged and "unethical" by the participants.

participants Flowers Gennifer and the draft

the alleged affair between and then governor Bill Clinton two themes the which 1992 the

acceptable or issues,

that while it is generally agreed to attack upon the basis of past failures or extremity it is the extent of the

issue,

Republicans publicized during presi election. Mentions of policy dential issues such as health care reform state of the and the economy nomenon voters' were may lack of considerably be explained interest more by rare. This phe the Canadian

which renders an ad unaccept negative message as able, expressed succinctly by Beatrice: "okay, But the ads are so okay, so the guy messed up! to the ads] go too far, [referring about what NOTHING, they say nothing, to the sponsoring they're candidate] [referring to do. That stinks!" going They and and interesting ethical divi important or moral boundaries explicit, subjective distinctions and unacceptable between acceptable - are behaviour constructed electioneering by the on the ads were, participants. Negative personal to be both unethical and irrele whole, judged sions vant. For that extramarital edge alleged activities and lack of military did not experience enhance their opinion of him, they generally was to that the information irrelevant agreed or not he would whether in office. well perform Moreover, contempt they expressed unequivocal were for the Republican party who perceived as having out of these made political capital are 'issues'. These attitudes congruent generally the with and 'backlash' 'double impairment' effects hypothesized negative message 1991; Kaid and Boydston, The second category the including issue-oriented that these ethical negative ads give them to a after exposure and Copeland, (Johnson-Cartee 1987; Merritt, 1984). of interest was that judgement placed ads. Participants relevant information upon agree for to occur while example, Bill Clinton's participants acknowl Some extreme.

in specifically American amounts the great of issues, but given policy news to which are American Canadians exposed, it does not It reflect any lack of knowledge. here recalled interviewed appears as if the voters to their own eval the most irrelevant (according uations) information to rational decision was Negative political as "extreme", labelled "scare tactics", aimed advertising making. often

and "fear-mongering", at damaging the relation

the voters and the candi ship of trust between date Consistent with (Roberts, 1991). prior which attacks upon research, negative advertising was judged characteristics personal by the par ticipants 'play' as unacceptable, (Johnson-Cartee which unethical and unfair 1991). the basis accept and Copeland, attacks upon

Negative advertising was considered more of issues, however, able, but with significant qualification:

I remember is that the Conservatives' What ad for the referendum were like 'vote saying something for the deal or it'll destroy the country'. That's an
issue, I suppose, and it was certainly very negative

but it's still trying to prey upon people's fears and insecurities so that the government will get its way

1880 Steven Kates their decision-making, were such information I think and it would or be wrong suppressed: Are if a candidate it's okey says that his or has policies which made mistakes opponent I don't see anything aren't good for the public.
wrong see on with TV or that, in actually. the news It's when or whatever every ad you is negative.

if

The meaning voters

of political

'disinformation'

censored

receive nize

critical of the type of information thy in political Do they scruti advertising? it for its veracity, faithful representational

And

they get into this back and forth thing about saying how lousy and stupid the other one is and how etcetera, they'll mess up in office, etcetera. Then it gets ridiculous, and I ask myself, 'don't any of these jerks have any ideas of their own then about how
?

taken in by Or are voters ness, or completeness? its sophistication and reputed duplicity, allowing it to become discourse? part of accepted political The in this study suggests quite gathered are explic that the voters interviewed strongly itly aware of the potentially manipulative quality of its of political and implicitly, communication data to be disinformation. the most Perhaps in disinformation

to
Suzanne

solve

problems

or make

things

potential

better?'

Knowledge serve should

about as a

this type of moral boundary caveat to candidates practical

of political (in)famous example com recent memory is the 1988 'Willie Horton' mercial which democrat criticized presidential for being candidate Michael Dukakis 'soft on crime'. ad. One Horton' All of the interviewees had heard labelled the of explicitly participant ad as disinformation: 'Willie

a single negative and political consultants. While or morally ad may be judged accept ethically and relevant information able due to its veracity value, a predominantly to have the effect degrading the esteem appears negative campaign voters of alienating and of the democratic process.

the

not necessarily the it is the EXTENT, Again, or nature, of a negative content issue information creates suspicion and contempt campaign which in the minds of voters:

Itwas one guy, Willie Horton was disinformation. one situation. But it was laid out as if it was across the board. They weren't letting out all the guys in let out one guy. prison. They George be inferred for the may meaning term from disinformation', 'political gleaned term is The the participants' lived experience. deeper as information is which defined commonly or a lie. However, the inter after examining false views disinformation contained herein, may be as true but somehow and described distorted, as well. misleading, under the Dukakis were released under in the It may have been certain true that convicts A

I think if one candidate has information which he even or she believes the public should know, it's part of the game or not, then the public though should know. But in this case [referring to the 1992 it comes down to American election] presidential
the extent again ... it was over and over again.

Jack The negative deemed series relevant of data a clear gives issue ads: while reading a single concerning ad may be a all

governorship, a specific program. study rightly advertising as to lead

and ethical, informative, acceptable, in their value them depreciates

participants some negative mation

political in such a way

However, out that point infor presents viewers to a

an aspects. attacking Repeatedly the envelope with opponent multiple ads pushes too far and goes beyond the of acceptability informant's
conduct.

or generalization. this inference Thus, spurious flawed process leads to an emotion ultimately ally charged, questionable reality by the public. It is commonly believed such as those 1988 since seems described defeat. Yet, understanding of

boundary

of

acceptable,

ethical

above

attacks that negative to contributed coverage and 25, and they

Dukakis' analysis 1992) political

media

then (The Economist, January to have raised the awareness of voters such that

sophistication

Discourse, the misleading recognize of disinformation. One nature of

Disinformation, this type the

and Moral omission reluctance courses,

Boundaries

1881

might defeat of 1992 to a type of learning Republican on a cultural a political tactic such scale. Once as negative is used, facili the media advertising

attribute

is hardly evidence of voters' general to establish rival dis competing, it is suggestive of the media's and of the agenda ability to set and dominate a contest. the political Perhaps concerns of these generalized represents

government's items during omission another, acteristic (and rhetoric not

tates widespread criticism of and debate public and the electorate its efficacy and ethics, gradu to question the good faith of polit ally begins ical communication; boundaries become ticated. dential the more informants' and moral sophis discerning that in the

less tangible char but more insidious, of disinformation: the incompleteness of political hence, nature) misleading or lack The competing moral ethical they of or perspectives could boundaries did not know or

It is significant 1992 presi Bush's constant harping election, George on Clinton's draft record, extramarital affairs, and

discourses. include.

condemn

what

trip to Russia (taking the form of 'do you trust this man?') were all considered ineffectual by the As in defeating his opponent. participants once used effectively, Gronbeck (1991) suggests, becomes more negative commonplace advertising no and then recedes into the background, longer effective. There tion which of established conducted views is another relates critical aspect to the ethical to disinforma nature inter In the

some indications there were that Nevertheless, a few of the participants were aware somewhat nature of the political of the problematic agenda and of the process it is set. Two through which participants [My friend
hearing assessment of

'hinted'

at the

issue peripherally: we
a we

said that] there is so much


so the that we But can't I believe make news.

are not
proper can make

about

directly discourse. political

certain why in included

here, it was seldom questioned or were not topics or issues were the

a proper assessment by what's brought believe that we live in a dictatorship


is control over news coverage. That's

to us. I don't or that there


my belief and

To echo agenda. accepted are certain comment Charland's from above, why groups 'priv topics, issues, speakers, and political on or be communicated to communicate ileged' widespread viewees implicitly economy, Clinton's health a scale while some are not? All inter the state of the accepted care reform, and even Bill as conventional affair and

I believe
of the news

that we were
. . . -Jack

getting

a broad

spectrum to the spend


It's

I don't understand why they'd [referring want to limit what I can government]
making a statement about a federal election.

of them to limit spending. They weren't wrong to tell us we couldn't participate in an elected
election. George

alleged (if not acceptABLE) accepted political agenda. consistent with Cooper Yet, (1991), the concerns as the poor, of marginalized such groups and gays were seldom positively blacks, women AND the candi addressed the participants (by In this manner, dates in the presidential election). maintained

some participants' despite nature of information incomplete Yet,

hinting and

at the lack of

were far more the majority discourses, competing to criticize is said what and challenge likely an election than to question what remains during unsaid or kept silent.

status quo is (or power structure) in the guise of serving the 'public' interest, consistent with Cooper's (1991) analysis. one of the participants in the study men Not the

current

Summary The

and

conclusions

or questioned how or why certain topics an election are into the arise during and accepted tioned or how it is that access discourse existing political to media is dominated and groups by certain as politicians or powerful individuals (such lobby and not others. While this interesting groups)

of this study have important findings impli cations for both in post interested academics as to modern theory applied political communications and to producing effective, These will be detailed to practitioners yet ethical, below. dedicated advertising.

1882 Steven Kates How activities The indicates rituals far can violate information that voters in which one types go? What or moral boundaries obtained from of ethical tation (i.e. an underlying sacrosanct assumption) might or premise, given, be flawed and need

sense?

in engage or search for objectivity they truth. the findings here indicate Interestingly, not the postmodern traditional the more view,

participants critical media

the political Thus, changing. remains the informants by suggestive a received could how there (although

of political and communication perspective, and descrip discourse may be more appropriate tive of certain lived experience. participants' and cynicism appears to have prompted Suspicion of a process of cultural learning. the development was intent and every Each upon participant or her own version his of the truth establishing proactive toward sources of external communi skepticism From their examinations cation. of both news and engage getting ethical negative extreme nature
gerate.

political this phenomenon explore do certain issues and not voters' deleterious political effects

agenda as espoused somewhat narrow, no means of conclusive) by Future discourse. research in more others certain one depth: come to Are issues cannot

dominate

consciousness? of

remaining Overall, confidently


false

unspoken? from this claim views that


?

study's data, a universal,


asserted

hegemonic
more post

consciousness

as

through

media

rituals

and

a universal

modern voters'

of communication

by

dominates

all

ads,

believe that politicians participants or in a game for power, wherein play is the terminal goal, altruistic and elected concerns political considered ads are criticized as secondary. looked upon for their fear with and Also, with

fair to argue political thinking. as some of the ones that certain individuals (such are aware that truth and valid interviewed) points are to be and make concerted problematics citizens and shrewd, discriminating practical vein, which to the study brought assist political may in creating more effec should campaigns

It is more

of view efforts
voters.

In a more light consultants some

suspicion, and propensity the other that

extreme exag

to inspire consistent

findings or advertisers ads. First, While

On

hand,

Foucault has does some not

(1980, 1985) andwith Cooper


indications application assume a priori exist which

(1991), therewere

the postmodern view as well. First, this perspective

specific negative be judged may (assuming polispots acceptable to is considered information which they contain be true), reconsider and practitioners remitting on focus may 'bashing' be well advised to of political oppo constructive ads

tive, ethical be suspect.

negative certain

that political and freedom choice 1991). Rather, they are goals (Cooper, be achieved. Consistent with this may informants in order of to in aggressive engaged create and maintain their thus, thought it is interesting Yet, once questioned the agenda it was and

nents which

contain

argument, activity

Furthermore, or which 'extreme' fear are clearly the 'tricks of

positive, substantive ideas for improvement. are judged ads which manipulative

independence political make decisions. appropriate never that the informants underlying or discourse 'right' to exist. of such

an a political In other words,

assumed that the unquestionably by participants those public interest was being served by debating the media Access issues which specific popularizes. to media, of margin the continued oppression as to how alized individuals, the and questions serves certain interests and not discourse present to note others, nor mentioned never were neither examples, For example, it was debated. structure the entire up whether or elected represen some

question to be viewed Those who in wish politicians credible manner should avoid negative favourable, extremes to persuade with and attempt ads which are as rational, moderate, and truthful. perceived Further research which follow includes might an investigation news has into whether television improved compared twenty critical in issue content, analysis to political advertising) years. Political ads could and quality over the be tested (as last for

or to create panic attempt to be learning Voters appear risky. the trade' and are more likely to tactics. The such questionable lesson?

brought and process of government

truth value, and aspects such as credibility, to the voters' relevance decision perceived in controlled the circumstances. Finally, making

Discourse,

Disinformation, of the the

and Moral
Consumer

Boundaries
Research

1883
Is . . of Consumer

and the testing of disinformation meaning in be explored could moral boundaries are context what of consumer products: beliefs unquestioned form the established product chasing

.', Journal

advertising, and use occasions? or

which and assumptions as relating to discourse (s) more conventional and pur Future research in a critical

14 (June), 136-140. Maurice: 1990, 'Rehabilitating Charland, Blind Spots in Discourse Confronting Research

Rhetoric: and Social

and (see Murray postmodernist be a tradition would Ozanne, 1991) certainly For example, the media's direction. productive in should be explored agenda-setting capabilities mor
not

Communication 11, 253?264. Theory', of Martha: 'Ethical Dimensions 1991, Cooper, Political Advocacy from a Postmodern Perspective', in Roberet Dent?n (ed.), Ethical Dimensions of Political Communication (Praeger, New York). The Economist: 1992, 'The Lesson of Willie Horton', January 25. of Camille: 'The Americanization 1984, Elebash, Adver British Political Communications', Journal of tising 13(3), Faber, Ronald 50-58. in Political 'Advances J.: 1992, A Progression from If to Research: Advertising in Current Issues and Research When', Journal of

depth,
served.

identifying

the

interests

served

and is still

here the policy issue explored Clearly, of considerable interest and prominence public evidence sphere. of widespread While there is

in the

discouraging

and anger cynicism a the political toward system, sign has hopeful in that voters appear as if they are been revealed consumers more of becoming discriminating information rituals, ethical a largely skeptical boundaries. it through media by filtering and ever developing screen, This study has uncovered,

Advertising 14(2) (Fall). Fischer, Eileen and Julia Bristor: in press, 'A Feminist Poststructuralist of the Rhetoric of Analysis Marketing Relationships'. Susan: 'Attention and Weight Fiske, Perception: The Impact of Negative Behaviour', in Person and Extreme and Social

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Journal of Personality Psychology 38(6), 889-906. Foucault, Michel: 1980, The History of Sexuality, Volume One: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. (Vintage Books, New York). and Foucault, Michel: 1984, 'Polemics, Politics, In Paul Trans. Lydia Davis. Problematizations', Rabinow (ed.), Thee Foucault Reader (Pantheon, New York), pp. 381-390. 1985, The Use of Pleasure. Volume Foucault, Michel: Two of the History of Sexuality. Trans. Robert Hurle (Pantheon Books, New York). Dan: and Rath, 1991, Not Gagnon, Georgette Without Cause: David Peterson's Fall from Grace Publishers Ltd., Toronto). (HarperCollins
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