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Election year has already brought Edwin Diamond's shrewd history of TV political advertising, The Spot (p. 513). ""This book was premised,"" writes Jamieson (Communications, U. of Maryland), ""on the assumption that advertising provides an optic through which presidential campaigns can be productively viewed."" And, in its brief look at pre-TV presidential races, its lengthy review of each election since 1952, it's as stilted and pedantic as that sounds. Among the six ""factors"" that--platitudinously--""seem to play a role"" in ""the sorts of ads a media adviser will create"" are ""the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate and opponent,"" ""Finances"" and ""Circumstances such as the public's need for certain types of assurances."" Race by race, the conclusions are superficial commonplaces: in 1956, ""peace and prosperity were seemingly at hand. . . a likeable, popular, trusted national hero was reelected""; in 1972, ""the electorate, which was dissatisfied with the alternatives it was offered, was disposed to choose the monarch it knew [Nixon] rather than the theocrat it did not know [McGovern]."" Apart from describing the ads, and theorizing about what they represent, Jamieson attempts to discern, from the relationship between candidates and their media-advisers, ""various styles of leadership"" (and to demonstrate, to a degree, the advantages of heeding professional advice). There are some concrete instances of media angling--Kennedy's long-bruited appeal to Catholic voters, Carter's not-dissimilar pitch to Southerners. There is an occasional observation on the candidate's effectiveness: re McGovern's ""lack of specificity""--""the failure was both substantive and stylistic. Scholars of interpretive communication have noted that persons of low status speak more tentatively than persons of high status."" In her wrapup, Jamieson also offers some analysis of the means whereby ads gain their effects. But in this realm, as in telling who made what, why, and how, Diamond is infinitely superior. On the political level--the candidates, issues, images--any number of books excel.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1984
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press