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Media Politics : Analysts Assail Negatives of Media Campaigns

Times Staff Writer

Sunday’s television interviews accentuated the negatives, particularly those seen in the political advertising of this year’s presidential campaign.

Blasting the media ads of both candidates, one leading political analyst said the 1988 race has set a new mark for distortion of an opponent’s record, and called Vice President George Bush’s media campaign the dirtiest since 1964.

Bush advocates, however, strongly defended the integrity of his television spots and said Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis is attacking them in an effort to obscure his liberal record because he has fallen far behind in the polls.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Texas, said both parties have run misleading spots this year, and in greater numbers than ever before. In particular, she singled out “distortions” in the heavily aired Bush spots that attack the Massachusetts prisoner-furlough program.

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“This is the first year that I can remember in presidential history in which we’ve seen nationally aired ads--ads aired in major regional markets--that are actively distorting the other person’s record, not just prompting false inferences, but stating as true something that’s false,” said Jamieson, who has written extensively on the subject.

In an appearance on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” she also said: “The Bush campaign is far guiltier (of distortion) than the Dukakis campaign. . . . Overall, in terms of fairness and accuracy, Bush is running the dirtiest campaign that I’ve seen since 1964.”

In the 1964 contest, in which President Lyndon B. Johnson was challenged by Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Democrats stirred controversy with a TV commercial showing a little girl picking flowers and then showing an explosion, while the narrator warned that the Republican candidate, Goldwater, might lead the nation into nuclear war.

On Sunday, advocates for Bush brushed aside attacks on their television spots. They said their campaign has run many “positive” advertisements and plans to use them, as well, in the final days before the election.

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Bush Aides Respond

“The fact is, we have presented assertions and facts that are all documented, and they’re all true,” Charles Black, a senior Bush campaign adviser, said on the NBC program.

“If we present a specific fact or assertion that’s not true, Gov. Dukakis can come back and prove that. He hasn’t. He’s making a general denial because the specifics are all true,” Black said.

A view of the current campaign as “more negative” than any in the past was voiced by 64% of 1,013 registered voters questioned last week by the Gallup organization. In the poll, released by Newsweek magazine, 29% called the GOP campaign too negative and 30% applied the same term to the Democrats, while 27% said both sides were to blame.

The survey also found Bush favored, 50% to 41%, over Dukakis, but 66% of those questioned said they thought “there were better qualified candidates who should have been selected,” Newsweek reported.

On another TV show, Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) suggested that talk about negative campaigning reflects a desperation in the Democratic camp because Dukakis is lagging in the polls.

“If Dukakis were ahead, maybe it wouldn’t be so negative,” Dole said during an appearance on ABC-TV’s “This Week with David Brinkley.”

“In my view, the Dukakis people are panicky,” he added. “You know, they did a good job in the primary, they had a good convention, and then he went to sleep for about six weeks and George Bush caught up, primarily because of his efforts.”

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Kitty Dukakis’ View

That view was strongly rebutted by Dukakis’ wife, Kitty, on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation.” Asked why her husband had waited so long to answer Bush’s attacks in the media, she said: “I think he underestimated the viciousness of the negative campaigning on the Bush side.”

She added that she would have preferred an earlier response, noting, “My gut said--I am a fighter--my gut said I wanted Michael to respond to those false charges, they were so untrue.”

On the Brinkley show, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, Dukakis’ running mate, maintained that Republican strategists launched a negative campaign soon after the Democratic convention because “they saw us 20 points ahead and became desperate.” Also interviewed on “Face the Nation” was William Schneider, political analyst for the Los Angeles Times. He said that Bush has an obligation to disavow a subtly racist message that may be communicated by some of his television spots.

Black-White Crime Issue

That issue surfaced after Democrats charged that the Bush spots on the prisoner-furlough issue were making a racist appeal. In some of the spots, for example, viewers are shown a picture of Willie Horton, a black murder convict who raped a white woman while on furlough.

“I do see and hear evidence that Willie Horton’s picture is being shown, and that there are groups handing out, well, racist literature,” Schneider said

“If that’s happening, Bush has to separate himself from that effort, no question about it. He cannot endorse it. He cannot allow it to happen . . . pretending not to notice it.”

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Schneider added, however, that he did not think Bush was running a racist campaign.


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