---------- Text of forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 16 Oct 1992 15:08:47 CDT
From: "Kenneth L. Hacker, Ph.D., Communication"
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To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L
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Subject: BUSH'S BOGUS TIME MAGAZINE TV SPOT
FOR PUBLIC RELEASE, October 15, 1992
ETHICAL ISSUES REGARDING THE BUSH "TIME" TV SPOT
by Kenneth L. Hacker, Ph.D. and Walter R. Zakahi, Ph.D.
Department of Communication Studies
New Mexico State University
The Bush campaign is currently airing a TV spot attacking Bill
Clinton which we have determined to be unethical by standards
established by advertisers, political communication scholars, and the
United States government. This ad exemplies efforts to mislead the
American voters in this election.
The ad we are referring to is the "Time" ad which looks exactly
like a spot for Time magazine. The ad uses the negative image actually
used by Time magazine to highlight doubts that some voters have about
Bill Clinton's honesty. The ad never reveals its production or
What makes this ad unethical is that it is deceptive and designed
to mislead viewers. It also violates Federal Communications
Commission regulations regarding identification of sponsorship of
political TV spots.
CNN (October 14, 1992) reports that the Bush campaign has refused to
pull the spot and is willing to air it despite protests by Time
magazine. Time magazine is ready to sue the Bush campaign, but the
actual court case will not likely occur until after the damage to
Clinton is done and the election is over.
As scholars of communication, we believe that the Bush campaign
is violating norms of ethical media practice and is attempting to
deceive the American electorate. This must be responded to by anyone
concerned about fair campaigning in our society.
Advertising, whether commercial or political, is a form of
persuasion. It stimulates impressions and has effects on its
audience. This is why the Federal Trade Commission and Federal
Communications Commission attempt to stop advertising which is
fraudulent or misleading. Political advertising is more protected by
the First Amendment than is commercial advertising. This follows the
tradition of protecting free political speech as much as possible.
However, there are codes of ethics and federal regulations which make
the Bush campaign ad an object of media abuse which must be exposed
The American Association of Advertising Agencies lists as one of
its code of ethics statements, the following (Christians, Rotzoll, and
"The agency should not indulge in any practices which might be
deceptive or misleading in word, photograph, film or sound."
The Bush campaign ad misleads it viewers with the Time logo, Time
magazine cover, and the absence of true production/funding source.
There are two important possible consequences for not dealing
with this unethical TV spot. First, political campaigning will
continue to move away from issues and toward character assassination
through images. Second, future ads may use other fraudulent
associations such as phony newscasts to contain their messages about
FCC regulations make it clear that political campaigns are
required to identify their sponsorship of political TV spots.
Political advertising researcher, Lynda Kaid (1991) argues that simple
truth/untruth standards are not useful for judging an ad which fails
to disclose information, that it is better to ask if the missing
information is necessary for viewers t make rational decisions. We
believe that the Bush spot encourages irrational decisions by voters
and also is fully intentional in its attempt to deceive the public
into believing that the attacks made on Clinton are being made, not by
Bush, but the popular and credible news source, Time magazine. Kaid
says that the ability to identify the source of an ad is important to
evaluating its worth. This is why the FCC mandates disclosure of
sources for political advertising in broadcasting.
We encourge voters, journalists, scholars, candidates, and
campaign professionals to join us in exposing this unethical method of
reaching voters. It is manipulative and deceptive. As in all
campaigns, we need more focus on policies and less craftiness with
techniques of deception.
Christians, C., Rotzoll, K., and Fackler, M. (1987). Media Ethics.
New York: Longman.
Kaid, L. (1991). Ethical dimensions of political advertising. In
R. Denton (Ed.), Ethical Dimensions of Political Communication.
New York: Praeger. pp. 145-169.
CONTACT: Dr. K. Hacker, (505) 646-2801, 646-4839.